For Kagame and East Africa’s youth, the future matters

27 Sep

It is a well-known fact that if you want to know the attitude of an individual, institution or nation, study the language they use. Quite often a single word will define the thinking behind their actions or determine which direction they take.

And sometimes the single word may make all the difference – conceptually or in practical terms – between success and failure, progress and stagnation, greatness and insignificance, or whether one is forward or backward- looking.

Anyone who has been following President Paul Kagame’s pronouncements will have noticed that two words are increasingly becoming frequent in what he says. The words are the ‘future’ and ‘youth’. These are obviously pointers to President Kagame’s thinking about Rwanda’s direction.

Take for instance what he said on his recent trips abroad. During his state visit to France earlier this month, you could not miss the word future. It ran through all his pronouncements that you might say it was the theme of the visit – fashioning future relations with the French government and business community.

The idea of the future was present in the president’s lecture at the French Institute for International Relations. He staked out a role for African countries in reshaping the future of international relations.

In various media interviews during the state visit, President Kagame stressed that he did not intend to dwell on the past but rather focus on the future in rebuilding relations between Rwanda and France.

President Kagame’s focus on the future is not an accident or a matter of fashionable rhetoric. In terms of domestic policy, it is the result of a deliberate refusal to be held back by history. In foreign affairs, it is the product of the refusal to be held captive by past relations. As he said in Paris three weeks ago, and on many other occasions, people must move on.

The logic seems to be that you cannot allow yourself to be passive and let the past dictate your future. You can, and should, shape your own future. Rwanda has made the latter choice.

Any observer of the Rwandan scene must be aware of the country’s efforts to free itself from the clutches of the past and to move on. Whether it is in social relations among its people, or political and economic philosophy, the choice has been to break from an unsatisfactory past and set on a purposeful journey into the future.

Now, in other societies that have followed a normal progressive path, this is not what happens. The past is usually a platform from which to spring into the future. And it is not such a radical jump but really a normal progression that only becomes noticeable because of the cumulative transformation.

But Rwanda’s case is different. The past does not provide similar anchor and firm platform. Yes it is a springboard but of a different sort – one of rejection of an unsavoury past that propels one on a different trajectory. And the effect, rather than being cumulative becomes radical and all the more noticeable.

In a sense, therefore, Rwanda has had to fashion a future built on new foundations, not rooted in past achievements but in previous failures.

For President Kagame it seems the youth and the future are inextricably linked, which perhaps explains why he now hardly makes a major statement without reference to the youth.  It seems to me he has much faith in them as transformative agents.

Only last week in New York, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly on mediation and conflict resolution, he again staked out a special place for the youth. He said that in attempting to resolve conflicts, the world has not adequately used the potential of the youth. They are key innovators and thought leaders for today and tomorrow, he said. And because of their youth and because they carry less historical and political baggage that have often stood in the way of change, they have a bigger stake in the future of our world.

He said much the same thing last year when he addressed young people in Benin.  At that time he told them they have an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to approach issues with a problem-solving mind. This particularly makes them best suited to shape the direction of Africa’s development agenda.

The youth of Africa, he told the Benin youth, are the pillars of present endeavours and drivers to the future.

President Kagame has put his money where his mouth is. His government has invested heavily in education and ICT. He has recognised the abilities of young people and appointed them to key positions in government. Indeed during the Mindspeak Africa event held in Kigali in August this year, he was asked to plead with his colleagues Heads of State to recognise the potential of young people in their countries.

Little wonder, then, that Inspire Africa, an NGO of young East African Entrepreneurs should recognise Paul Kagame as an icon of development in the region and an inspiration to them.

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