One hour after we had set up an appointment for an interview, Ernest Kamanzi appeared at The New Times offices on time. Clad in a fitting suit, Kamanzi looks like any other young professional but nothing is typical about him.
At just 28, Kamanzi is one of the two legislators who were earlier this week voted into parliament to represent the youth in the August House.
As recent as early 2016, the confident but soft spoken MP-elect was like any other student at the University of Rwanda, Huye Campus, where he was completing his Bachelor’s degree in law.
Upon completion, Kamanzi, who still lives with his parents in Southern Province’s Kamonyi District, plunged into local leadership.
“In 2016, I was elected as the National Youth Council coordinator in my home district. I combined these duties with being a member of the district advisory council,” he said.
He has also been the secretary general of the good governance commission in the district advisory committee.
Before he won a seat in parliament, Kamanzi was the vice president of the Pan African Movement in Kamonyi District.
Last minute decision
While he has had an opportunity to sit and offer his input on administrative round tables up to the district level, Kamanzi did not, until recently, think of standing for a position as big as that of a lawmaker.
He says that even if he was listening when the National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced that it was receiving candidatures for prospective legislators, his first instinct was not to run.
“I wasn’t immediately interested. But about two days after the first call was made, I wondered what it would be like (to run for parliament) but I immediately dismissed the idea,” he said.
It wasn’t until the day before the deadline for handing in the required documents that Kamanzi revisited the idea and made the decision to stand.
“The documents that they were asking for were not complicated. I had some but I needed to find others. I woke up early on the last day which was July 25 and looked for the other papers and handed them in at 3.45pm,” he said.
He says that the decision to stand on the youth ticket was motivated by the work that he has previously done as a youth representative.
“I was motivated by the fact that we had emerged first in Imihigo related to youth for two years consecutively; in 2016 and 2017 and this boosted my confidence that I can actually do well even at a higher level,” he said.
Kamanzi’s decision paid off. He was lucky to appear on both the candidates’ preliminary and final list and on Tuesday, he came on the top of a list of 26 with 66.6 per cent of the vote. Kamanzi will be joined in parliament by Clarisse Maniriho who also won with 52.9 per cent of the vote.
Kamanzi says that upon starting his duties in parliament, he will push for employment opportunities something that he says is one of the biggest challenges to most youths.
“We have many young people who are finishing their studies and failing to find employment. The current 7-year government plan seeks to create one million and five hundred thousand jobs. I would like to work with the youth to see how they can get the biggest chunk of these jobs,” he said.
Kamanzi says that with input from financial institutions, his focus will be to work with other MPs and the youth themselves to promote self-employment that is not necessarily agriculture based.
He is also keen on campaigning against drug abuse which he says is blocking most youths’ potential and also working with stakeholders to deal with the issue of teenage pregnancies.
Kamanzi was born in a family of five and is the second child. He says that besides himself, his two younger siblings are also interested in leadership roles.
When he is not working, Kamanzi spends his free time reading, socialising and he winds up by jogging. He is currently reading ‘Inganji Karinga’, a book by Rwandan historian Alex Kagame.