Chutzpah. It is Yiddish for ‘the quality of audacity’, deriving from Hebrew: ḥutspâ meaning ‘insolence’, ‘cheek’. To others, it means a negative trait such as arrogance but to those whom it inhabits, it is a mark of extraordinary courage.
Studying this word I read that there was no translation in any other language that could do it justice; I smiled, well, I know a word in my mother tongue, the word is ‘Ubukotanyi’.
‘Chutzpah’, is the secret weapon of the State of Israel in such a hostile geographic location as the Middle-East.
While the country is at peace with Egypt, its mightiest neighbour, the peace is based on mutual respect and it was brokered after the Six Day battle; known in Israel as the battle of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and in the Muslim world as ‘The battle of Ramadhan’ the holiest day and month of the year in Judaism and Islam respectively.
Attacked by surprise on October 6, 1973, Israel almost defeated a coalition of Arab nations led by Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies, and ended up with more territory than before the war started.
In this historic and many other wars waged by Israel, what sets its army on top is the ‘Chutzpah’ of its soldiers. Unlike its opponents, Israel has the highest percentage of commanders who are of a young age.
But Israel also has the highest number of commanders who are killed in battle. So much so that Israeli soldiers boast to their surrounding neighbours; ‘you can never defeat us, your commanders command you from the rear, our commanders command us from the frontline and they are the first to die’: Now that’s ‘Chutzpah’!
In their time, the Rwandan army has fought many battles, encountered coalitions of mightier armies and prevailed. Nothing apparent was meant to set them apart, except: ‘Ubukotanyi’.
In their missions for peace across the globe, peoples from distant nations demand Rwandan soldiers while evil factions dread them, for their sacrifice and daring. I am proud to see that even the younger commanders have kept the ‘Ubukotanyi’.
Inkotanyi isn’t an easy name to go by, it was the title of a once mighty, undefeatable Rwandan Army, founded between 1853 and 1895, by one of Rwanda’s most powerful King: Kigeli IV Rwabugili, who’s nom de guerre was ‘Inkotanyi Cyane’
A century later, exiled Rwandan youths decided to recreate King Rwabugiri’s mighty army, they named it ‘Inkotanyi z’Amarere’ and on October 1, 1990, decided to fight their return home to Rwanda.
They were young, ill-equipped, out-numbered and for many ill-trained; but they had one secret weapon: ‘Ubukotanyi’, which means they were ready and prepared to die for the Rwandan Nation, for as British poet Thomas Babington Macaulay writes in ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’.
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods”
In his article yesterday, writer Tom Ndahiro remarks: ‘after 28 years of incompleteness, whence Rwanda upon independence, cast away a part of its children, today we commemorate 28 years from the day Inkotanyi took up arms to make Rwanda whole again’; he explains it in a poetry; ‘Ntitukiri Urwanda ruheza, turi Urwanda ruhuza’! (We are no longer a Rwanda that divides; we are a Rwanda that Unites)
It’s been 24 years, that the war has ended,
But I will never forget the night of our first New Year;
A night of December 1995; a night to be remembered
The only year they were allowed to shoot in the air;
Like all revolutionaries who’ve just won the war;
It was the first New Year celebrated after the war
I can still hear the drums and the roars of canons that almost made me cry
But the shooting in the air was stopped the year after. From then on, a different attitude was to be observed. One of civility and peace. Guns were to be silenced. That discipline has characterized the Inkotanyi ever since
Many fighters traded their fatigues for suits, and got on with a different fight; one of consolidating the gains they had fought for. It has since been 24 years of peace and progress; 24 years of all-Rwandans togetherness.
My generation has grown up with revolutionaries. Every day we hear stories of war, while being shown actions of reconstruction. It’s been an edifying privilege.
This story is to our elders,
Whom are worried that we are too soft, that we have not been hardened enough, that we are not focused; that we may not be ready. To them I say, well isn’t this happiness we enjoy part of what you fought for?
Do not worry, we know what we have to do and when the time comes we will not let you down!
Some liberators are still young and those who are not so young remain our leaders, but mostly our teachers. All our nation needs to do is succeed the transmission of wisdom across generations.
This is a story to the young ones too, my age mates, and to them I leave these words by Winston Churchill: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts’. Remember what sets you apart, remember what led our elders to win the war,
And as Kayirebwa would say:
‘Muramenye ntimuzabe imbwa, umugambi n’umwe ni urukundo rw’URwanda, no kuzahora mwibuka’
Happy Iyambere Ukwakira, Oye Nkotanyi!
The views expressed in this article are of the author.