It is not usual for young people to demand that the history of their country be at the centre of the history curriculum. They would probably press for a more fun oriented inclusion instead.
Yet this is what a young Rwandan student did at the closing of Itorero for students studying here and abroad. He asked President Paul Kagame to consider having more national history taught in schools in the country.
You would expect that from nationalistic academics, politicians or educational planners, not from high school graduates or university undergraduates.
This desire to learn about this country’s past is understandable for two reasons.
One, in the past there have been attempts to edit our history, parts of which were expunged from the record as if they had never happened, others elevated or downplayed, and even outright falsification. Correcting the distortions is therefore key to putting the record straight and Itorero seems to be doing that better than some other educational institutions.
Two, many children study outside the country and have no contact with Rwandan educational content. Even here some attend private schools that offer overseas syllabi with little or no Rwandan content. Would it be too much to ask these private schools to include a course on Rwandan history at least for their Rwandan students?
The same thirst for knowledge about Rwanda was also expressed in the desire to learn Kinyarwanda. Again, many children born or living outside the country do not know the language much if at all. But even some inside the country do not speak it that well, either because they go to schools where it is not spoken or their parents actually discourage them from speaking it.
This desire to learn Rwandan history, Kinyarwanda and culture in general is part of a bigger transformation taking place in Rwanda.
There is a rediscovery of what Rwanda is as a nation and what it means to be Rwandan, and a new found pride in belonging. We are learning again about its heroes and values, its artistic tradition. as well as political and social organisation. In a sense we are rediscovering our spirit as a nation, the spirit that unites it and drives it forward, that gives it anchor and propulsion, and its unique character.
The young people are reminding us how powerful that spirit is in case we have forgotten. They are finding out that it gives them identity and worth as human beings, and drives their ambitions. They are learning that it is the source of resilience of Rwandans and the desire to change their condition and build better lives.
Who can fault them for demanding more of this?
It might have been a coincidence that three important aspects of our culture that have been revived are taking place at about the same time. Their revival, however, is certainly not a coincidence.
On August 3 we celebrated Umuganura, It is a time for thanksgiving that our labour has borne fruit and a moment for public sharing and enjoyment of the bounty of the nation. It is also an occasion to commit to even greater accomplishments.
Sunday, August 5 was the closing ceremony of Itorero, a training that fosters a sense of nationhood at which that request for a prominent place for Rwanda’s history was made by a young student.
This Thursday, August 9, various local and central government officials will sign Imihigo, a commitment of what they intend to do in the next twelve months. This spirit of setting targets and publicly committing to meeting them has become the yardstick for achievement, competitiveness and accountability for leaders at various levels of administration
It is not the past alone that fascinated students during their training in Itorero. Their attention is firmly set on the future. A young girl, just out of high school, was already thinking of a project she would undertake even before starting university. She wants to develop a device to detect car emissions and warn driver and the police when they reach unacceptable levels.
Like the demand for more history, this, too, was unusual. But it is also proof of one thing – that our young people are seeking solutions to problems facing us and preparing to take responsibility for the future. They are imbued with that spirit of the nation that stretches across time.
It is a nation that goes back to its spiritual foundations in culture and history as exemplified by Itorero, Umuganura, Imihigo, and others to inform its present course. It is the same nation that stresses STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) as a platform from which to leap forward.
There is no contradiction in this, but rather a sense of continuity: a historical and cultural depth as well as a scientific mindset that make us at once an ancient nation and a modern state.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.