“Had we ever truly been united at any point in our history?” President Paul Kagame asked Rwandans on July 4 in his Liberation Day speech. No answer was necessary.
As he spoke, it was evident that the unity of the nation had never been stronger.
He could very well have asked: “Have we ever had this spirit of patriotism in our history?” Of course, he did not. But if he had, the reply would be a resounding: we are at our most patriotic ever.
Everyone loves their country and is proud to be Rwandan. They will shout it from the hilltops for anyone who cares to listen, and if no one is, it doesn’t matter.
The sound of the words is sweet enough. We see this when a Rwandan achieves anything. Everyone rejoices because it is a collective achievement.
Or when they are in a contest of any sort: we all want them to win because their victory is also ours.
And if anyone, whether national or foreigner, asks them to do anything stupid, they will say: no, please; we are Rwandans.
And so patriotism is visible and palpable, especially during this period when the country marks its liberation. Which shows the link between the two.
Liberation freed people so that they could work to their fullest potential and reach achievements that they had not before. They had the liberty and means to rebuild their nation, and patriotism has been growing with this rebuilding.
It was not possible before to feel any sense of self-worth as individuals or as a nation. As President Kagame said in his speech, “For decades and decades, Rwandans were treated as objects to be used and discarded by anyone, especially the powerful.”
That has changed. Liberation created the necessary conditions for this rising belief in self, and love for, and pride in, the country.
One such condition was the very idea of nationhood that the growing sense of unity has ensured. But it is not just the idea of a nation alone that matters.
It is also its power and greatness usually associated with it, which is often built on, and demonstrated in, its achievements, progress and standing among other nations.
Such achievements include socio-economic transformation, scientific and technological advancement, a strong tradition of art and culture, and military exploits.
The greatness of a nation can also be measured by the power of ideas, the ambition and aspiration of its people expressed in a clear vision and a definite path to arriving at it.
All these are present in today’s Rwanda.
But there is no greater achievement than raising a nation from total collapse, nursing it back to health, rebuilding it and putting it firmly on the road to prosperity. This is what Rwanda has done in the last twenty five years.
All this builds confidence and self-esteem. Nothing does more for love of oneself than a feeling of self-belief that comes from the knowledge that what one is doing, either as an individual or a group, is worthwhile.
That love and feeling of usefulness extends to the nation
Another measure is the standing of a country among nations, as well as that of its leaders. There is no doubt that Rwanda has a very good standing among nations of the world.
President Paul Kagame is respected in Africa and across the world by world leaders as well as ordinary people. In Rwanda, he is loved.
This recognition has been earned. It has not been bestowed by anybody’s kindness.
This period when we mark our national liberation has also revealed another aspect that makes Rwanda distinct. It is the love and respect for the military, police and other security agencies. This, too, has roots in the liberation of the country.
Now, this is quite unusual in most of Africa where the military is hated and feared. It is seen as a repressive force that only exists to prop up unpopular leaders and enforce their equally unpopular policies.
Here it is different. The military is much loved and trusted. Rwandans see it as their own, ready to defend them, not to harass them.
This is largely because of the role it played in liberating the country and continues to play in building the nation. It is also because of the reputation it has built: as an efficient and capable force, equal to any challenge.
First, it helped get rid of repressive, divisive and corrupt governments, and ended the genocide against the Tutsi. The respect is for their courage and sacrifice as well as their ability and conduct.
Then it has fostered the unity of the country and has gone on to rebuild it. It is not a parasitic military but a productive one.
Thirdly, it has extended its work beyond Rwanda’s borders on peace-keeping missions in different countries in Africa and beyond. In this sense they have shown that the notion of African solutions to African problems is achievable.
It is not a mere slogan. They have also shown that Pan-Africanism does not exist at the level of ideas or wishes only. It is a practical and attainable goal.
These two aspects: patriotism and love and respect for the military are part of the same thing and feed into each other and make Rwanda a great nation.
Which is why those lost Rwandans who have sold their souls and peddle lies of disunity and disaffection to their backers eager to believe such nonsense are engaged in a futile endeavour.
They would do well to repent, renounce their treasonable acts, ask for forgiveness, which they will surely get, and return home and work with their compatriots to continue building the country.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.