Rwandan youth: What do you Stand for?

“And Peter said to Jesus [in excitement], ‘Lord, it is wonderful that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’” – Matthew 17:4

4Yesterday I went to the Pan-African school. The theme: What do I stand for? For starters; Semhal, the daughter of Pan-Africa freedom fighter, Meles Zenawi was in attendance…

Not many humans, let alone Rwandans, get a chance to attend gatherings with such a theme. A fortnight before, I had suggested to our Minister of Foreign Affairs in a TV debate that in order for the Rwandan youth to leverage on their western education to respond to peculiar African problems, they needed to be taken through the Pan-African school too (Ingando), one that teaches how to fit cutting-age information and expertise to African peculiar context. Little did I know, that what I was asking for, was already being done!

As we came in we had a broad idea of what we stood for. We shared, for instance, the love for our country Rwanda and our continent Africa. We just needed the hook; that passion that makes you loose sleep, over a societal problem. That yearn to do the right thing for a better day, to realize the African dream often talked about.

I had been quarreling with the Rwandan youth on a number of issues regarding their nationalism3 and their social responsibility. I had been harsh – and that’s my role – yesterday though, I got a lesson of humility. The President was just a youth, among other youth. He spoke with camaraderie and candidness. He engaged us as equals. He spoke of important things such dignity, Africa’s image and place in the world, but didn’t hesitate to crack jokes and share anecdotes; he was cool! No doubt he knew all we said and more, he still paid attention to our comments; we even advised him.

The evening was to the honor of Rwandan art. A captivating painting by Emmanuel Nkurunziza of Inema Art Center reigned on the podium, Eric Ngangare (a.k.a 1Key) rapped, Mike Ntwaza Kayihura sung and Natasha Mukakigeli gave him the pitch.

2The event was like nothing I have seen before; it was just the forum I was dreaming about; it was for us-by us. Imbuto had set-up an intellectual incubator; a platform to energize Rwanda’s youth; an awakening on the challenges facing Rwanda and Africa… It wasn’t propaganda; although most things we talked about were politics-related – inevitably so – for Africa’s problems are primarily political, no one tried to lecture us; it was an interactive session.

In fact, we did not always agree. Eric Ngangare – the artist, brought up the issue of diaspora – to my satisfaction – wondering if there was a risk of creating a societal divide: ‘I’m looking at the panel, and I see that all of you studied abroad. Does one has to do anything with the other?’ – he challenged. ‘See Eric, haven’t we comeback? We are here, just serving in our capacity’. 1

I found that to be a defining moment, where Africa’s elite is held accountable, but also the symbiosis of the best of both worlds; those privileged to receive western training, and the finest among those trained here, both energies harnessed to build a better Rwanda. It reminded me of Intore Masamba’s song: ‘Rwanda Itajengwa na nani? Rwanda itajengwa na sisi vijana…’

Our comrade President even pitched in to highlight that for some, foreign education wasn’t by choice: ‘No one should be apologetic for studying abroad, no one should be disempowered. We are all here now…’ – he moderated…

The host, our First Lady was concise; ‘I’m told the youth has a short attention span’ – calling us to take the stand; ‘As your host, I am happy to have you here for the youth forum, to discuss what you stand for…’

With similar excitement as Saint Peter of the bible, Nathalie Munyampenda, burned to ask, out loud, what we all thought inside: ‘Your Excellency, when are you launching the Kagame Institute for Governance? Everyone is waiting for it!’

‘Thank you for the suggestion, we’ll do it and I count on you to help me set it up!’ – He responded to the girl he follows on twitter…

5I spent an evening in the right place, listening to the right message and discussing with the people I love the most, the hope of my country, the Rwandan youth. I don’t know about you but the event was a big deal for me! My hope in my people, and the future of my country are more strengthened than ever!

So what do you stand for? For some it was many things good for our country, for others it was the empowerment of our youth and our country. For me it is Africans defining their own lives and telling their own story. But oftentimes, we don’t get to ask ourselves that question, or when we do, our position is shaky.

Having to ask oneself that question is a critical step in itself. Yes: we must stand for something good and we must stand firm!  As our president said ‘standing for something good shouldn’t be like a favor that we got from someone else’.

Cyrus Nkusi of the Pan-African Movement was elated; ‘Woaw, I must organize a similar event!’ – he said to me; ‘this was amazing!’ Yes he must. So should we all; continue that discussion. In forums like that organized by Imbuto, in small organic gatherings, or even at Chillax, the new spot in Kigali, where I’ll be catching up with y’all tonight, for a purpose driven drink


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