The “freshness” of independence

Over the past few days I’ve found myself thinking a great deal about how the“ freshness” of independence interacts with national pride. Rwanda attained its independence 50 years ago, but, as speakers constantly reminded me during the anniversary celebration on Sunday, “liberation” for Rwanda occurred just 18 years ago

It is nearly impossible to drive anywhere here without passing a Rwandan flag. Billboards stressing national unity line the highways, and if knew how to read Kinyarwandan I suspect patriotic messaging would be even more apparent. Such an emphasis on national pride is not unlike what I experienced last fall while studying in Durban, South Africa. When my study abroad group visited schools, we were often given a rendition of the country’s famed national anthem. South Africa’s national teams—soccer, rugby, and to a lesser extent cricket—captured the nation’s collective attention whenever they competed.

It is not surprising that efforts to promote national pride tend to be highly visible and pronounced in these post-conflict countries. As in South Africa, Rwanda has only recently emerged from a period of intense internal strife, and the restoration of national unity is an ongoing process. Anniversaries, anthems, teams, and other forms of national expression offer an opportunity to forge a “new” identity, one that is inclusive rather than exclusive.

As an outsider, it has been fascinating to observe how expressions of national pride and identity both differ and, in some ways, relate to my own experience in the US.

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