Since 2001, every year on February 1, Rwanda celebrates National Heroes Day. On this occasion, Rwandans are invited to remember and reflect on the national heroes and actions they have taken in their lives. The day is meant to remember national heroes and heroines and reflect on the values for which they are remembered.
Rwandan heroes and heroines are classified into three categories which include Imanzi, Imena and Ingenzi.
Imanzi are supreme heroes who demonstrated outstanding achievements indicated by supreme sacrifice, outstanding importance and example. It is worth mentioning that this honor is only bestowed on people who gave their life for the country.
Heroes in the Imena category are reputed for their extraordinary acts for the country marked by sacrifice, high importance and example.
The Ingenzi category is for those known for their good ideas or outstanding achievements characterized by supreme sacrifice.
The first category (Imanzi) comprises currently only the Unknown Soldier and Fred Gisa Rwigema.
The Unknown Soldier represents all known and unknown combatants who died in the struggle for the liberation of Rwanda.
Fred Rwigema was the first APR commander who initiated the liberation struggle when the RPF rebels invaded Rwanda on 1 October 1990. Born on April 10, 1957 in Mukiranze village, Kamonyi District (former Gitarama), he died on the battlefield on October 2, 1990, on the second day of the Rwanda Patriotic Army liberation war.
In the second category (Imena) are late King Mutara 3 Charles Rudahigwa and musician Michael Rwagasana.
King Mutara III Rudahigwa Charles Léon Pierre was born in 1911. He was the son of King Yuhi IV Musinga and Nyiramavugo Kankazi Radegonde. He became the King on November 16, 1931 after his father was overthrown on November 13, 1931.
During his rule, King Rudahigwa greatly advocated for the welfare of Rwandans and independence. The king is commonly known to have mediated between the Belgian colonialists and the Catholic Church. He highly advocated for the welfare of Rwandans, democracy and fighting against injustice through the King's Court.
Under his monarchy, he eliminated all forms of slavery and advocated for unity and reconciliation among Rwandans. King Mutara III Rudahigwa died in mysterious circumstances on July 25, 1959 in what many consider to have been an assassination.
Michael Rwagasana was born in 1927, in Gitisi-Nyamagana of Ruhango District in the Southern Province. His unwavering advocacy for unity, independence and denouncing ethnic differences won him a job as the First Rwandan Secretary in the United Nations. He died in prison under the regime of Gregory Kayibanda for declining to embrace ethnic segregation.
That was also the earned the hero status for the students of Nyange Secondary School in Western Province, who were massacred by the FAR and Interahamwe militia during a raid on the school in 1997. The students were killed after refusing to be separated along ethnic lines of Hutus and Tutsis as ordered by the rebels.
This category also includes two women, Felisita Niyitegeka and Agatha Uwiringiyimana who was the Prime Minister when the genocide broke out in April 1994. Uwiringiyimana was among the first high official killed by marauding presidential guards after the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash on 6 April 1994.
Foundation of dignity and development
Under the theme "Heroism is a foundation of Dignity and Development," this year the day was celebrated at the village level in order for the day to teach the community what kind of a hero is needed today - a person who can contribute to the development of the country in all areas: the milÂÂ¬itary, business, empowerment of women; a person fighting to free the country from poverty, diseases and inequality.
Some people expressed concerns that there is not enough recognition for ordiÂÂ¬nary people. "There are people who lost parts of their bodies and the use of some parts while in service for the country, but are they recognized?" asked one Kigali resident. Others said they thought only well-known people are recÂÂ¬ognized and there was a need to celebrate those who are still alive, from all walks of life.
On that issue, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission in charge of Memory of Heroes, Kamali Karegesa, believes that all Rwandans are heroes. He says that the notion of heroes should not be restricted to the exceptional acts of some individuals because the country is where it is today because of the collective heroism of its people.
"Every Rwanda is a hero, due to the fact that he has participated directly or indirectly in the country's rebirth.
Those whom people think are ignored are really not, they are respected for their heroic acts and the sacrifices they have made to their country."
He says that heroes are marked by the quality of the hero and the actions he has taken in his life, while at the second dimension is the bravery of the heroes in connection with the desire to be brave and fight for his ideal of radical change in the society.
According to Kamali, Rwandan citizens should have values because they are a prerequisite for the sustainable development of Rwanda.
However, according the Minster of Sports and Culture, Protais Mitali, thorough research is needed to unearth heroic activities by living Rwandans in order to promote the culture of heroism towards sustainable development.
And Dr Augustin Iyamuremye, the head of National Commission in charge of memory of heroes, said that every day, someone can be found with heroic achievements, but to be part of those recognized nationally, "it has to be confirmed by our researchers and experts."
The farmers in different parts countrywide ensuring that the country doesn't run out of food, the traders paying taxes so as to maintain the country's development growth pace, public and private servants rising up early to make sure that the country stays on its feet, and all the Rwandan people determined to work hard towards a self-reliant Rwanda, for Dr Iyamuremye they are all living heroes.