Kigali, 18 November 2017

I wish to start by welcoming you to this very special evening for us all. For the first time, we are awarding one of Rwanda’s highest decorations of honour.

In English the medal is known as the Order of Outstanding Friendship. And each of these individuals is, most definitely, an outstanding friend to Rwanda.

But they are much more than that, as suggested by the name of the award in Kinyarwanda – Igihango – for which there is no satisfactory translation.

In Rwandan tradition, Igihango was the most solemn bond that could unite two people or two families. It was a freely chosen pact based on truth and mutual sacrifice, which was unbreakable and lifelong.

The oath was sealed before witnesses with a symbolic drop of blood. They then consumed a special beverage with mystical properties, known as Igihango.

Ordinary friends were called ‘inshuti’. Those joined by a pact of Igihango were known however as ‘abanywanyi’, literally, ‘those who have drunk of one another’.

There is something of us in you, and something of you in us.

Earlier, we heard some of the achievements of the honourees and their story with Rwanda. I can assure you that what they did, in many cases, even goes beyond those citations.

I was reminded by what Joe Ritchie just shared when he referred to the Pope and the Vatican. Ambassador Gilbert Chagoury contributed a great deal to breaking this silence, or so to speak, this bad blood between Rwanda and the Vatican. This problem, as you know, had been there for many years.

There are two outstanding cases where people got deeply involved in our tragic history yet refused to come close to acknowledging their responsibility. One of them was the Vatican, but through these efforts, we were able to deal with it.

There is another case that still remains, and that will hopefully one day be resolved. I think Alain and Dafroza are working on it. You understand what I mean.

But we are not in a hurry. Refusing to acknowledge one’s responsibility and allow people to move forward does not stop us from working hard to move forward ourselves.

When I said that the contributions goes beyond the citations, I was also referring to the fact that Rwanda, for the past 23 years, has faced seemingly insurmountable problems.

But because our friends who we acknowledge and recognise here tonight added their efforts to the dedication and commitment of Rwandans, we have really gone through the hardships together and overcome those seemingly insurmountable problems.

Through their actions, they have amply demonstrated their devotion for our country. Today, it was merely our own turn to reciprocate, at least in the form of appreciation.

We deem each of them to have a special bond with our country, because of specific actions that could only be taken by someone with deep love and attachment and dedication to the people of Rwanda.

In the context of Rwanda’s dramatic journey, the concrete acts of solidarity have particular meaning. Through the toughest times, where circumstances dictated that we had to rely on ourselves to survive, Rwanda was never totally alone.

We had these friends that we could call on, and we continue to have them. And please know, all of you, that you can always count on us as well.

The purpose of our various National Orders is to honour extraordinary contributions to our national life. Doing so serves to inspire our young people to conduct their lives with the highest principles and ambitions.

This ceremony will therefore be a regular occurrence, allowing us in due course to recognise the many others whose achievements fortify our country.

Please join me once again in congratulating, on behalf of the people of Rwanda, the new members of the Order of Outstanding Friendship.

Thank you and please enjoy the rest of the evening.