President Paul Kagame has said that national achievements cannot be achieved individually but rather require joint efforts for the common good.
He was speaking at the International Achievement Summit in London on Wednesday.
At the summit, Kagame was awarded a Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement.
Speaking at the summit, he said that true achievement requires application of citizens’ talents towards a common goal.
“True achievement is not individual. Alone, none of us can accomplish much. When we apply our talents toward the common good, in concert with those around us, we can transform our world for the better,” he said.
Citing local examples of sacrifice and joint efforts, Kagame narrated how Rwandan soldiers forewent their salaries to ensure that the state could afford equipment to protect citizens at a time when the country was under attack.
After the liberation struggle following the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, some genocidal forces regrouped across the border and launched attacks on the country.
With Rwanda’s coffers devoid of funds, the situation presented a dilemma as the government had to choose between paying soldiers and buying military equipment to protect citizens.
“Rwanda’s survival was again at stake, yet the national treasury was empty. Eventually, the new government managed to find a little extra money in the budget for the army. This immediately presented a dilemma….. Our forces fully deserved a regular salary. At the same time, we were protecting civilians from highly-mobile attackers, in mountainous terrain. We needed additional capabilities, helicopters, among other things, for example. But we didn’t have any, and obviously no pilots either,” he narrated.
After consultations, the soldiers did not mind persevering a little longer as the country acquired equipment after which the invading forces were defeated.
“They chose to persevere a bit longer, and forego their salaries, so that we could procure the helicopters. And it worked. The insurgency was defeated, and for the first time in two generations, all Rwandans were at home, and our country could focus on peace-building,” Kagame said.
The globally acclaimed unity and reconciliation model in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide, Kagame explained, was also a result of joint citizens’ efforts and sacrifices.
The President noted that collective courage and efforts were displayed by the integration of survivors and perpetrators into communities which he described as ‘one of the greatest collective acts of courage.’
The unity is a result of a homegrown justice mechanism, ‘Gacaca’ which involved entire communities hearing testimonies, ascertaining facts and delivering a judgment for about 8 years.
“However, before the Gacaca process could move forward, I first had to ask Rwandans for one of the greatest collective acts of courage that has probably ever been asked, of any people. On January 1st, 2003, after months of meticulous preparation, I signed an order of provisional release, for most categories of Genocide suspects,” he recalled.
This was the first time in eight years that survivors were meeting the perpetrators face to face.
Kagame said that such act of collective courage and drive is the reason why ‘the people of Rwanda’ serve as his role models.
“This happened, because we firmly believed it was possible, despite enormous odds. And so we just kept going, until the vision became a reality. That is why, whenever I am asked for the role model that inspires me, the only honest answer I can give, is “the people of Rwanda,” who have suffered so much, yet refused to be helpless and defeated,” he said.
Kagame was presented with the Golden Plate Award, alongside nine Nobel Laureates, an Olympic Gold Medallist, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, the Governor of Missouri, the founder of McLaren Formula One, and several scientists, business leaders, and rock stars.
The Academy of Achievement was founded in 1961 by Wayne Reynolds’s father to “spark the imaginations of young men and women by bringing them into direct personal contact with the pre-eminent leaders of our time.”
The event consists of symposia and roundtable discussions with awardees and the approximately 75 youth delegates, drawn from prestigious scholarship programmes, such as the Rhodes Scholarship.