“What does it mean to be a member of the young generation in Rwanda”?
This is a question that I asked a few contemporaries of mine yesterday afternoon as tried to get divergent views for this column. Well, there is good news and there is bad news, especially if you’re the kind of person who thinks that Rwanda’s Golden Age was in the pre-colonial period.
Rwanda’s youth is extremely optimistic in their outlook to the future. This fact, which I ferreted while speaking to various people is pleasantly surprising; especially when put in the context of the just concluded 16th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
This hope is all the more poignant when one remembers that in 1994 this nation was being called a failed state. Well, certainly the young people today don’t think it’s anything close to that. They are optimistic and driven.
I bet our parents are amazed by all this. I certainly can understand their wonderment. Their generation was raised in refugee camps, in exile, internal exile or under the shadow of dictatorship. When my father tells me stories about working in plantations in Ankole, Uganda for food, I can’t even begin to empathise.
And, when he tells me the struggles he endured just to get an education I find it all mind boggling. And when I sit with another uncle and he tells me about the ‘Struggle’ I am amazed by the heroism.
However, while I’m amazed by the fact that a young man or woman could leave home and spend years in the mountains, fighting an army and the elements simultaneously, I can’t really internalise it all.
As I watched television this last week, I read speeches, songs and testimonies about the horror of 1994. And, while my heart bled for the survivors, I couldn’t put myself in their shoes.
I guess that is what makes this group of Rwandans strange. Unlike their predecessors, who always looked back with nostalgia, the young today look straight at the future. What does this mean and how did this come about?
I think the biggest influence was the World Wide Web.
Where before one was forced to see the world in a very narrow prism, one now has the world at their fingertips; this is truly revolutionary.
While my parents generation got their information from radio broadcasts, which were often skewered in a certain light, all I have to do is flip my laptop on, plug in my modem and the world comes to me.
This means that my perceptions are different from my parents. This kind of Internet access is extraordinary and I have to give the government ‘thumbs up’. The Internet is the great ‘democratiser’ in my view.
Would the Genocide have been possible if there was this resource? I doubt it. I believe that one of the reasons we had the tragic events of 1994 was the closed-mindedness of the people. The Internet has single-handedly changed all this.
But the Internet isn’t working in isolation. Has Rwanda ever had such a well educated group of young people ever? I doubt it. Every year, thousands of Rwandans graduate from the various tertiary institutions in the country.
While some people will complain about the calibre of the graduates, I think that this is all simply semantics. While some graduates might not be at the standards of those at Harvard or Wits, it would be wrong to declare them useless.
Whenever there is one more graduate on the street, that’s one more open minded person. At least that is my belief.
Sometimes I feel that we, youth, have more in common with Americans our age, rather than the older Rwandan generation. And, that is where the problem lies. At least I’m sure that is what our elders think it is. “They have no culture”, they grumble. Guess what, they are right.
That is, of course, if you feel that culture is a static thing that should stay exactly the same. This generation is a totally different animal. We work and party hard. It doesn’t seem strange to have a female boss and have a girlfriend who doesn’t live with her parents.
Before, a ‘good girl’ had a very specific gender role in society, this role is now being challenged by the young female generation.
Lo behold, I even met a girl who didn’t want the classic Rwandan ‘female dream’ of a husband and children! Could my mother’s generation have wished for something like that? I doubt that; that is, unless they wanted to become nuns.
This is a generation that dreams of things that our parents can’t even begin to envisage. The world has become our oyster and our eyes go beyond our borders.
While my parents simply wished for a home to call their own, I want more. Where that desire will take me, I have no idea. But what an adventure it will be.