To the Rwanda youth, the struggle continues

"Every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it", Franz Fanon, who has extensively written about post-colonialism, tells us, somewhat ominously.
A young supporter of  the RPF Inkotanyi at a campaign event in Gasabo District. The RPF today is laying ground work to guarantee a better future for generations to come. Village Urugwiro.
A young supporter of the RPF Inkotanyi at a campaign event in Gasabo District. The RPF today is laying ground work to guarantee a better future for generations to come. Village Urugwiro.

"Every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it", Franz Fanon, who has extensively written about post-colonialism, tells us, somewhat ominously.

Today, Rwandans mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).

If any generation can be said to have fulfilled its mission, it is surely that generation. But, what of this generation for whom such sacrifice was made? Will it fulfill its mission, its destiny, or has it yet to discover it?

That Rwanda has been delivered from the deepest of self-inflicted wounds, is beyond argument. That is unless one listens to the collective cacophonous voices of those who were guilty of inflicting those wounds and their fellow travelers.

The hurt and pain endures of course, and the healing continues, but, now it can go on in a place of safety, where every Rwandan is nurtured, by virtue of being Rwandan.

"God ordains strength out of the mouths of babes and sucklings", the bible tells us. Having lost its soul in a Faustian pact with colonialism, Rwanda drunkenly stumbled into a hellish abyss, from which it would take its youth to be delivered.

Do today's young for whom such great sacrifice was made, fathom the depth of what was done for them, for their children and their children's children? And there should be no mistake about it, this was self-sacrifice in every sense.

For the young people who made it, knew and accepted, that as so many would do, they might have to lay down their lives for the cause they cherished. To borrow from British statesman Winston Churchill, "never was so much owed by so many to so few."

It is of course not just the youth. All of Rwanda, present or future, owes them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. But, for younger Rwandans, what a time to be starting out in life? What a lucky generation.

The liberation struggle was carried out by young women and women who sacrificed everything to forge a dignified future for all Rwandans. Courtesy.

Is their responsibility only to live their lives to the full? After all, this is something to which everyone is entitled, and it is what their liberators would have wished for them. And is it, as Tom Ndahiro says, the responsibility of those who lived the struggle, "to keep telling the story, and make sure the young get it, because the future depends on their understanding of what can happen, if you are uninformed"?

Now an academic researcher specializing in genocide ideology, Ndahiro is arguably in a position to know. He was one of the young people who abandoned careers to join the struggle. He rejoices in the new Rwanda, but, feels that the struggle must continue, albeit in a different way.

"The national curriculum is beginning to include the history of the 20th Century, but more needs to be done. There are many young people who simply don't understand what happened, and it is crucial that they do."

He would be heartened by 21-year-old University of Rwanda student Lydia Uwibambe.

"The 30th anniversary means a lot to us. Our nation's liberators were our age when they began the struggle. It is almost impossible to imagine what they endured, the courage they must have had. Our responsibility now is to understand our history, and to know that although much has been accomplished, a lot remains to be done. The struggle continues, even though it is a different struggle now."

Young people in mortal struggles is of course a story as old as time. Humanity has ever sacrificed its youth on the altar of its venality. There is however something particular about the young founders of the RPF. Rwandans call it "gukur'imburagihe"; loosely translated as being wise beyond your years, or growing up before your time.

They were not as one might expect, urged on by their elders to love of country, to consider future generations. Intriguingly, they seem to have absorbed these considerations, almost by osmosis.

For Tom Ndahiro, the explanation lies in how the young people who grew up in hardship understood the cause of their condition. "You suffered traumatic experiences as a refugee" he explains, "some had to move from host country to host country, because other conflicts erupted where they had sought refuge. Families were torn asunder, you had siblings you would never see. People were knowingly dumped in Tsetse fly infested areas, as happened in Bunyoro in Uganda, almost as experimental guinea pigs."

"In 1982 in Uganda, thousands were rounded up by Obote's forces, and those who weren't tortured, or murdered were forced into Rwanda, only for Habyarimana to disown them. Some managed to escape back into Uganda, others perished in the attempt."

