On February 1, Rwandans celebrate the National Heroes’ Day. It is the day on which we remember National heroes and heroines and reflect on the values for which they are remembered.
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 they are no longer alive.
Heroes in the Imena category are reputed for their extraordinary acts for the country marked by sacrifice, high importance and example.
The Imanzi category is for those known for their good ideas or outstanding achievements characterised by supreme sacrifice.
The Unknown Soldier (‘Imanzi’)
The Unknown Soldier represents all the fallen soldiers of the liberation struggle.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located at the Heroes cemetery in Remera, next to Amahoro National Stadium. The Tomb is a way of commemorating the
soldiers whose remains could not be identified after the Liberation war.
Maj Gen. Fred Gisa Rwigema (‘Imanzi’)
Born on April 10, 1957 in Mukiranze village, Kamonyi District (former Gitarama) in the Southern Province, he died on October 2nd, 1990, on the second day of the Rwanda Patriotic Army liberation war.
His parents were Anastasi Kimonyo and Gatarina Mukandilima. Rwigema and his family fled to Uganda and settled in Nshungerezi refugee camp in the 1960’s following the 1959 Genocide against Tutsis. On June 20, 1987, he married Jeannette Urujeni and they were blessed with two children: Junior Gisa and Teta Gisa.
In 1974, he went to Tanzania and joined the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), a rebel group headed by Yoweri Museveni.
Later in 1976, he travelled to Mozambique and joined the FRELIMO rebels who were fighting for the Mozambican liberation against the Portuguese colonial power.
In 1981, 27 soldiers including Rwigema and President Paul Kagame, and Ugandan President Kaguta Museveni, started a liberation struggle
against the then regime of Uganda President Milton Obote.
Rwigema helped the National Resistance Army (NRA) capture state power in 1986 and was appointed the Ugandan Deputy Minister of Defence.
He was regularly at the front line in northern Uganda during the government’s offensive against remnants of the ousted regime. He attained several positions in the Ugandan army such as Deputy Army Commander and Overall Operations Commander.
Despite holding all the above posts, he always held Rwanda at heart. Rwigema is remembered for being among those who greatly inspired the Rwandan refugees in Uganda to liberate their country, and on October 1, 1990, he spearheaded Rwanda’s liberation struggle. He was shot at the front line.
King Mutara III Rudahigwa Charles Léon Pierre (‘Imena’)
King Mutara III Rudahigwa Charles Léon Pierre was born in 1911. He was the son of King Yuhi IV Musinga and Nyiramavugo Kankazi Redegonde. He became the King on November 16, 1931 after his father was overthrown on November 13, 1931.
During his reign, King Rudahigwa greatly advocated for the welfare of Rwandans and independence.
He married Nyiramakomali on October 15, 1933 and they separated in 1940. He re-married Rosalie Gicanda on January 18th 1942. There were no children in both marriages. Rosalie Gicanda was murdered on April 22, 1994 during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
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.
He worked hard to educate Rwandans through the establishment of the Mutara Fund and requested Jesuits to establish a college in Gitarama but instead, the Jesuits stole his idea and took the college to Bujumbura.
Rudahigwa later set up the Islamic college in Nyamirambo-a Kigali City Suburb and another school in Kanyanza and offered scholarships to many Rwandans to study in Europe.
Under his monarchy, he eliminated all forms of slavery and advocated for unity and reconciliation among Rwandans.
King Mutara III Rudahigwa died under mysterious circumstances on July 25, 1959 in what many consider to have been an assassination.
Michel Rwagasana (‘Imena’)
Michael Rwagasana was born in 1927, in Gitisi Nyamagana of Ruhango District in the Southern Province. He attended Groupe Scolaire Astrida attaining a Diploma in Administration.
He married Suzana Nzayire in 1957 and were blessed with three children
Rwagasana attained several distinctive positions due to his integrity; he later became the Personal Secretary of King Mutara III Rudahigwa from 1954.
His unvarying 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.
Agatha Uwilingiyimana (‘Imena’)
Agatha Uwilingiyimana was born on June 23, 1953 in Gitore, Gisagara District of the Southern Province. She was the daughter of Yuvenali Ntibashirakandi and Saverina Nyirantibangwa.
She got married to Ignace Barahira in 1976 and was blessed with three children.
Uwilingiyimana became the first woman to hold the position of Prime Minister in Rwanda’s history from July 17, 1993 to April 1994.
Prior to that, she served as the Minister of Education where she advocated for equal rights among students
During her time in office, she advocated for the rights of women and spearheaded the fight against divisionism.
She was assassinated on April 6 1994.
Félicité Niyitegeka (‘Imena’)
Born in 1934, Félicité Niyitegeka was the daughter of Simon Sekabwa and Angelina Nyirampabuka.
She was killed on April 21, 1994 during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
Niyitegeka is remembered for refusing to part ways with the people who found refuge at Centre Saint Pierre in Gisenyi (currently Rubavu District).She was just a casual worker when her brother asked her to separate from the Tutsis since the military was aware of her activities, but she declined. When the militias came to her house, she already had over 30 Tutsi refugees in her house.
The Interahamwe informed her that she would be spared but her charges would have to be killed, but opted to die alongside them.
Nyange Secondary School students (‘Imena’)
The Senior Five and Senior Six students of Nyange Secondary School were on March 18 1994, attacked by genocidaires who forced them to divide into ethnic groups. They refused and a big number of them were massacred.
The Nyange heroes are among millions of victims of the decades of bad leadership that attempted to erase our characteristic values that were historically built around our common identity since the days of our forefathers.