I want to wish everyone a happy Heroes Day. This is a day we celebrate the very best of Rwanda. We remember the lives, and deaths, of people like Maj. Gen Fred Gisa Rwigema, Mwami Mutara Rudahigwa Charles Leon Pierre, Rwagasana Michel, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Niyitegeka Felicite and the students of the Nyange Girls School.
While we all cannot be the kind of heroes who sacrifice their lives for their fellow countrymen, we can all do our bit to make this country a better place for our children and our children’s children. My bit is joining fellow alumni of the Academy of Leadership, Competitiveness and Prosperity (commonly known as ALCP) in mentoring teenagers in various secondary schools in Kigali, helping them become better members of the Rwandan community.
I want to send my appreciation to our modern day heroes; the policemen and women who stand in the blazing sun all day directing traffic, the soldiers who patrol our streets at ungodly hours, the teachers who are underpaid but still do their best and the nurses who care for our sick. Yes, their merely doing what they are supposed to, but I can say with all honesty that I wouldn’t last a day doing what they do. So, once again, I wish all our heroes, famous or not, a great Heroes Day.
A huge case is being heard right now in the Supreme Court building here in Kigali. Agnes Nkusi Uwimana and Saidath Mukakibibi, editor and reporter respectively of the ‘Umurabyo’ newspaper, are appealing their convictions by the High Court for threatening state security by publishing material aimed at inciting public disorder and creating ethnic divisions. Ms. Uwimana was given a jail term of 17 years while her employee, Mukakibibi, got a ‘shorter’ seven years in the slammer.
Maybe I am biased, for you see these two women are members of the media fraternity that I call myself a part of, but I cannot for the life of me understand why the High Court handed down such a harsh sentence. I will be the first to admit that these two individuals represent a lot of the weaknesses in Rwanda’s media. They passed opinion as fact, libeled the person of the President and rode roughshod over simple journalistic ethics and best practices. However, the question that should be asked is if whether the offence merited the punishment.
Men and women, found guilty of participating in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, have been jailed for less time. So have armed robbers, hoodlums, rapists and corrupt officials, who’ve stolen millions of francs from the national treasury. The only way that the sentences can be justified is if these two women, one of whom suffers from HIV, threatened the security of the entire Rwandan community through their writing. Obviously, they didn’t. Whatever they wrote in Umurabyo, despite its vitriolic language, didn’t affect anyone. People read the nonsense and then continued with their lives.
At the end of the day, Rwandans know what is good for them and what isnt. The Rwanda of Hassan Ngenze, of the imfamous Kangura newspaper, is no more. We have moved on as a people. We aren’t the same people who thought that gun-toting vampires would come in the middle of the night and suck the blood of our children. I’m not ignoring the power of the written word. However, judges and prosecutors should know that we have the maturity to know what should be taken as fact, and what is nothing but pure silliness.