Saturday 8 August 2020
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newtimes - 1 month ago

Patriotism can’t be seasonal

This past week, there has been an outpouring of gratitude and pride among Rwandans. With good it has been the anniversary of our liberation. The mood has been one of jubilation even in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic when the usual forms of rejoicing have been suspended. You could still hear the joy in the tone. Some of this was deeply personal, with tributes to members of one’s family or those they knew personally for their role in the liberation of the country. These were often followed by a commitment to uphold the values they lived and some died for. There have been moving testimonies by survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi of the bravery of RPA soldiers. They narrate how they passed through enemy lines and roadblocks manned by soldiers and interahamwe militia drunk or high on drugs, often under heavy fire, to rescue them.  Then there is the collective gratitude of a whole nation for release from tyranny, division and backwardness, and restoration of nationhood. That has made social and economic progress possible. And so we all glory in this victory and the achievements that have since been registered. Such words as sacrifice, courage and bravery, and patriotism are on everyone’s lips. They are usually accompanied by others of vows and commitment to carry on in the spirit of those they celebrate. It is the same during remembrance in April. Again emotion is strong and heavy in the air. This time it is sad because we are mourning. The mood is sombre and reflective. There is great sorrow for the senseless loss of so many innocent lives and anger that this was allowed to happen when it could have been prevented. We are still enraged by an uncaring world, especially those with the means to police the world and often do so when it is in their interests. We question how our compatriots could descend to this level and the rest of humanity fold its arms and look the other way. There is also gratitude that some survived and carry the promise of regeneration. That reinforces the resolve that this should never happen again. That in turn informs another one: to repair the nation’s fabric and weave a stronger one that no one can tear again, and rebuild the country. Rwandans’ national spirit is most evident and strongest during these periods of liberation and commemoration. This is, of course, understandable given their import. But some might ask: What happens during the rest of the where are these feelings? Do they go under the surface only to reappear when needed on national days and put on display? Are they like clothes that we keep and bring out to wear on important occasions and then return to their storage until the next time? Indeed, some might say that our gratitude and patriotism, anger and indignation, and resolve are only seasonal. That may be too harsh. A lot of that spirit is visible even today. We have seen some of the selflessness and determination in the fight against Covid-19. Health workers and hundreds of volunteers have given their all to protect and save lives. Government officials have done everything to keep us safe and return the country to normal as soon as possible, and it is beginning to happen. We have seen it in government’s provision of modern housing and other social support programmes for the most vulnerable of our society so that they, too, can lead decent, dignified lives. But in another sense those who think that all these feelings about the country and the people who helped it get where it is today are seasonal or do not go far from the lips might have a point. They point to the high profile cases of corruption such as embezzlement or misuse of public resources and ask where integrity has gone. They question how some have come to see public service as a source of personal gain and wonder what has happened to selflessness and sacrifice. And they conclude that this is a betrayal of public trust and that of those who made it possible for them to be in their positions. But you might have a different view. These cases are only visible because as a country we are so hard on corruption that even a speck of it might appear like a huge log, you could argue. True, but if unchecked the speck will become a real log and then a tree and finally a forest. There is no doubt that the  majority of Rwandans are not seasonal patriots. They have made the spirit we show during commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi and liberation, or in times of adversity, part of their personal and social make up, and so should we all. This is a moment to renew national vows. Twitter: @jrwagatare The views expressed in this article are of the author.


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