Everybody would like to be a hero, but the circumstances that make a real hero should not be wished on anyone. Nelson Mandela defeated apartheid while prison. Ghandi espoused simplicity; faith and non-violence to bring down British colonialism in India.
Martin Luther King effectively secured progress for human rights for African Americans. It cost Mandela 27 years of his prime life in a prison, on an island away from his family, his life’s struggle and his homeland.
Both Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi lost their lives for the cause. Heroism is not cheap, and not for the weak hearted especially. Nobody who becomes a hero begins a struggle or a pursuit for any cause with the knowledge that he will turn out a hero.
The dead and living heroes of Rwanda’s liberation war carry an idiosyncratic value for dreaming up a nation of freedom for all Rwandans even when such an idea would have been considered preposterous.
The predicaments that faced the men and women, who decided that they had to do something about their future as a community, can be described perfectly by the proverbial saying “between a rock and a hard place.”
Rwandan refugees in Uganda despite aiding the National Resistance Army to topple President Milton Obote’s second regime, were sadly and largely regarded as second class citizens and “foreigners.”
Back at home, political leaders openly declared that the solution to the country’s “problems” was the elimination of the same community that was being ostracized in their foreign refuge, wherever they were.
For someone to be deprived of his identity and his or her right to exist freely as a human being, who commands the basic rights to life, is as difficult as it can get.
The men and women, who spontaneously and voluntarily decided in 1990 to try to win their identity as a people, could not have been driven by the pursuit for heroism.
These men and women just wanted to belong to a place that they could call home. Their desire to come back home echoes Gandhi’s’ simplicity in the fight for India’s independence or Martin Luther’s wish for equality between all races.
A 1994 New York Times article stated that “Western military officers attribute the (Rwanda patriotic) front’s victory to three factors: leadership, discipline and commitment to a cause.”
It goes to explain how the then government troops had superior weapon power but simply could not match the effective organisation and leadership that drove their foes on.
Because the RPF had a cause, and the genocidal government had a killing agenda, the moral authority of the cause was bound to defeat the apocalyptic suppositions of genocide.
Dr. Andrew Bernstein in The Philosophical Foundations of Heroism defines a hero as an individual of elevated moral stature and superior ability who pursues his goals indefatigably in the face of powerful antagonist(s).
He names the four components of heroism as moral greatness, ability or prowess, action in the face of opposition, and triumph in at least a spiritual, if not a physical, form.
Rwanda’s liberation heroes achieved moral greatness by urging Rwandese to unite instead of pursuing a revenge agenda against their protagonists.
Their military prowess was as already mentioned a result of leadership, discipline and commitment, not superior weoponery.
Their triumph may not be the ousting of the genocidal government per se, but the ability to revise the national identity to include all Rwandans, irrespective of the artificial sectarian divisions that had characterised Rwanda history.
The real triumph was their willingness to move away from the main conflict that characterised genocidal agenda, to declare an interest in the one Rwanda idea rather than give justification to the fallen government by trying to play the sectarian cards.
With that single choice, they managed to make a seismic shift from the pre-1994 conflict scenario. They could have chosen revenge, but they did not and that separated them from the genocidal government.
Between Life and death, unlike their adversaries who chose death, they chose Life. That choice, like Mandela chose to preach peace and reconciliation in post apartheid era, was the real triumph for Rwanda’s liberation heroes.