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Heroism: A Virtue Modern Rwanda and Rwandans Owe Everything to

Abel Buhungu
Rwandan Head of Mission to Sudan

Every year on 1st February, Rwandans both inside and outside Rwanda reminisce on the love for their country and the virtue of heroism that is the bedrock of modern Rwanda. They on this day celebrate and applaud the farsighted brave men and women who in history established the Nation of Rwanda and those that came after them, for their contribution to making Rwanda what it is today. Heroism could be defined as the character of exemplifying the highest values of patriotism and sacrifice for the wellbeing of the country and its citizens and consists of putting others first, even at your own risk.

Indeed, in Rwanda’s history including during and after the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, some Rwandans either as individuals and or groups have demonstrated high levels of bravery, courage, self-sacrifice, and wisdom that has helped save lives and the country in general. It is in recognition of this enviable contribution that Government established the Chancellery for Heroes, National Orders, and Decorations of Honour (CHENO) to among others take charge of matters related to identification and categorization for awarding of medals of honor to Rwandan Heroes. Rwandan Heroes celebrated each year are classified in three categories as follows: (1) Imanzi; (2) Imena; and (3) Ingenzi. Rwanda Diplomatic Mission in Sudan together with Rwandan Community Members will for the suitability of many among them, hold the 28th National Heroes Day celebration on 4th February. The theme for this year’s celebration is: “Ubutwari mu Banyarwanda, Agaciro kacu” (“Heroism among Rwandans, Our Dignity”).

Twenty-eight (28) years after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, Rwanda is a country whose nationals are living in harmony and happiness with impressive progress registered this far across all sectors. This is despite a failed state status it had been destined to by the 1994 genocide against Tutsi. The genocide that lasted from 7th April to 4th July 1994 did not only decimate over a million innocent souls but also destroyed the economy, an entire infrastructure spectrum, and the moral fabric. A genocide with roots in the divide and rule policy of the colonial masters that were to unfortunately later get entrenched to the level of plotting total extermination of a part of the Rwandan population in the name of the Tutsi ethnic group by the Government of the day.

It is thanks to the young men and women united under the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) that the country was rescued from total oblivion. This was done through the campaign against genocide operations launched soon after the commencement of the genocide and lasted until the successful stopping of the genocide and liberation of Rwanda by 4th July 1994. Moreover, despite the enormous challenges inherited by the RPF-led Government of National Unity set up immediately after the Genocide, impressive progress registered across all sectors of the country today are there for all and sundry to see.

Even with the COVID19 pandemic that has ravaged the entire globe, this East African nation has against all odds not only endeavored to protect human lives but continues to grow her economy and deliver public goods to her people.

Emerging from an extremely low base and a near-failed state status right after the genocide, impressive milestones today abound not least: peace and security enjoyed throughout the country, a sustained all-inclusive economic growth averaging 8% and spanning sixteen years until the disruption of COVID19 in 2020, unity and reconciliation of Rwandese where genocide victims now harmoniously live side by side with their yesteryear tormentors; wide-ranging good governance policies initiated and implemented through newly instituted institutions as well as establishing and strengthening bilateral relations with other nations premised on national interests and mutual respect.

Moreover in fighting the COVID19 pandemic, over 50% of the entire population has to date been fully vaccinated, over eight hundred thousand (800,000) people have so far received booster vaccination shots and the country is en-route to meeting the World Health Organisation’s 70% vaccination threshold for achieving the population’s herd immunity by June 2022.    Moreover worth celebrating is the fact that behind this progress we pride in is a rejuvenated rich Rwandan culture and value system that is historically grounded in heroism and a people’s urge for dignity or Agaciro.

Rwanda has existed as a Nation-State for over five hundred years and unity among Rwandans during the pre-colonial era was wound with an enviable value system that among others nurtured both heroism and patriotism. This value system has thankfully been rejuvenated by the current leadership and it has fully bounced back to be the real bedrock of modern Rwanda. For the catastrophe that befell Rwanda in 1994 to have happened, this desirable value system had been vandalized thanks to the divide and rule policy by the colonialists and the two post-independence Republics that only entrenched division and ethnicity in a bizarre strategy that was selfishly meant to protect the political class. Indeed it is for this colonial-engineered lapse that cyclic killings of Tutsi began back in 1959 leading to the first mass movement of Tutsi refugees into neighboring countries.

It is also against this backdrop that the 1994 genocide against Tutsi was planned and ruthlessly executed by the second Republic at the very climax of the degeneration process of the said Rwandan ancestral value system. It is this value system that motivated the liberation struggle launched in October 1990 by the RPF to give dignity to a part of Rwandans that had been made stateless by a sitting Government and resurrect the country from its downhill political, economic and social degeneration.

It is thanks to this value system that nurtured heroism that the 1994 genocide against Tutsi was against all odds stopped by the RPF when the International Community had abandoned Rwandans at their most critical time of need. Moreover, steered by the RPF-led Government from July 1994, many homegrown solutions have since been initiated to the benefit of both the economy and rebuilding of the Rwandan moral fabric.

Rwanda’s rebirth as a nation-state following the 1994 genocide against Tutsi begins with the heroic successful stopping of the genocide, ensuring peace and security for Rwanda and all Rwandans, rebuilding of unity and reconciling Rwandans, and charting a reliable route for the country’s medium to long-term sustainable development. It is for these heroes both the living and departed that we celebrate on 1st February of each year. Celebrating these Heroes and Heroines also aims at encouraging Rwandan youths as leaders of tomorrow to adore and emulate the very ethos of patriotism and heroism, both for prosperity and posterity.

As a parallel and whilst noting that it is always a work in progress, I can only commend the desire by the Transitional Government of Sudan towards the pacification of the country which birthed the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement in October 2020. Worth commendation also as examples are the removal of the country from the list of international sponsors of terrorism as well as the re-joining of the international financial system and liberalization of the foreign exchange system.

As a Rwandan, I know pretty well how much of a prerequisite peace and security is for realizing the full potential of a people. It is for this general realization which is informed by Rwanda’s history that the country has diligently and sustainably been contributing to global peace through her effective participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations both in the continent and other parts of the world. The characteristic professionalism of her Military and Police as peacekeepers in the field of operation is equally a result of the Rwandan ethos that elaborated in this article.     

In conclusion, as Rwandese, we pride in and celebrate both our departed and living heroes and heroines. We owe modern Rwanda to the historical role played by our ancestors who coined it and lived by and left this crucial legacy of heroism and patriotism. We are moreover indebted to Rwanda’s contemporary leadership under the stewardship of President Paul Kagame that has not only salvaged but is also nurturing and nourishing this very desirable virtue of heroism. A leadership that is the source of motivation and moral compass for Rwandan youths who are naturally in the relay race of taking over the country’s baton for posterity.

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