The night of March 18, 1997 will remain one of those darkest moments in our country’s turbulent history. That’s when innocent teenagers of Nyange Secondary School in the former Kibuye Prefecture – now Western Province – were attacked in one of the bloodiest assaults by Ex-Far/Interahamwe militia.
The Nyange heroes are among millions of victims of the decades of bad leadership that attempted to erase our characteristic values that were historically built around our common identity since the days of our fore fathers.
Understandably, events that commemorate these fallen students and all other celebrated national heroes evoke bitter memories.
However, February 1 also is a reminder that there are exemplary men, women and children who laid down their lives for this nation to stand again its feet; and whose love for this country, should inspire us all to work hard to advance the same values they strived for.
Nyange martyrs died young, but with great vision for this country. Survivors have testified of how the attackers instructed the students to identify themselves along ethnic lines, but these helpless young ones chose to remain intact in the eyes of their assailants.
“Twese turi abanyarwanda” (we are all Rwandans),” one girl boldly declared to the gun-wielding attackers, before she was shot dead.
These children-cum-heroes did what many elderly Rwandans failed to do whenever they would be confronted with the same situations – the ex-FAR/Interahamwe would ask ‘Hutus’ to go on one side and ‘Tutsis’ on the other, before killing Tutsis.
But while the spirits of the slaughtered Nyange students rest silent, we should all be inspired by their bravery and sense of unity.
They chose unity over disunity, Rwandan identity over ethnic differences. Today, they are our heroes and so will they be for many generations to come.
As we celebrate our heroes come February 1, we need to reflect on the sacrifices made by the Nyange students, the fallen military liberators, outstanding politicians and ancestors. Their sacrifices should never be in vain.
And we can only pay them back if we furthered their dream of one great nation, one united people; freedom for everyone; and education and prosperity for all.
Their deaths may have left behind broken hearts, but they will forever remain a source of pride and inspiration for us. For today, the young generation can look to learn from the heroic actions of the Nyange students; the sacrificial example of Fred Gisa Rwigema and other fallen liberators; Agathe Uwilingiyimana; and many other deceased heroes.
If they were to come back today, they would surely flash a broad smile for their efforts have borne unimaginable results. They would delight in the actions of men and women who have taken it upon themselves to lead this nation to the ‘land’ our heroes dreamt of. For Rwandans have never been more united before.
Examples are many. Many of those responsible for the atrocities that claimed the lives of the Nyange students have hitherto abandoned their wicked ways, and are currently contributing to their country’s development in one way or another.
They have undergone rehabilitation and reintegrated into either the national military or civilian life. There has been tremendous positive shift across all sectors of the economy.
Children currently enroll in schools, not because of who they are and where they hail from, but based on merit. Public tenders are now awarded transparently with all competitors having equal chances.
Judicial institutions are freely rendering justice regardless of who is involved; and Rwandans elect their leaders in free and fair elections.
Nonetheless, the journey remains so long. Our country needs to sustain or even surpass last year’s GDP growth rate of 10 percent; all school-age children should be in classrooms; and every Rwandan household should have access to quality healthcare, clean water, and should have bread on the table.
After Rwanda joined the East African Community (EAC) and anticipated membership to the Commonwealth Club, Rwandans need to be competitive than never before.
Therefore, the Government’s current efforts to instill a corporate culture among Rwandans could never come at a better time. Our country stands to lose out in this increasingly globalised village if we keep the status quo.
On Sunday, the Minister of Culture and Sports, Mr Joseph Habineza and his Local Government counterpart, Mr Protais Musoni, outlined – during a live town hall meeting – top five values that should characterize every Rwandan.
As they indicated, Rwandans indeed need to change their way of thinking and working style. And if we can only embrace the five adopted values: ‘speed and respect for time; customer service mentality; quality delivery; completion towards results; and self-respect and national pride’, our nation would emerge the ultimate winner.
We need to move fast, and start moving now. That is the only fulfilling way of saying ‘thank you’ to our heroes.
The author is Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA) Marketing & Communication Specialist.