February 1 is a day of reflection on the sacrifice made by Rwandan heroes who paid the ultimate price in the interest of the nation, for the patriotic values that are so cherished by the post-Genocide generation.
The New Times' Edwin Musoni interviewed the Executive Secretary of the Chancellery for Heroes and National Orders and Decorations of Honour, Ignatius Kamali Karegesa, and below are the excerpts.
Qn. Since the establishment of the Chancellery, what has been your major focus?
Ans. The Chancellery for Heroes, National Orders and Decorations of Honour was established by law in June 2009. The Executive Secretary - myself - was appointed on March 16, last year, and members of its council three months later. Naturally, the immediate need was to establish the office, in terms of recruitment of staff and procurement of the necessary office materials. This is still ongoing. We, however, carried on with the Chancellery programmes that were being undertaken by the Ministry of Sports and Culture, since this work was done as a programme at the ministry.
This included completion of the Policy Paper of the Chancellery and formation of Heroes clubs in secondary schools and other institutions of higher learning. The Chancellery organised a series of meetings of the Council, the purpose of some of them was to get to understand our duties and responsibilities, but we also discussed what we were able to do with the skeleton staff we had.
In short, we have now defined our work and are set to undertake research in as far as the identification of potential heroes is concerned.
Qn. How is Rwanda going to celebrate the National Heroes Day?
Ans. This year's 19th National Heroes Day does not have a special or unique character. It is not very different from the past celebrations. What we will, however, emphasise, and perhaps undertake on a larger scale, is the coverage of the Rwandan population in terms of public meetings with a wide range of audiences. We have planned to reach out to nearly all schools in the whole country, to government and private institutions, and of course, to the rest of the population at Umudugudu (village) level.
We have also appeared on national television and radio talk-shows and given interviews to a number of news papers. The objective of using mass media is to try and inform the public about how the Chancellery functions, what they should expect from us and what we expect of them.
We have also been able to explain the theme for this year, which is "Heroism is the foundation of dignity and development." In a way, we tried to link both concepts of heroism and dignity for easier understanding of each one of them.
Qn. How deep will you go to ensure that this national recognition is felt at the grassroots level across the nation?
Ans. It is going to be through mass media, and the fact that we will be able to have it done at the level of Umudugudu, this ensures good coverage. We will, however, make sure we carry out a comprehensive evaluation of how the exercise went.
By this, we will be able to assess the degree of effectiveness of the exercise.
Qn. Please take us through the process of identifying these heroes. Is it something that you are going to continue doing? If so, how?
Ans. The process of identifying potential heroes and heroines is a rigorous one. The Chancellery or its secretariat may initiate research about potential heroes, we may receive instructions from a competent authority or as a result of public demand we may carry out research about an individual or more persons.
In all these cases, the bottom line is that research must be done. You are not going to appoint or be asked to appoint or be forced to appoint a hero or heroine. The reason is that heroes must be identified through credible and careful procedures. Once the exercise has been done satisfactorily, after a series of consultations, including with the Rwandan public, then the Council of the Chancellery will submit its findings in form of a report to the cabinet.
I don't know what happens there before the heroes are declared, but I have reason to believe that some verification of the findings is done. Once the cabinet is satisfied, the heroes will be declared through a Presidential Order. The other part of
your question, as to whether we are going to continue, the answer is: We are certainly going to continue. Actually we have just started, if I may say.
Qn. Regarding relatives or families of fallen Heroes, does government take them into account, especially for those heroes that have paid the ultimate price?
Ans. Yes, the government takes into account the families of the heroes, who paid the ultimate price. Even those who are still living, by the way! We are still studying this area, which is provided for in the law that established the Chancellery.
There are certainly benefits and other forms of treatment, like protocol issues, and so on. We are currently studying the Presidential Order in the law that provides for the benefits and other forms of treatment.
Qn. Is there any particular reason as to why this date was changed from October 1, to February 1?
Ans.: You know October 1 was or is a day when the RPF launched the armed struggle against dictatorship which was reigning in the country. But when the idea of honouring the national heroes was conceived, I should think, there was need for such heroes to really bear national character. In other words, it was necessary to rid the idea and the process of unnecessary sentiments and emotions. So, February 1 was found to be a neutral month, one which everyone might identify with. Besides, this month of February is a time when Rwandans are blessed with plenty of food, good pastures for their live stock, etc. I think it is a period considered ideal for national celebrations.
Qn: What message do you have for Rwandans during this year's celebrations?
Ans: I would like to inform the public that we are still sorting out a few administrative issues. Once we are done, we will embark on research to make their heroes known. We further inform, all Rwandans that they primary stakeholders in the process and the outcome of our findings. Heroism is synonymous with Rwanda's legacy of Agaciro and selflessness.