Seventeen years ago, Rwanda suffered one of the worst human atrocities in recorded history. At the time, the country was nothing more than a smelly lawless territory soaked in the blood of over a million innocent souls. Truth be told, no one knew what the future held for Rwanda.
In the eyes of many, including the most optimistic of patriots and pundits, the country’s future hung by a thread, with a real possibility of becoming a failed state. All odds were against the country, and there seemed to be no remedy to redeem a country tragically robbed of her nationhood.
In a country where people scampered through besieged fields, beast-infested jungles and chilly mountains for safety, a million people killed, with three million others having fled across the borders in a space of only three months, it was simply impossible to envisage the Rwanda we proudly live in today, only 17 years later. Little did we know that the strength that would later propel the nation back to life – from that inconceivable agony – was within the Rwandan people themselves.
Rwanda has not only stormed back, albeit with difficulty, into the club of respected nations, but also nurtured a generation of dedicated and more united citizens, whose hard-work and ambitions have turned around this country’s fortunes. Many of these youths are as old as the new Rwanda. The majority of them are even below 17 years of age. They include the members of the U-17 Wasps team, who, last night, played their opening match against England at the ongoing Fifa U-17 World Cup in Mexico. None of these boys was born before the Genocide.
They represent the courage and character that has since defined the post-Genocide Rwanda. The team’s success tells it all; about the journey Rwandans have patiently embarked on since the Genocide, finally shaping up a country whose success has confounded the world. And it seems this is just the beginning! What’s more, the U-17 Wasps’ story demonstrates the indispensability of the young people in national processes.
It also portrays the importance of patience. Whether they go on to make the most out of the country’s maiden appearance at any soccer World Cup finals or not, the teenagers already did their country proud when they defied all odds and landed that coveted spot at the global showpiece in Mexico.
That they have succeeded where the successive senior Wasps sides failed is a demonstration that everything is indeed achievable with patience and determination. But the circumstances surrounding the young team’s emergence also demystify the earlier belief that foreign influence is essential for success.
Unlike the senior Amavubi team, the U-17 side is composed exclusively of young Rwandans, almost all of them having risen through the ranks of local football academies. As a result, they are more dependable, consistent and charismatic than most naturalized players that have represented the country in the past. Yet that could not have been the case if we were not patient as a nation.
When President Kagame proposed that it was better for the country to concentrate on nurturing young talents for the future, than continuously pegging our hopes on a perched up and characterless national team, about three years ago, few people may have, at the time, appreciated what such an approach could bring us.
As the national football side continued to disappointingly partake in different competitions, it appeared that local fans had increasingly understood the need to patiently build a national soccer team for the long-term success, other than buying established talents for a short-term cause. Indeed, just a few years after the country embraced the football academy philosophy, the dividends have, by far, surpassed every fan’s expectations. Just like our achievements in as many areas as a nation have.
The emergence of the Junior Wasps have proven that Rwandans have the potential to achieve whatever they set their eyes on. Expatriates are helpful, but given confidence and the right skills, Rwandans can, themselves, do a better job for their country.
As we celebrate the achievement of the U-17 team, every sector needs to give itself a target by increasingly putting trust in Rwandans to make things happen. Of course, patience will be required during the transition. After all, Rwandans are the ultimate owners of these development programmes.