RWANDA IS a nation scarred by one of the worst massacres ever recorded in human history. In 1994, hundreds of thousands were brutally killed in a massacre systematically organised and executed by the extremist leadership then in power.
Twenty years have now passed since the infamous genocide. In this period, a new generation has been born. This generation, which has little or no direct recollection of the Genocide and of the events and circumstances that led to the tragedy, is one which is being brought up with the expectation of leading the country towards a better future based on the harsh lessons of the past.
As President Paul Kagame pointed out during his Genocide anniversary speech at Amahoro stadium on Monday, April 7, young people represent the large majority of the country’s population. “They are the new Rwanda,” the president affirmed.
Historically, this group had been deprived of opportunities to fulfil its promise and potential to act as a driving force for peace and development. The youth were exploited by ethnic entrepreneurs to carry out destruction. Today, it is on the young generation that the country’s hopes lay.
In the last couple of years, I have travelled across Rwanda’s five provinces (including the City of Kigali) collecting the views of hundreds of teenagers on their country’s past, present and future. Across the board, young Rwandans saw their country as having come a long way since the time colonial policies had, as one young Rwandan put it, “divided us and destroyed our old unity and solidarity and our good culture and positive values”.
In defiance of criticism often voiced both inside and outside the country towards the current state of affairs, young people in Rwanda widely expressed their deep appreciation for the radical changes experienced in recent years.
They saluted the efforts made to promote peace and security, unity and reconciliation, democracy and social justice, and development and prosperity in a country that had been left in ruins. According to one young Rwandan I spoke with, “today, peace is everywhere in Rwanda...people live together without any problems and with no division or discrimination”.
One student talked about the return to an ancient unity that had long been lost. “Today,” she explained, “there are no Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. We are one people, we are all Rwandans again”. Rwanda was also seen as a country where good governance, human rights and equal opportunities had triumphed and where heavy investments in business, technology, infrastructure and social services had allowed the country to make a great leap forward.
Thanks, for instance, to the concerted efforts made in poverty reduction and job creation and in revamping housing, education and health provision, the life of ordinary people in Rwanda was believed to have considerably improved.
Expressions of satisfaction with the current progress were coupled with a show of tremendous confidence in the future and with a display of profound patriotic pride and commitment towards the wellbeing of the nation.
The post-Genocide years were portrayed as a “new beginning” that was founded on a rediscovered spirit of solidarity. One boy affirmed that, “after the Genocide, Rwandans have started a new journey of life.
“Today Rwandans are reconciled and united towards a fantastic 2020 Vision of development. Rwanda has become a wonderful and exemplary country in Africa and in the world”.
This view was shared by one girl who confirmed that, “now things are better than ever. Rwanda is becoming a great nation. Rwanda is new; even if we had a bad history now everything has changed and Rwandans are ready to be world changers”.
Speaking to today’s youth in Rwanda gives much hope for the future. This, without doubt, is a new generation, astonishingly united and patriotic. Young people in Rwanda seem to have embraced a proud national identity and a commitment to carrying forward an agenda of unity, reconciliation and development.
Their determination to contribute towards building their country is remarkable. Whatever happened in the past, it is the present and the future they are focused on. As they remember and commemorate the Genocide and its many victims, young Rwandans are looking ahead and are ready to work hard to turn the page of a history of which they carry the burden.
“Twenty years ago, Rwanda had no future, only a past,” President Kagame said. Today, the future is a horizon Rwandans are marching towards with hope and resolve. May young people be the force behind the country’s march towards the bright future they deserve.
The author is a post-doctoral researcher and a focal point for Africa at the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Brunswick, Germany. She has specialised in the history and politics of the Great Lakes Region, Rwanda in particular.