Over the past decade or so gender and youth empowerment have been some of our society’s main preoccupations. And rightly so given the historical marginalisation of women and the shifting median age towards an increasingly youthful society.
In the latter part of 2017 the question of transition from one generation to another has preoccupied our hearts and minds: whether the present youth is prepared to assume serious responsibilities in ways that protect the gains registered by those they come to replace.
It is a concern that is driven by the magnitude of the responsibilities that the older generation has had to deal with over the past 20 years or so. It is the anxiety that a mother who has delivered a baby has when it is passed on to someone else to carry.
In the case of transition, the generation that took power in 1994 is the first generation that has had a clarity of purpose for the first time since the end of colonialism proper in this country in the early 1960s.
A neo-colonial psyche dominated us as a people between 1959 and 1994 through Kayibanda and Habyarimana. As the principle domestic colonial agents of Belgium and France their stay in power rested on their ability to assure their benefactors of the continued distortion of the psyche of their people.
Thus, the innovation of those who took power in 1994 was the ability to craft the state around a renewed sense of who we are as a people; to derive a clarity of purpose from this conception of the collective-self and to build a consciousness around it in every aspect of national life, not least in the conduct of our armed forces and in our engagement with external actors.
This is what’s at stake. A generation developed conviction around a cause and decided to pursue it with a single mindedness that involved accepting the risk of paying the ultimate price; it dedicated much of its adult life to a moral cause that took a physically and emotional toll of unimaginable proportions.
This and more explain why their palms get sweaty when they think about handing over the baby. If this is what’s at stake, it behoves the youth to provide them with the requisite assurance. The baby is fine.
Or is it? The rampant calls from the youth for empowerment are not the kind of assurance that is expected of them. It suggests that they expect that a literal baton will be passed on to them; it suggests that they are awaiting for the official baton handing ceremony when the ribbon will be cut and balloons let to fly in the air.
On the contrary, it reinforces the anxiety. It’s an attitude that demonstrates a lack of preparedness for the task at hand; it serves to delay the transition. A rude awaking awaits. Why? Because there is no baton, at least not of the kind noted above.
The opportunity before the youth is a metaphoric baton that they won’t be empowered into meriting. A baton is held firmly when the youth are able to demonstrate a renewed vigour, rigour, and innovation around new approaches and tools for safeguarding the clarity of purpose of who we are as a people.
The anxiety of the old hands is not unfounded. In the rare occasions that Africa has had a leadership that has demonstrated a clarity of purpose, its enemies have sought to eliminate such leadership. The aim of the saboteurs was always to ensure that those with the conviction for directing society to the path of dignity do not live long enough to build safeguards that sustain this sense of clarity; moreover, the aim of their removal and replacement with buffoons was always to erode any sense of clarity of purpose that had developed in the people and to replace it with a generalised societal buffoonery.
It follows, therefore, that their anxiety is informed by the fear of handing over much of their life sacrifice to a generation that is susceptible to buffoonery. Consequently, the onus is upon the youth to demonstrate that they recognise that the anxiety is real and warranted given the life’s sacrifice involved.
However, assurance is only meaningful if it is expressed by injecting a youthfulness into existing mechanisms or in creating others whose aim is to sustain the clarity of purpose that the old hands have dedicated much of their adult life crafting. Only this way will the youth have demonstrated that they have mastered the prerequisite for the task before them.
But it requires more than mastering. The mechanisms they seek to create must build a critical mass around key areas of national concern that express who we are as a people. Only a critical mass can resist a buffoon for hire and society shielded from buffoonery.
This is what is being bequeathed: the clarity of purpose. I’m reminded of the boy band that had found love and didn’t know what to do with it. Heavy D & the Boys asked themselves thus, “now that we found love, what are we gonna do with it?”
They had been searching for love. Our search was about finding clarity around who we are as a people and what our aspirations are in this world. Now that we have found it, what are we gonna do with it?
The globally celebrated pan African intellectual Frantz Fanon wrote that “every generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.” History has destined the youth of Rwanda with a mission to preserve the dignity of a people through an idea: clarity of purpose.
This is the metaphor of the torch.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.