I realize the title may make this post sound like a big philosophical essay, but what I’m trying to do really is just to share a conviction I have always had in life and illustrate it with a couple questions (weird way of illustrating, I know!)

Let us first define what a “hero” is. According to oxford dictionaries, a hero is:

  • a person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities: a war hero
  • the chief male character in a book, play, or film, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize: the hero of Kipling’s story
  • (In mythology and folklore) a person of superhuman qualities and often semi-divine origin, in particular one whose exploits were the subject of ancient Greek myths.

For the purpose of this post, we will also include heroines and assume the definitions will be identical except for the “male” or “man” part of the definition.

So here is how the story usually goes: there is a great hero that is good and is fighting this great evil. This is how things have always been told, not only in fairytales, but also in our everyday lives and in every society’s history. For examples we have heroes like Rwagasore, Kagame, Ghandhi, Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa and so forth. Then there are villains like the colonizer, Hitler, Staline, Bin Laden and many more. The funny thing is, from time to time, country to country, person to person an individual can be a hero to some and a villain to others.

Notice, there are almost no universal heroes and no universal villains. In fact, most heroes are war heroes, so they are heroes to the winners and villains to the losers. The most important thing, in my opinion, is that for you, you reading this, whatever your personal hero fought against is evil. That evil can be a disease, poverty, injustice, violence, invasion, genocide, racism but most of the time these words are just attached to a person and even worse to a group of people. And the hero often saves a group of innocent, defenseless good people.

Let me speak to you with a lively example. Tata Madiba, Mandela, the father of South Africa, the father of Africa, the hero of one of the youngest democracies on earth… Today aging Mandela is a hero because he relentlessly, and for long, fought against the most recent (at least of my knowledge) form of extreme institutionalized racism. He’s most talked about sacrificing 27 precious years of his life in prison. Well, I once read an article, by some feminist human rights activist, a couple years ago, saying that he was no hero as he is misogynist because he left Winnie and failed his family. See, the criticism she is giving has absolutely nothing to do with what Mandela is praised for. It reinforces the idea that a hero must be perfect and not just have some extra-ordinary achievements like ending apartheid, or noble qualities like perseverance, non-violence, vision, persistence, and wisdom. Yes, Mandela himself admits he has sacrificed his family for his nation, but does that make him less of a national hero? Some others say maybe he compromised too much, and that black South Africans today are still living in overwhelming poverty. All in all you get my point, there is this overwhelming expectation that heroes must be perfect, and the slightest imperfection erases any good they might have done.

rwagasoreNow let’s come home to Burundi. The only hero I can think of that seems to be common to all Burundians, is our late Prince Louis Rwagasore. It seems that his name is pretty much held high by Burundians of all ages, regions or ethnic groups (or at least from the sample I see). He fought for our independence, was a man of the people –with princely swag, if I may add- with a vision that most Burundians hold as the ideal Burundi. Unfortunately, his life was cut short, and we never saw his great vision come to life. The only other person I think of is Marguerite Barankitse, though I feel she is a hero to people outside of Burundi more than Burundians themselves, so I am not sure if she gets the hero title. I will put her in here be I think she is a national hero, and this is my blog post after all; I will allow myself some bias J .

Everyone else that might be a hero, especially on the political scene, is a hero to some, depending on the region of origin, line of work, ethnic group and so forth. So for many, these other heroes are incredibly good people who fought for the good and just people of the country against the other group who are evil villains. For some reason, I feel people tend to group themselves in ethnic groups, and define whichever they identify themselves to as the victim and everyone else to be the evil people. The reality of things is, specific individuals have killed other specific individuals in the country at different times. The killers and victims have been from all of Burundi’s ethnic groups, whether aba Ganwa, aba Tutsi, aba Hutu, canke aba Twa. The killers might not be evil, but the act of killing is punishable by law and the killers should pay their dues to society (all Burundians, not just one group of people)! And the victims might not be saints, but their families and friends deserve the right to mourn and remember them, ask for justice and security!

To get back to my conviction, there is no such thing as good or evil people. There is good and bad in everyone, even the people that harm us the most. So see a hero as a person that brings out the good in most of us, most of the time. Let us not over-romanticize them; just give them credit where it is due and not be afraid to penalize their wrong doings!

MRG currently lives and studies in Toronto, Canada