Every 1st of February we celebrate National Heroes’ Day in Rwanda. It is the day we remember our heroes and reflect on the values for which they are remembered.
Names of heroes like the late Major General Fred Rwigema, Agatha Uwiringiyima, King Charles Mutara Rudahigwa, Michael Rwagasana, who died in prison under Gregoire Kayibanda the first president of independent Rwanda , students of Nyange Secondary School and Felecite Niyitegeka are remembered and valorized.
These individuals are great women and men who provide inspiration for millions of us.
On Tuesday evening I accidentally but pleasantly found myself in the company of a veteran Mzee John Paul Gasore who defined heroism as “ kuba intwari urabivukana ukagaragaza prowess abandi badafite”, loosely translated ; “heroes are born and manifest prowess not found in other people.” He added that “ ntawe usaza atisenye” or one can’t be a hero before one’s death, because one is capable of damaging his reputation.
What is meant by the above definition is that heroes are extraordinary and exhibit unusual prowess, but these must be complimented by championing life-promoting values and uncompromising commitment to their purpose aimed at the common good.
If one considers Rwanda’s heroes mentioned above there are certain values promoted by each individual or group of individuals mentioned above: Fred Gisa Rwigema is remembered for his patriotism, leadership skills and charisma.
He is fondly remembered by his compatriots as “a selfless, intelligent, courageous and patriotic son of Rwanda”, who championed liberation of his motherland from the shackles of dictatorial political hegemony.
With his comrades he embarked on the quest for total liberation of Rwanda. His colleagues heroically and successfully continued the struggle after he fell, to its logical conclusion.
Madame Agatha Uwiligiyimana, the first female Prime Minister, a nationalist who championed women’s rights attempted to restore calm during genocide but lost her life in the process.
King Rudahigwa who belongs to the second category of heroes is remembered for his patriotism and ability to protect his people and kingdom from the political machination of colonial rule.
Michael Rwagasana was nominated to the second category of heroes because of his commitment to the promotion of national interest at a time when fellow politicians, including his brother Gregoire Kayibanda, for selfish reasons resorted to sectarian politics.
Prior to Independence, some politicians appropriated the colonial legacy of ethnic divisionism to gain political patronage and other advantages.
Parti Permehutu invoked an ethnic card to hype a section of the people as a way of winning the first elections on the country. Thus the first post-colonial government was based on a weak foundation that negated tenets of nationalism which it purported to champion.
The recent condemnation by civil society and existing political parties, notably PPC, of a politician who is bent on replaying the 1961/2 political campaigns is commended.
Our heroes should not have died in vain but rather they should serve as inspiration and/ or reminders that we should act individually and collectively to safeguard national, pro-social values.
The students of Nyange who refused to be separated by genociders died heroes and should be a constant reminder that we should resist any force that attempts to adulterate our nation. As we mark the National Heroes, let us consider what values they represent and uphold them.
There also is a lesson to learn from the catholic nun, Sister Felecite Niyitegeka who refused to give up her fellow Tutsi nuns to killers at the risk of her life.
These heroes are nationalists who should be emulated by us all, young and old. I wish particularly to recommend certain values to readers especially those in political positions or aspirants to those offices.
Although these values are universal, I’m informed by President Obama’s book: The Audacity of Hope. Obama‘s discussion of values is based on American declaration of Independence which states in part, “WE HOLD THESE truths to be self-evident, that all men are equal, that they endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and pursuit of Happiness.”
United States of America is a large country with a diverse population in every sense but held together by a set of communal values, “the glue that upon which every society depends.”
In addition to championing equality of men, freedom of persons, which I consider the cornerstone of modern societies, our heroes characterize patriotism and a sense of duty and sacrifice to the nation.
Like our heroes, we should value honesty; fairness, humility, kindness, courtesy and compassion as some of the values that guided our heroes
Obama observes that in every society there are tensions and our values may collide because we live in a complex and contradictory world, and advises that in such cases a balance must be sought without resorting to violence or other outrageous methods.
As we prepare to commemorate National Heroes Day, let’s reflect on values that will make our nation stronger. I agree with Obama when he says that “sometimes we need cultural transformation and government action - a change in values and a change in policy- to promote the kind of society we want” but the process of change has to be within the matrix of our value system.