President Paul Kagame has encouraged Rwandans at home and abroad to put Rwandan cultural values at the centre of their lives and live as winners in an increasingly changing world.
The Head of State made the call on Saturday while addressing thousands of Rwandans and friends of Rwanda gathered in San Francisco, US, for a Rwanda Day event.
The event was also attended by the First Lady, Mrs Jeannette Kagame.
Organised by the Rwandan community in California and the Government of Rwanda, the event ran under the name of ‘Rwanda Cultural Day’ and served as an opportunity to celebrate the country’s unique culture and its role in its post-Genocide transformation.
Through various activities organised during the day, participants learned about the values that unite Rwandans and the home-grown solutions inspired by Rwanda’s culture that have become an integral part of solving the country’s post-Genocide challenges, ranging from justice and reconciliation, to poverty reduction and accountable governance.
Kagame told the audience that rebuilding Rwanda has been challenging but possible mainly given Rwandans’ culture of being there for one another and their innate desire to fight for their dignity.
“Culture is neutral. It is the common thread that runs through a society and brings people together. The moment we put our people first, culture becomes the glue that holds our people; we do not give up; we are never thrown off balance. We are held by this rich culture,” he said.
Drawing the example of the lives of Rwandan refugees before the liberation of Rwanda to highlight the resilience of Rwandans, President Kagame said Rwandans living in refugee camps always worked hard for whatever they got and went ahead to fight for their country and dignity.
“Life as refugees kept people together, they wanted to work for whatever they got and later fought for their country and dignity. The quest for dignity did not end with life as refugees; the struggle has to continue to change the life of everyone. The life of everyone was changed by their hard work toward being where they deserve to be.”
Speaking about Rwanda’s critics and those who are fixated with giving lessons to others on how to live their lives, President Kagame said Rwandans were ready to stand together against any challenges as history has shown.
“People write a list of things you cannot do and do not expect you to express yourself as to the life you want to lead. Despite criticism, I feel fine. Because the people of Rwanda are there for each other. The harder you beat Rwanda, what comes out is people who really want to give it back to you, who want to push back. We will not just bow to you. It is not where we belong. We belong to a nation that can engage in a conversation.”
President Kagame called on Africans to always strive for “modern Africanisation” and avoid adopting westernisation blindly.
“What I am looking for is modern africanisation. I am an African that can relate well and meaningfully to the rest of the world. I am not an African lost in the jungle looking for magnanimous people to give me a sense of direction. I don’t mind if you hold me accountable for what I am doing, but you must be able to listen. There is no such power that people have that they should not be able to listen to others. We are expected to swallow what we are told without chewing. In our culture, we chew before swallowing.”
President Kagame challenged the youth of Rwanda and Africa to value and protect their identity wherever they may be.
“You must have an identity you call yours, you should be proud of, that will endure and stay with us for generations.”
Urging Rwandans to strive to transform their nation into one, Kagame told participants that Africa should no longer be left behind.
“You can choose to waste your time or live on borrowed time, but I want us to choose believing it is our time. There is no reason we cannot catch up to the rest of the world. We belong up there,” Kagame said, adding that achieving transformation can only result from the hard work of every Rwandan.
At the event, different aspects of the Rwandan culture throughout the life cycle were explored through performances by members of Rwanda’s National Ballet (Urukerereza).
They include the naming of a baby child, exchanging gifts such as donating cows, getting married, helping each other in communities, and protecting the country.
Different speakers also talked about the uniqueness of Rwanda, with renowned American pastor, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, saying that he loves Rwanda for special things that include the resilience of Rwandans, their willingness to forgive, the integrity of the leadership in Rwanda, and the country’s sense of independence whereby it refuses to be told what to do by foreign leaders.
Another American, Michael Fairbanks, who is the co-founder of OTF Group and the SEVEN Fund that provide training and grants for enterprise solutions to poverty, said that he knows the secret behind Rwanda’s current success.
“Solving problems together is the secret of the Rwandan story,” he said, also describing Rwandans as people who embrace competition and trust for each other.
Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said that it’s a daily struggle to try and put one’s message across in a competitive world but emphasised the need to keep fighting for it.
The event attracted more than 2000 people, including those from Rwanda and other parts of Africa, those from Europe, Asia, as well as from many corners of the US and Canada.