Today is Liberation Day. This day twenty six years ago marks the beginning of a period of significant development in the history of Rwanda. For the first time in post-colonial times, all Rwandans feel they belong here and are proud of it.
None is excluded. Those who stay out do so by choice or guilt for crimes against kin and nation. You might justifiably call it a Day of National Belonging.
It is also the first time we see so much progress. It is easy to forget that the things we see today and take for granted were once only stories from other lands or dreams, and that they did not just happen or were always there.
They were made to happen when thirty years ago young Rwandans took up arms to restore their country to what it once was - a home for all her children - with no favourites or outcasts, none condemned to live on the periphery or forever banished to foreign lands.
They wanted to create a country of equal opportunity and prosperity.
To do this, they had first to liberate Rwandans from years of tyranny, division and discrimination. They had to end decades of rule that had sapped their confidence and reduced them to recipients of alms, and restore self-belief.
In the process of doing this they also had to stop the most horrendous crime of all - the Genocide against the Tutsi. Finally, they had to free their abilities and potential so that together they could build a country of their desire.
Many of these young people were still in their teens. Most were younger than the anniversary we are celebrating today. Only a small number were a little older.
They abandoned school, gave up good jobs and businesses and promising careers to liberate their country. They sacrificed everything for love of country which the majority had never seen, only heard of from their elders.
The young people of twenty six years ago attained their objectives. They ended tyranny, stopped the genocide against the Tutsi, and went on to rebuild the country and make it into what we see and are proud of today.
They pulled it out of isolation, opened it to the world where it is a significant actor. I am sure they look back on their work with satisfaction and can say ‘mission accomplished’.
They could have sat back to enjoy the fruits of their endeavours, make up for lost time, compensate for the dangers and hardships of war and celebrate that they had come from it alive and were therefore entitled to rich rewards. Such has happened not very far from here.
But they did not. Nor have they slowed down. They keep on because they know that was only the first part of the mission. The next was to transform the country, first bring it to the present and then position it for a future of prosperity.
They sought to create the conditions for a society in which people can freely express themselves and contribute to the national effort through their diverse abilities and talents.
It has been twenty six years. Many of the young people who liberated the country are much older. They have done their bit of the mission and have also been preparing for a time when they would have to pass on responsibility.
A new generation has also come of age and is ready to receive the baton and assume the responsibility of taking the country into the future.
We are thus seeing a transition that has not happened here before. The past was more of disruption, stops and restarts often forced, never of continuity. In typical Rwandan fashion, it is not being done the conventional way of grooming specific successors.
Rather, a whole generation, and indeed the whole nation, has been prepared for leadership.
Rwanda’s youth are among the most privileged in this regard. Unlike the liberation generation, they have been adequately prepared for the task, been given the tools, and had the necessary apprenticeship and mentoring.
That gives them confidence and, crucially, they have that of their elders.
Their role has never been made more explicit than last Friday, June 26. President Paul Kagame explained their presence at many high level meetings during a meeting of the RPF’s expanded National Executive Committee. He said their involvement was for them to appreciate that the future of Rwandans rests in their hands, and that this gives them the opportunity to learn how best to correct wrongs done by the older generation.
By being present at all steps of the way, they can make a meaningful contribution towards national prosperity better that the older generation.
How better groomed can you get?
I have not heard of many countries in this region or on the continent that prepare their young people to take over responsibility in such a conscious, deliberate and planned manner. In many of them whenever they show any signs of wanting to play an active role, they are dismissed as impatient ant told to wait for their time.
And so when the transition eventually takes place, it will be seamless because it has actually been happening for quite a while. This ensures consolidation, stability and continuity, but also innovation.
The gains of liberation brought by young people of yore will be safe with the young people of today.
Happy Liberation Day.
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