Recently, I heard a snippet of Former US President Bill Clinton’s citation on the occasion to Award President Paul Kagame the Clinton Global Citizen Award (Rwanda TV cut short the progamme and instead played a recorded, repeatedly replayed local dance-where are your priorities RTV?) and I thought about the Rwandan and African shyness (or is it superstition), when it comes to recognizing our heros and heroines during their lifetime.
It is not uncommon to find a neglected national hero. Such a person may live like a destitute and may lack some of the basic needs in life. On his death people put on their best behavior, shed crocodile tears and tell all how much the nation has lost a true hero/heroine.
The dead may have his/her shiny casket wrapped in the national flag and gets buried in a marble tomb. Politicians fall over each other saying how much the nation has lost a true son/daughter.
The state may spend a lot of resources on the burial a fraction of which the dead may have used to die a happy person. One such nationalist in the neighbouring country had lived like a pauper, and when he died he was given a state burial with a national holiday to remember the fallen.
During the last miserable part of his life, no one remembered him to say “how can the nation help you?”, and in death the nation had a public holiday to remember him.
The President is not a destitute and he is not about to die soon.
Is there any reason why we, people of Rwanda, do not show appreciation to our President Kagame for what he has done for us? Could it be that foreigners see that we have benefitted from our heroes more than we (who live those benefits) do?
Is it because non Africans fear death less than Africans? Is it our desire to heap praises on the dead, knowing that they cannot change or challenge what we say?
Sometime back Mzee Tito Rutaremara, a member of the National Medals (Awards) Committee, when asked about why Kagame was not honored, responded that he (Kagame) deserves the highest national medal (Imanzi in Intwari categories) and it could not be bestowed on him while in office lest he makes a mistake that demerits him the honour.
From that reasoning, all people who intend to honour our President should put it on hold until the man is out of office and retired and then recognize his contributions to the people of Rwanda, Africa and the world.
For goodness’s Kagame should be honoured for his achievements as a leader (this far) and not what he might do in the future.
I would propose that Kagame is honoured for the achievements the people he has led have realised under his leadership.
Unfortunately, as time passes, many acts of selflessness, sacrifice and valour get blurred in daily demands for our survival, and it is important that we do not forget our past lest we lose sight of our future.
It may look like centuries ago when the United Nations Mission in Uganda and Rwanda (UNOMUR) was set up to ensure no logistics, supplies nor recruits would reach the RPA from Uganda or anywhere.
Based in Kabale, south western Uganda the monitors scoured the sky and the footpaths on the border.
One Zimbabwe Colonel in UNOMUR bragged that he had so much guerrilla experience he would detect and smoke out any clandestine RPA operations across the Uganda-Rwanda border.
With RPA outnumbered almost 1:5 it called for Rwandan courage and a master military strategist to hold the government army with national resources at its disposal and arms smuggling from Zaire in its tracks.
For this Kagame ought to be honoured by us Rwandans and if, if he makes mistakes in the future he already will have done his part in liberating Rwanda.
In the middle of the killing orgies in Kigali during the genocide, a family of relatives to Kagame was hanging to life by their ability not to cough or sneeze in the ceiling of their residence.
Word reached Kagame who requested the Commander of the UN Observer Mission to Rwanda if he could save those peoples’ lives; giving him directions to the location of the residence.
Armed UN Observers went to the residence but the hunted people hiding up in the ceiling were too scared to shift and missed the opportunity to be saved.
The Observers left the residence and their presence acted like a magnet to the killers who turned the residence upside-down, found the people who were hiding for their lives and butchered them.
The fact that some of those killers may be in Kigali, living normal when Kagame is President goes contra to human desire for revenge and is an inspiration to Rwandans to do the same and not to dwell on the past but together forge our future.
For his effort in uniting Rwandans after the genocide, Kagame should be recognized by Rwandans irrespective of what he does in the future.
For the period 1995-2002 a brutal war, was waged by remnants of the defeated former Rwandan army and ethnic extremists, in the west and north-west of Rwanda. Many innocent lives and property were destroyed.
Surrendering and defecting combatants were integrated into the national army with commissioned guerillas retaining their ranks and even commanding the very people they had been trying to kill.
This could only be done by foresighted nationalists, and Kagame as the leader should be recognized by Rwandans now.
The reasons why we must honour and award President Kagame cannot be exhausted here, however, these should be based on his role in the past and not what he might do in the future.
Some people may not agree with him or his approach, but as Rwandans we need to see the bigger picture and thank President Kagame for his contribution to our reconciliation, unity, development, freedom and hope for the future.
We are indebted to him.