Why true greatness is shared

For the past week or so, Rwandans have been basking in the glory of our nation’s heroes. With good reason.

Heroes give us, ordinary folk with no claim to any distinction, which is most of us, a feeling of collective pride and worth. It is as if their heroic actions were ours too - which in a sense they are.

Heroes exist because of their deeds but also because there are others incapable of them. They exist because we make it possible by our inadequacies and stupidities from which we must be redeemed. You would not have heroes in a world full of exceptional people.

So in a way we all have a claim to greatness, however indirectly or by default. That is what gives us the feel good experience when we celebrate the incomparable lives of some of our greatest compatriots.

But even in a practical sense there is also reason to share in their glory. We see all around us the products of their deeds. Admittedly what we see is done by us, which is another reason to claim heroism even for the unheroic. But, of course, it is because of what went before that this is so.

Things are going very well around us and getting better, certainly more than they were not so long ago. A few examples will illustrate this. They may appear simple and not spectacular, but their impact is immense.

The country is fast transforming before our eyes, at a rate we can hardly keep pace with and in a fashion not seen in many other places. The change is physical and visible, and easily quantifiable, but also spiritual (in a broader sense of the word) and less tangible. All of which make for a better quality of life.

Across the country you see new houses built for ordinary people. They are not simply shelters against the elements, but modern homes in planned villages, with amenities for a comfortable life. They are the sort many who now live in them always associated with other people in far away places. That they now do is nothing short of a miracle.

Yet it is not. It is the next step from getting rid of nyakatsi (grass-thatched houses) to give Rwandans dignity even in their habitation.

Schools, once the privilege of a few, are now open to a growing number of Rwandan children. More schools are within reach of most children. They do not even have to leave home for an extended period to attend one of them and get detached from the community in the process.

True, the mystique deriving from the fact that they were few has been eroded as has the prestige of the few who benefitted from them. But so also has their practical value and impact in changing many more lives risen.

If you want to see how far electricity has spread, travel across the country by night. Electric lights shine through the dark night on hills and valleys like thousands of stars twinkling in the sky on a clear night.

There is a price to pay for this progress – for romantics. The sight of flickering fires and rising smoke across the hills is gone. Gone too is the chance to see the actual stars. Children will miss the delight of seeing and trying to catch the elusive fireflies on a dark night. In any case they are probably more fascinated by a new kind of fly, a mechanical contraption called a drone.

Mercifully star gazing romantics are very few and will no doubt find other delights to hold their attention and about which to compose poetry and songs.

Rwandans now live longer. Most of the diseases and conditions that used to take lives too early have largely been contained. The focus is shifting to non-communicable diseases and others caused by a more affluent life style.

We cannot imagine life without the internet or the mobile phone, even in the remotest corner of the country. And it is not only the simple phone. The smart phone has spread to all classes of people.

These are things we are beginning to take for granted. They have become normal things, not exceptional. We do not just see them around; we demand and expect to have them because we deserve them. We no longer have to prostrate before someone because they have done us a favour. We have a right to some of these things.

In other words, we are becoming a normal society with normal expectations and the right to have them satisfied.

But it was not always this way. Some people had to sacrifice to create the right conditions to enable us get where we are. Others used these conditions and built what we have. More will add to this progress. All these are heroes. Many of them are still with us and include even the least among us, and must be celebrated. But while we can take for granted what they have done, we should never forget their sacrifice and dedication.


The views expressed in this article are of the author.