As the future of any nation anywhere in the world rests in the hands of its youth, nurturing and supporting these important members of our society, who among them are our future taxpayers, policymakers, lawmakers, and guardians of our sovereignty, requires tremendous dedication and persistence from all of us.
In fact, for a nation such as ours that cannot afford a blip in the pursuit of many goals like self-reliance, opportunities for all, and a strong democratic system, this population cohort is so important to us that we cannot even think about getting it wrong with them.
Matter as it may, however, the acknowledgment alone that our youth matter both in the now and in the future, will not bridge any perceived gaps that need to be filled in order to sustain a smooth transition between two generations.
To achieve this transition, two complimentary factors must be in motion; on the one hand, I suggest that there has to be a fully-fledged youth support system capable of nurturing rural, urban, and diaspora youth.
On the other hand, I stress the need for the youth to take ownership of their future by becoming active members of our society.
A fully-fledged youth support system
Before I suggest ways to improve the ongoing efforts, it is important we acknowledge current and previous efforts made by numerous state and non-state actors towards improving chances of success for the youth. That said, however, the ongoing attempts to galvanise the youth especially those in far-to-reach places like the diaspora and rural area where support and information may not be readily available, state actors, civil society, the private sector, and more importantly, families, need to establish and maintain support systems that can support the youths in overcoming barriers towards achieving positive life goals.
For you see, in life, and for various reasons, some of us struggle to grasp the essence of our role in improving our society.
A fully-fledged youth support system that also extends to the diaspora would provide a safety net to at-risk youths who may encounter additional difficulties further in course of their life.
This support system would require, among other competent transformational concepts, the provision of quality education both formal and informal, on-the-job training programs tailored to suit current and future employment needs, and access to entrepreneurial opportunities for those who wish to explore the world of business and social entrepreneurship.
Young people as assets must be continually empowered to realise their potential and contribute fully to national development. They have a proven capability to lead change which makes them a vital and valuable agent of positive change.
If given these opportunities and support – as it is currently the case in Rwanda, the youths are capable of overcoming historical social structural problems that have somewhat impeded national development.
Left unaddressed, however, uneducated, unemployed, and idle youths are easy targets for those who wish to see us take two steps back every time we take one step forward.
There is no better way to remind the youth about taking ownership of their future than to quote President Paul Kagame:
“Do not accept or tolerate mediocrity in yourselves or in others. Defy the low expectations that some may have of you or that you may even have of yourself. You simply do not have the luxury of getting tired or giving up.” - President Paul Kagame addressing over 500 Rwandan youth at the first edition of the Rwanda Youth Forum held from 23rd – 24th May 2015 in Dallas, Texas, United States.
Ask, and most people will confirm to you that Rwandan youth, whether at home or in the diaspora, are among the most patriotic youths you will come across. For instance, if recent history serves us right, you will remember that the majority of those who took the initiative to liberate Rwanda in 1990 were mostly youths.
In fact, two of their senior leaders, the late Major General Fred Rwigema and President Paul Kagame were just 33 years old. Remarkably, they had spent their youthful life preparing to rectify what they rightly viewed as an unjust set-up in Rwanda.
Today, thankfully, many youth of similar and younger age continue to contribute significantly to national development – this must continue.
However, not all youths who are capable of contributing to national development are ready or willing to do so. For the unprepared, it is true that yesterday was the best time to start your preparation.
However, today is as good a day as any to begin preparing your mindset and setting yourself goals. As for the unwilling, ask yourself this question; if I do not take ownership of my future and that of my country, who will?
My answer to this question is as good as yours. However, be rest assured that, ultimately, your answer will mean that as a nation we either remain on course to achieve our goals, or we fail to even honour the wishes of many young men and women who laid down their lives so that you and I could have a unique opportunity to shape our destiny. The choice is ours.