On August 14, young people from across the country met President Paul Kagame and had conversation with him about the country and the world and their role in it.
The meeting popularly known as Meet the President has become a regular and much anticipated annual event because of what is discussed but also how it is done. It is a conversation.
And so it was with the one barely two weeks ago. It will be remembered for many things, but one word that caught the imagination of the many young people will certainly stand out. The word was: disrupt.
Now, to disrupt is to prevent things carrying on in the way they have been. It is to create a disturbance, an interruption and so has suggestions of chaos. But it also expresses a revolutionary principle and is also associated with the youth.
All change and every innovation involve disruption. It begins with questioning the status quo, as Ms Paula Ingabire, the minister of ICT and innovation, told them, and then leads to a desire to change and then actual change. That’s how progress is made.
Disruptive behaviour of the youth is normal. Indeed there would be questions about their health if they did not show it. They are usually known to be dissatisfied with the situation as it is. They are unhappy with it and are impatient with the pace of things and would sooner have a different set up.
Older people on the other hand are more comfortable with the familiar order which they call the normal and are usually averse to anything that would upset it. If any change is to happen, it should be gradual. They therefore tend to regard the disruptive instincts of the youth as simply destructive.
This difference in attitudes and perceptions that sometimes leads to a clash between the two is what is often called the conflict of generations.
Ordinarily disruption should ring alarm bells in the minds of the older people. Yet here we are doing what most would not do: actively encouraging it. It is part of Rwanda’s unique approach to national issues.
It comes from the understanding that we can achieve a great deal more if we can blend youthful disruptive drive and fresh thinking that brings new ideas with older folks’ tendency to consolidate what has been achieved.
That way we can propel the country farther and higher, guard against destructive disruption and ensure stability.
Disruption first happens in the mind when questioning begins. The cause, and even effect, of such questioning is dissatisfaction with matters as they stand and the desire to improve them.
Normally this would give rise to the need to dismantle what exists and then actually doing it.
But if that was the sole aim and it remained at that stage, that would be merely anarchy. What has been disrupted and dismantled must be replaced with the construction of a new situation. Or they must devise means of speeding up progress
And so, revolutionary disruption becomes complete only when there is also innovation and building what will obviously become the new status quo. At some point in future that also becomes unsatisfactory and has to be disrupted and another one put in its place.
This idea of disrupt and build was also evident at the Meet the President event two weeks ago. That too was markedly different from what happens in other places, some of them not far from here, and even here at home, it departed significantly from similar events in the past.
It was primarily a youth-led, solutions-focussed event. The young people met, not merely to listen to advice, but also to give it. Basing on their own experiences and perspectives, they offered suggestions about how things can change.
It did not have as its central message the usual exhortations about what they should or should not do. Alright, there was a little of that – failure is not permissible, wherever you are never forget where you come from, or let us be dream interpreters, and so on - but it came from them to underpin their role.
Even President Kagame’s message - you can’t outsource values, principles or hard work - was in the same vein. It was more about them taking more responsibility, seizing the opportunities and challenging themselves on what they can do to change their individual lives and that of the nation.
Interaction of this sort is another distinctly Rwandan practice. It shows how the youth are regarded in this country. They are productive, constructive and valued partners, not costly, ungrateful and, well, disruptive dependants.
So, the youth had their say and pledged to practice what they said, or more accurately, to continue doing what they have been doing but better and faster. If the resolutions of their meeting with the president were to be summarised in a few words, it would probably be these: disrupt to build.
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