On February 01, Rwanda will celebrate the Heroes Day. This Day in Rwanda is a time not only when we announce people of valour and humour, but also seek to define the word hero in its proper context. For instance, do we have heroes or martyrs of fate?
It is in effect, rather complex to identify a hero in a society. Many scholars have gone as far as saying that the definition of a hero depends on the individual or individuals.
In other words, they are trying to tell us that the definition of a hero is normally, influenced by people’s attitudes. Therefore, in such cases, where we have biased definition(s), it is not easy to tell who is actually a hero or not.
The worst paradox comes when some people who find themselves out of power after liberations, regard heroes as ‘villains’.
Simple but clear examples are in Rwanda. Much as we know the soldiers of Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) and more precisely the former Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) that stopped the genocide as heroes—genocidaires would want them branded otherwise, for obvious reasons.
So who is a hero? The remote belief is that heroes are extraordinary people who performed tremendous deeds, beyond the capabilities of an average man/woman. One such conservative or traditional reference is Alexander the Great—regarded as the undisputed hero.
“Alexander the Great possessed the qualities that would enable Greece to establish itself as the greatest power in the known world. His ambitious mind made it possible for him and his soldiers to conquer lands from Greece to India. Being the son of Philip of Macedon, he should have inherited his father’s title; however, historians deemed the title of “the Great” more fitting for such an extraordinary person.
His courageousness, military intellect, and ambition have proved that he is a definite leader and has the right to be called Great,” observes Chris Whitten.
We would liken Alexander the Great to the late General Fred Rwigema of Rwanda. He was a selfless, intelligent, courageous and ambitious true son of Rwanda, who championed the liberation of the country.
That is why he is not only a Rwandan hero, but also the Great Rwanda hero—just like Alexander the Great. The word ‘Great’ is there for distinctive purposes, for, as Alexander, Rwigema never fought a lone.
He had other gallant sons and daughters of Rwanda who fought alongside him. They too are our heroes to remember forever, for the blood they shed will always inspire us to guard their ideals.
Rwigema takes the upper hand because without his courage and discipline, his juniors would not have attained their objectives.
Besides commanding his men in battles, Rwigema also led them into the battles, being always in the front and in the middle of the battle. This showed tremendous bravery because he was vulnerable to bullets, just as his juniors and indeed, he died fighting.
Generals in modern times will usually lead their men from the rear, but brave Rwigema was different. This unique character, qualifies him by any standards as the undisputed Rwandan hero.
It is further more interesting to learn that there would be no heroes if there were no wars. This is why, probably the issue of heroism, is a great paradox to most moralists.
For moralists, nothing that involves war is heroic, but rationalists like us, would say that it depends on the kind of war.
RPA for instance, fought a liberation war that was justified by even the so-called classic just war theory- a war aimed at unchaining Rwandans from the ills of a long time despotic regime.
Of course, the word hero is belittled by certain people, who use it carelessly or about situations where one surrenders to impulse.
Let us take an example where a mother decides to jump into a burning house, to rescue her baby and dies. Do we call such a person a hero? No, she is only a courageous person and courage is just a single component of heroism.
We should therefore, be able to tell the difference between real heroes and ‘heroes of fate’. We need this for the purposes of keeping great heroes like Fred Rwigema, in our minds, to inspire our posterity.