Reflections on Heroes Day and why we need to document this rich history

Sunday February 3 2019


Rwanda Defence Forces officers and soldiers salute in honour of the national heroes in the past. PHOTO | FILE 

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Every February 1 is National Heroes Day in Rwanda and it is a day to remember numerous official national heroes who lost their lives for their country.

National heroes and heroines are classified into three categories: Imanzi- supreme heroes with outstanding achievements and unparalleled sacrifice, Imena — heroes sacrificed for their country and Ingenzi — recognised for their exemplary actions.

They include Major General Fred Gisa Rwigema, representing all the fallen soldiers who died during the struggle for liberation; the students of Nyanza School who bravely sacrificed their lives rather than separate themselves based on ethnicity; former Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and King Rudahigwa who abolished all forms of serfdom and advocated for Rwanda’s unity and independence.

While for many, particularly generations that are post the liberation struggle, Heroes Day might just sound like another holiday, it is a day that is significant in the history of the liberation struggle. It sheds light on exceptional citizens who saved lives and bravely fought against impossible odds to set an example of what it truly means to be a role model.

However, we also have unsung heroes across the country who were never recognised — ordinary people who performed extraordinary acts.

So, the National Heroes’ Day celebrates all the declared and undeclared fallen heroes of the liberation struggle. All those who died fighting for Rwanda are celebrated on that day. But heroism is also enduring.

Its impact goes beyond its time. Its legacy is felt by future generations. The freedom that we enjoy today was paid for in sweat, blood, and tears.

But as we speak about Heroes Day and while Rwandans are aware of the general history of the liberation struggle, there is a lack of personal stories of the people who participated. A lot of our heroes are buried without books or films to tell their stories.

There is a limited understanding particularly among the youth of our national heroes, which necessitates proper documentation to enable future generations to not only cherish, but also learn from their patriotic acts. Documentation enables us to physically preserve our history, and more importantly enables us to understand and preserve the history, and the memory of the liberation struggle.

Also, the information acquired can be presented to the general public in order to promote understanding and better appreciation of our history. However, decision makers are often unaware of the purpose and benefits of documentation, and therefore, they underfund it.

If these benefits were more effectively communicated, greater resources could be allocated.
New technologies can certainly help reduce the cost and time necessary to record and document our history.

At the same time, significant research and investigation are required to ensure that the digital record created by these new technologies is preserved in the long term.