Remarkable Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, and the miracle of Africa, are some of the words used by both Rwandans and visitors to describe the beauty as well as the speedy transformation of our East African nation Rwanda.
And I must say; I agree with each description – Rwanda is truly beautiful.
Today, however, I’m not writing about the beauty of Rwanda as that is well documented, and besides, there are better writers than myself for such pieces.
Today, my piece is about how, as a people, we can collectively improve the wellbeing of the brave men and women who continue to protect the beauty that is Rwanda – our security organs, including the Rwanda Defence Forces, Rwanda National Police, to name but two entities.
You see, as we celebrate the achievements that this nation keeps registering, I find it absolutely necessary to periodically pause and reflect on whether we have held the wellbeing of our armed forces, past and present, in the manner we should.
To begin with, I must credit government for devising initiatives designed to improve the lives of our serving and retired forces.
For instance, there is a great example of Zigama Credit and Savings Society – a financial cooperative with a membership exclusively made of state security organs, and whose mission is to empower its members and improve their livelihoods through provision of affordable and accessible financial services.
But what can the rest of us do to make their lives easier?
Before we discuss that, we need to first understand what it really means to be a member of the armed forces drawing from the writings of Dr Patrick Mileham, a British military expert on military ethics and military professionalism.
In 2000, Dr Mileham used the term ‘unlimited liability’ – an analogical phrase coined by General Sir John Hackett in 1983 to describe the nature of military risk whereby soldiers accept a commitment to serve whenever and wherever they are needed, whatever the difficulties or dangers may be.
General Hackett also noted that such commitment imposes certain limitations on individual freedom, and requires a degree of self-sacrifice. In return for their sacrifice, armed forces rightly expect society to respect and treat them fairly, observed General Hackett.
By now, it should be common knowledge that one of the main duties of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) is to devise all means, on behalf of the Government, to protect the safety and security of Rwandans, and to guard the country’s sovereignty.
In doing so, members of the armed forces cede some civilian freedoms, face danger and, sometimes, suffer serious injuries or death as a result of their duty. The rest of us are under no obligation to partake in such dangerous activities.
Henceforth, as Rwandans, we ought to consider drawing up a ‘Psychological Covenant’ between us the people, the Government and the Armed Forces as an expression of the moral obligation the Government and the people owe to those who serve, or have served in the RDF and their families.
Brooke-Holland and Taylor, both experts on military professionalism observe that there are two main principles in the covenant; no disadvantage, and special consideration.
The Principle of No disadvantage:
The first principle of the covenant should stipulate that those who serve in the RDF, whether regular or reserve, those who have served in the past, and their immediate families, should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services.
Here, we would need to make certain that, as we pursue development goals in various areas such as education, healthcare, housing and so on, members of the RDF and their families are not left behind or, at best, are made first priority.
In addition, more welfare options, including affordable loans, mortgages and healthcare plans could be made widely accessible to the RDF fraternity as they are to the rest of the general public.
In the same way, Parliament may take the lead to monitor the progress of such initiatives to make sure that accountability is upheld and that no member of RDF or their families are at a disadvantage in society.
The Principle of Special Consideration:
The second principle should reinforce the notion of special consideration in some cases involving members of the RDF and their families, especially for those who have given most, including the injured and the bereaved.
On housing, for example, members of the RDF, such as those injured in battle, may need special consideration for tailored housing to allow for changes in their lives as a result of injuries. Believe it or not, many have regularly argued that adjusting from military to civilian life can be a tall order. It is, therefore, our duty to effectively facilitate the transition.
Overall, every now and then, RDF soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices, both at home and abroad, in the name of our country and in the name of keeping the peace.
On every occasion, it is important to remember that they forego the rights enjoyed by most of us, and sometimes, they pay the ultimate sacrifice, like it was the case during the liberation struggle.
Surely, in return, the men and women in uniform must be able to always expect fair treatment, to be valued, and respected accordingly. Collectively, let us always find ways to show appreciation and gratitude to our servicemen and women past and present.