President Paul Kagame gave an interview on a wide range of issues on Sunday 25 July at RBA. One of the questions he was asked was about the largely youthful leadership at every level and across different sectors in the country and what impact they have.
His answer: It is a reflection of the reality in the country. The majority of Rwandans – over seventy percent - are young people.
He is, of course right. Rwanda is in many ways a youthful country.
The Rwanda we see today, as a nation, united, stable and progressive, and consciously charting its path to the future, is barely twenty three years old. We are often measured against countries that have had a continuous history of development.
Yet ours started only recently, after decades of descent into destructiveness. That’s why what the country has achieved in that short time is all that much greater.
Of course, we have a history. We have had periods of glory, mostly in the distant past, of nation-building and state formation. But we have also experienced times of infamy in more recent times, when that process was arrested and a deconstruction of the nation followed.
Given this context, the last twenty three years have been a period of reconstitution and redefinition of Rwanda as a nation.
As everyone knows, this is a short period in the life of a nation, which makes Rwanda a very young country in this respect.
Government institutions, private sector and non-governmental organisations are equally youthful, both as institutions and their leadership, as was observed in the question to President Kagame during the interview.
Only in the religious realm have we seen some level of stability and continuity, especially in the traditional, mainstream churches. But even here, there have been disruptions as shown by the sprouting of new churches and a more unconventional religious leadership.
No other country in the region, and probably in the world, has such a youthful leadership. Again, as the president pointed out, this is not surprising given the history of Rwanda and its demographics. The youth make up a significant portion of the existing workforce and those preparing to enter the job market.
Some might see the youth as a liability, but Rwanda looks at them as an asset that is already making a contribution and that can also be readily deployed to serve the nation.
That is why at every opportunity President Kagame reminds them of their responsibility and urges them to exercise it early.
Apart from simple demographics, a case can be made for the usefulness of national youthfulness.
It provides an opportunity and the freedom to fashion new things and shape them as you want without reference to how they were done in the past. You can direct your future as you desire.
Similarly the absence of tradition can be helpful. Tradition is, of course, a good thing, but it can also be a drag, and in our case there is hardly any to fall back on.
Young people are much more prepared to innovate. They are freer to try new things and to ready to discard what does not work and replace it with another that does. Little wonder we have readily embraced new technologies and adopted unconventional methods of work.
Youthfulness projects a sense of energy, dynamism and urgency, as well as optimism and a can-do attitude. It says: Here is a country on the move (this has been happening long before Monsieur Macron coined his slogan, now turned into a political party), making determined strides into a future that has been carefully laid out. There is this sense that everything is possible, that nothing is insurmountable.
Like most human things, youthfulness on its own has its limitations.
Young people are given to rashness and impatience. Sometimes they show an overbearing sense of self-righteousness and can be dismissive of others’ views.
That is why a few oldies are not quite out of place – to give a more deliberative dimension, advise caution and put brakes on likely recklessness.
In another sense, however, Rwanda is an old country. We might in fact talk about an old-new country. Some level of continuity has remained.
The sense of nationhood has been battered but has largely endured. That is why it s possible to reconstruct it,
Rwandan culture has survived successive onslaughts, and so there is material to draw from in the rebuilding process.
The combination of old and new, continuity and a fresh start, innovation and a level of conservation, and a youthful drive is responsible for where Rwanda is today.Follow https://twitter.com/jrwagatare