In the popular imagination, the development of a country is measured in terms of a few highly visible landmarks.
These include a skyline of gleaming high rise buildings and cars that clog the roads and make it dificult for anyone to get anywhere.
They may also include such other things as cavernous supermarkets selling mainly imported goods, and a few expensive private schools. Exclusive neighbourhoods are also part of the indicators of development.
In recognition of such tremendous achievement, we sing praises of the people who make these things happen. They may be highly-placed, limelight-hogging politicians. Or it could be the mayor of the capital citywho is trying very hard to instil an urban culture into a collection of rural exiles. Occasionally, you may get some government departments on the list of the praise-worthy because they surpassed their own expectations in such things as poverty reduction or the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
It becomes only natural that, in addition to the praise songs, we honour some of them. And so, the East African Business Council will name its most outstanding business executives and award them certificates and other forms of prizes. The Private Sector Foundation will do likewise.
The Rwanda Revenue Authority will honour the biggest taxpayers, who are invariably the same people and corporations the other two will have honoured.
The business laureates will then be lavishly feted in plush hotels and afterwards drive away in flashy cars along well-lit streets to their palatial homes to dream about new plans for their organisations.
Of course, these are important players in our development and deserve recognition for their work. That they are highly visible makes the recognition all that much easier.
In the process, however, we may forget the less visible, but no less important, small person whose contribution to our development is equally vital. The little person who has, against all odds, raised himself from certain doom to prosperity – well, comparatively speaking, goes largely unnoticed.
The long-serving doorman whose faithful service makes it possible for the chief executive officer not to waste precious corporate time opening and shutting doors remains an anonymous, unappreciated worker.
We hardly recognise that there is a man or woman who is responsible for the fresh produce we buy in our markets and enjoy so much that if they were missing from the stalls for a week we would riot.
They are taken for granted.
Luckily, we are not completely blind to achievements made by ordinary people. They are beginning to get the recognition they deserve.
As part of the celebrations to mark this year’s international women’s day, one such person was recognised for what must surely be considered her individual heroism. Dr Jeanne D’Arc Mujawamariya, minister for gender and family promotion, rewarded Mrs Inyawera of Jali in Gasabo District for her outstanding work.
The minister said, in what in other formal presentations of awards would be a citation, that Mrs Inyawera had refused to give in to despair, had overcome the temptation to hold out her hands for alms and had rejected the seduction of pity – that emotion that destroys self-belief and confidence.
Mrs Inyawera, who had lost nearly everything in the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 – husband, some of her children and other family members – rebuilt her life to such a degree that she is very wealthy, by the standrds of her village. She has dairy cattle that give her milk for her own consumption and for the market.
She grows pasture for her cattle and for sale to other farmers. She grows other crops that add to her income. She employs a number of people. To cap it all, she lights her fairly spacious and modern house and kitchen stoves using biogas produced by her cattle.
The achievements may appear small compared to the multi-million projects we are used to. But when one considers where Inyawera has come from emotionally and materially, that she is probably in an area where the national electricity grid does not reach, and probably has no access to modern facilities to business, her achievement is remarkable.
And she was a picture of physical well-being and contentment as she received her certificate and cheque from Minister Mujawamariya.
Inyawera is one of many Rwandans, both men and women, who contribute to national development , but whose efforts remain unsung. Rwanda television routinely shows us successful farmers in remote parts of the country.
They are farmers of improved varieties of bananas with the potential of such yield as to satisfy the local juice and wine industry and have a lot left for export. Or they are fruit farmers whose labour earns them hundreds of thousands of francs every month. They are livestock farmers continually improving their breed.
There are successful and contented farmers on all the hills of this fair country. Their example has tremendous influence on the lives of the people among whom they live.
They are the immediate role models and their success should ordinarily spur others to similar success. Their public recognition and reward will even be a greater incentive for themselves and others.
Imagine what thousands of Inyaweras and other unnamed people across the country can bring to the national economy. With their increased income, which also often translates into raised standards of living and increased consumer demands, they will link into the economy of the big commercial and financial corporations.
They will buy consumer products of the big companies and deposit their increased earnings in the banks. It is surely not a coincidence that, for the first time, more banks are spreading from Kigali and opening branches in the small towns and trading centres in the provinces.
Increased incomes will mean that they will pay more taxes to Rwanda Revenue Authority. Greater consumption will also mean more taxes from the trading and manufacturing companies getting into the coffers of RRA.
Higher standards of living and greater expectations will lead to a demand for more and better social services, like education and health.
All these will lead to greater prosperity all round. Honouring the small heroes is, therefore, not just an isolated gesture that politicians make to mark some occasion or other, but an important economic tool to spur development. It should be done more often.