Why are young people hired in top positions in Rwanda?
In Greek mythology when Icarus’ father made him wings of wax to fly out of Greece, he warned him of complacency and hubris. Master Daedalus, Icarus’ father warned him to fly neither too low nor too high, so the sea’s dampness wouldn’t clog his wings nor the sun’s heat melt them. Tragically, the young man couldn’t resist the attraction of the sun, ignored his father’s instructions and flew too close to the sun. The wax in his wings melted and he tumbled out of the sky and fell into the sea. While Icarus legend is widely known, it’s ending is wha’t most pedagogical: Apparently when Icarus fell, he made such a tiny, inconspicuous splash that swimmers and fishermen nearby didn’t notice him.
It is the young people’s season in Rwanda. Young and female. If you are young and visible in whatever you do, if you are female and visible in whatever you do, the government will promote you in Rwanda.
It is unusual in Africa and indeed the world, not to have career politicians and career CEOs, and that, for a post-conflict developmental state with a vision and a strong will to accomplish it in the shortest time possible, is perhaps the solution. However, only half of the young people appointed to senior positions succeed. Why? Because young as they are, it isn’t clear to all of them why they are in those positions. The lucky ones receive sober guidance, while the flamboyant ones are given ropes to hang themselves.
Young people as an elder explained to me, are put in leadership positions, not because of their outstanding brilliance, but to give them an opportunity to learn to be good leaders overtime. In their 30s, it isn’t uncommon for a young man or woman born in a remote village in rural Rwanda to be signing a multimillion dollar technology deal in Singapore, a billion dollar airport deal in Doha or a football one in London, while negotiating with seasoned fifty year old counterparts.
Some may say Rwanda is merely abiding to nature’s demands by giving power to the majority its citizens – namely women and young people, but it is more than that. Rwandans are a society where elders have no problem pushing the younger generation to step up to responsibility. I recently attended two weddings, where in the introduction ceremony ‘Gusaba’, elders encouraged a young man sitting on their bench to lead the delicate, oratorical and risky parleys that are the art of asking for the bride’s hand and offer a fitting dowry to an adamant and shrewd in-law family, sitting across the room. Luckily, the elders kept giving props to the young men leading the matrimonial talks and both processes ended in marriage.
Once in a leadership position, one is exposed to cutting-edge expertise, world-league advisory, endless learning opportunities and the adrenaline of living in the fast lane at the hour of the deal. Young Rwandans are privileged because the president offers them just that!
Rwandan elders are extra patient with us, perhaps it has something to do with their past hardships and the aspiration to see us succeed. Also, a post-conflict country such as ours is constantly scouting for success stories. Young people therefore ought to ‘resist’ the temptation of stardom. They ought to understand that it is a marathon – not a sprint, and endurance is key. They ought to remain humble and use their time to train and accumulate as much knowledge and experience as possible.
Many young CEOs I speak to read ‘how tos’, ‘seven, twelve or how many rules of success’ and biographies of billionaires. Others have memorized speeches by our president and both share those wisdom quotes with us on social media daily. I am sorry, but that type of easy read is for stay home mums and retired grannies. It is like memorizing the Bible or the Quran. While it can ensure ‘some’ longevity in politics, such imposture can’t work in the private sector.
The advantage of having a good income is to have access to good quality information. If you are in the field of tech, engineering, finance, health or social sciences, you’ve got to have read the latest publications on the subject and everything before, and have been partaking in the latest global conversation on the matter one way or the other. If you are a CEO, the company you lead should be implementing the latest standards in the industry and innovating ahead. To impress us, you have got to be regularly published on prestigious global platforms about your latest innovations. If you are young, your appointment to a leadership position should appear somewhat scientific, not political – even in a political position.
Once one realizes there is a lot to learn it humbles them. There is a saying in Kinyarwanda that ‘you can only advise someone on their way down, not their way up.’ Perhaps it is time to change that. There is nothing that can substitute experience. Even technology cannot leapfrog experience. There is a reason ‘one hit wonders’ don’t make old bones in the music industry.
The advantage of being young is believing that all is possible, which has been the ‘inkotanyi’ attitude and has served us rather well thus far. However, many of our young leaders need grooming. They need to be started at low management, promoted to middle management, and a few years down the road, finally appointed to senior management, lest the most promising of them all suffer the fate of Icarus.
Alas, all in not lost, as Oscar Wilde would subversively say:
“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.”
And it is beautiful!