In the most difficult moments in human history, individuals and nations have often been faced with two stark choices.
Either they allow themselves to be overwhelmed by whatever forces are ranged against them and roll over and submit to defeat, or, though pressed to the wall, they make a stand and fight for survival. The second choice is really the only option.
At such defining moments, nations need strong insipiration in order to muster the collective courage and will to put up a fight for survival. And where such inspiration can be mustered, nations have turned definite defeat into resounding victory.
Many cases abound in human history.
Britain faced such a choice in the second world war. When the rest of Europe had fallen to Hitler’s armies, Britain was the only European country left standing against Hitler’s complete domination of Europe and naturally bore the full brunt of his military fury in the unrelenting air strikes named the blitzkrieg. At the point of extreme distress there came the man who helped save Britain – Winston Churchill.
Winston Churchill roused the nation with calls to patriotism and the need to defend national sovereignty and pride. He rallied the nation with his own combativeness which stoked the national fighting spirit. He appeared indefatigable.
His huge frame certainly added to the insipiration. Britain rallied and pushed back Hitler’s attacks and survived. British national pride remained intact.
At the height of the civil rights struggle in the United States of America, Martin Luther King Jr and his associates inspired African-Americans to demand their rights and assert their human dignity. The high point of the struggle was the march to Washington and the famous “I have a dream” address in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Martin Luther King’s famous address was preceded by heroic acts of ordinary people, such as Rosa Parks, who refused to be cowed, who rejected second class status and demanded that their dignity as human beings be recognised.
In East Africa, the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, made it a habit to denigrate people whose character and conduct showed up his deficiencies. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was the favourite recipient of Amin’s taunts and insults.
When Mwalimu Nyerere ignored him, Amin felt so slighted that he invaded Tanzania and annexed part of its territory.
This one went beyond personal insult. It touched the very independence, national pride and dignity of Tanzanians. Nyerere decided to fight Amin to regain his country’s territory and national pride.
He rallied his country with the simple but insipirational words: “We will fight and defeat Amin. We have the cause, we have the will and we have the means.” The determination to win could not have been clearer.
And so with the conviction that they had no alternative but to wage war and win, the Tanzanian army not only removed Amin’s army from the Kagera salient it had occupied, but drove him right out of Uganda.
Amin was reputed to have a powerful army and ferociuos fighters. It turned out he had more bark than bite.
Rwanda has had a worse history than most of the countries related here. Rwandans have been to the abyss. Many people thought and wished that they would stay there and disappear, or if they did not, they would have to beg others for their existence.
They came out, strong, resilient and determined to move on. They did not seek the permission of anyone to come out of the abyss.
This has been one of the miracles of our time. It has been inspirational to many people around the world. It has also been a result of insipiration.
On April 7 at the national stadium, Agathe Kamagwera, a survivor of the genocide committed against the Tutsi, gave testimony about her will to live that was very inspiring. She had been hunted and hacked like an animal and left for dead. She did not die.
She survived, though widowed, and vowed not to give in to despair or fall for the easy solution. She rebuilt her life, brought up her children, and has attained a reasonable standard of life to the point where she is the insipiration to other families in her neighbourhood. Kamagwera has also been inspired by others, notably the president of Rwanda.
I have listened to President Paul Kagame’s speeches on April 7 for the past ten years and I have always found them to be a call to Rwandans to rise from and move away from the abyss.
His addresses are a call to Rwandans to rise above despair and despondency, and not to allow themselves to drown in sorrow. They are a call to them to strive to live, and live well, because that’s what they should aim at, bur also so as to deny satisfaction to those who would deprive them of the right and joy of life.
He has always called Rwandans to the defence of the nation and its people because no one else will. The president will inevitably urge his audience to fight for their dignity and jealously guard it. He does not tire from telling us that no one else bestows dignity on an an individual or a people except themselves.
As the English say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, proof that Rwandans have heeded the call abounds. The state, which malevolent elements had wished would fail, did not only survive but emerged even stronger.
The economy that nobody gave the slightest chance is vibrant and growing. Above all, the people have refused to bend under the weight of sorrow, heavy though it is, and go about their business with heads high. They have shown that they are ready to answer the call to shape a future they deserve.
Agathe Kamagwera and countless others scattered all over the more than one thousand hills of this fair land are proof of the collective will to rise to the call of duty, dignity and development.