If anyone wondered why President Paul Kagame and the First Lady Jeannette were particularly passionate about Rwandan children, well you now have an answer in black and white. Forget, the old rhetoric that children are the leaders of tomorrow.
The President and Mrs Kagame seem to have long discovered a much bigger secret in the children of Rwanda than just the obvious leadership potential.
In his acceptance speech just after he and his wife received Children’s Champion Awards from UNICEF early this week in Boston, US, the President made a clear connection between his special love and support to the Rwandan children to the national vision of economic independence.
The First Family’s support to children has come in different forms – both at the policy level and in their individual capacities as caring citizens.
For many years now, it has been quite clear that President and Mrs Kagame are intent on strategically positioning themselves in the minds of the young population for any personal political gains. Rather, they have placed the national agenda right at the centre of their public support for children and the youth.
On several occasions, they have freely interacted with youngsters and, in their addresses to them both as national leaders and parents, they have wisely packaged their messages to the youngsters – tender tones with a blend of the whole bitter truth about the hell their country has gone through in the past, and the ever-growing hope for bright future we’re all looking forward to.
Such honest public addresses have apparently inspired the youth to deeply reflect on the failure of their elderly citizens in their country’s dark history, and are now determined to stand up and be counted for the consolidation and promotion of the very circumstances that make Rwanda a better nation to live in today.
The young people are increasingly taking the pole position in not only voicing out against the very practices that helped plunge this nation into the worlds’ worst genocide of the 20th Century, but also gradually embracing a new thinking that could turn around their country’s economy in few years.
We saw it in April this year when our country was commemorating the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis when young people – through songs, poems, and other means – demonstrated an inspiring foresight.
They vigorously rallied the nation to remember the victims and support the survivors, while at the same time reminded us that we shouldn’t allow to be kept hostages of the past, rather we should look forward, and build a strong and proud nation.
And, yes, it is that very new thinking, the growing mindset that Rwandans and their nation need to pursue self-reliance other than dependence off anybody’s sweat, which embodies the President’s ultimate vision for the young generation and this country as a whole.
In his speech during the UNICEF-organised event in Boston, President Kagame, while paying tribute to institutions that “share our belief that no country is destined to stay impoverished, diseased and illiterate forever”, yet again sent out his trademark message: all nations and regions of the world have the potential to graduate to a socioeconomic situation that no longer requires aid, charity or pity.
A strong crusader for economic independence, the President has without a doubt positioned Rwandan youth/children right at the centre of his Government’s long-term development polices, which probably, better explains why he had to create a fully-fledged Cabinet ministry for youth.
Privately, the Head of State may even be well aware that we might not be there by 2020, which is why he has probably sought to sell these long-term national development projects to the young generation who will certainly be still in their prime working years beyond 2020.
But he also knows that lifting a nation from the club of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income economy needs patience.
Looking at some of the recent polices, it is clear that the President and his Government are strategically laying foundations whose rewards might not necessarily come in one decade, but which will absolutely elevate this country to another level when they materialize.
For instance we might take a decade or so before we start seeing tangible benefits of the recently adopted integrated Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system, but an undisputed fact is that, with new curricula based on the industry needs, TVET graduates will, by and large, deliver far better than the graduates of the previous technical and vocational school system.
It will take a while before we get a skilled critical mass of Rwandan professionals in as many skill areas, but once they come, we will be much better off then than now.
Furthermore, inculcating a culture of entrepreneurship in Rwanda may take some years to bear positive results. However, with many young people increasingly joining the business world and eventually developing into enviable local investors, more people will eventually open up private businesses of whatever magnitude.
And the trend will go on and on, and on. Fortunately, no one understands better than President Kagame that this culture can only take root by putting more focus on children more than the already disillusioned adults.
The author is the Marketing & Communication Specialist for the Workforce Development Authority (WDA)