'For all these injustices you did not blame your host countries You asked yourself what the real cause of your suffering was. It was something you understood from a very early age. It was natural then that as you approached your formative years, you begun to ask yourself what you could do to reverse the situation."

Like many who were refugees in Tanzania, Ndahiro clearly remembers how deeply he was affected by the short-wave radio broadcasts from Rwanda. "Ironically, our attachment to Rwanda was intensified by propaganda broadcasts by the Habyarimana government.

At no time did these broadcasts acknowledge that there were Rwandans living as refugees in neighbouring countries. It was as though we did not exist. This only increased our desire to get back to a country to which we were intended never to be admitted."

It was a portent force. To suffer such profound trauma and know the cause of your torment. But it was one thing to feel the cause of your pain, even this viscerally, and quite another to not only own the responsibility to do something about it, but, to actually believe that you could.

Youthful confidence and self-belief notwithstanding, these were young, powerless refugees, largely left to survive the best they could.

But perhaps American academic, Margaret Meade's observation offers the best explanation: "never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." And whatever else they were, these young people were thoughtful, and their commitment was total.

According to Tom Ndahiro, the young men and women were keenly aware of the enormity of the task they contemplated, and were under no illusion about their lack of material support. "It had to be done, because no one else would it for you." This sense of self-reliance remains self-evident in Rwanda today, and is perhaps shared by the younger generation.

Referring to the recently concluded Congress of the RPF Youth League, the league's Vice President Emmanuel Ntwari patiently explains, "mobilisation is not just about numbers, it is about awareness. Government, the political processes are about practicalities.

We mobilise so that young people can be aware of how they can play their part. We mobilise today so that there are no gaps tomorrow."

It is no mere slogan for him, he makes the point with conviction, but, he is the Vice President, after all, and one might expect such awareness. With barely concealed impatience, he counters, "the structure of our organisation goes from village level to national.

The youth themselves express what they wish to contribute, and how; they have their own Umuganda (community volunteering), separate from the national monthly Umuganda."

He feels enormous pride in the nation's achievements, and is keenly aware of what it cost to get there. "We are aware of our history. We know what can happen when bad politics succeed. Young people committed mass murder; any of us could have been involved. We know that, and we can see the results when good politics succeed."

Political apathy among young people is the norm across the world, few of them bothering to vote. This however, is a foreign concept to Ntwari.

"We are connected to the political process. We can see the reason for voting, our views and our concerns are important to the leadership. We see how they come to us, listen, and actually implement our wishes. We feel respected, included."

He almost seems to identify with that RPF youth 30 ago. "They were asking, 'how can we get a country?'; we have a different struggle, we have a country, our question is how can we sustain, and build on what we have?", and he adds, "if we look at ourselves compared with thirty years ago, we are inspired by their example; their sacrifice, their love of country. It was a life and death struggle which no one enters for personal gain. It is thanks to them that we are now in a position to do so much. I would be very sad for example, if I were to hear that one of my peers had done anything to betray the nation, because I know where we have come from."

"Appreciation is a wonderful thing: it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well", says Voltaire. Listening to Ntwari, there is reason to believe that young Rwandans have made what was excellent in the youth of thirty years ago, belong to them also.

This is certainly true of the 25-year-old student, Richard Bizimana, who grew up in Burundi where he was orphaned.

"What does the anniversary mean to me?" He muses almost to himself.

"Look at me, I am at University now. For someone like me, it would have been almost impossible to complete even primary school. Now I am here because of what was begun thirty years ago. And it is not just that" he continues, "we have a special country, a special government, everyone sees it. For me, it important to do the best for myself, and to make a contribution."

If as Ntwari insists that these views are shared by his peers generally, then, there is real hope that this generation too, might fulfill its mission. But, perhaps the last word should belong to a warning from Voltaire, "those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities." Rwanda, humanity as a whole knows this only too well.

Vincent Gasana