A Man’s Worth

A man’s worth

A man will live forever by the good deeds and in the loving memory of those he leaves behind. I cannot believe that it has been a year since my father died after a short illness, it was not expected and I always thought I would have so much more time with him, time to hear his endless knowledge of Rwandan culture, to hear his pearls of wisdom and grow as a person with him. Sadly he was taken before his time, but he left us educated, with jobs and financially secure but above all he left us a good name.

Our social structure was built on banking social credit, charity was reflexive and a means of strengthening social bonds. So my father was helped by hundreds of strangers but he also helped hundreds of people get through the daily struggle called life. A man said to me “in 1974 he helped me get a job, he dressed me sharp and coached me on the interview and I never looked back.” This was common among Rwandans in exile, but the families that stood out went beyond the normal call are like royalty in Kigali. We can name numerous families that were the pivots around which Rwandan communities revolved and are still revered here today.

“The children of the righteous will never be forsaken and their children will never beg for bread.” It says in the Bible and I have never begged for bread, the kindness of my family always precedes me and opens doors in my path. This bank of social credit is worth more than money, it supersedes money and certain people can pick up a phone and call powerful people. They can only do it because they are righteous and their motives are beyond question. This bank of social credit is what keeps us knitted together, but like a real bank your social credit account needs to be topped up or you will run out of favours.

The concept of charity and cohesion is dying, even among the reputable families younger generations are giving less, they are less aware of their family ties. It is easy to get caught in the rat-race, to avoid less wealthy relatives, to look down on those people your fathers helped because they smell different, and are less educated. And thus, some of these great families have just become ordinary middle-class families accumulating financial debt, not having physical assets and worst of all, no social credit. Having no good deeds of your own and just relying on the good name and deeds of your fathers. One day all the people the father helped will die and there will be no one left to praise his name, and his name will die.

That is why we must all have good deeds of our own to add to what our father did, to build social credit anew and not to squander the goodwill your ancestors built up. A good name doesn’t not remain good forever, it has a time span if it is not topped up. We need to return to our values of exile, of having an open door, of having a warm free bed, of helping each other with school fees, medical bills, and most of all – just spending time together. The highest honour ever paid to my father was “Ya’rumuntu ukunda abantu be!” He was a real man who loved his people. A million word eulogy would not say it any better than that. My goal in life is that someone might say that of me someday, but I need to earn the social credit to do that.

To Alex Isibo-Rutimirwa – an ordinary man with extraordinary love and charity.

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