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Are Rwandan youth ready to answer the call of duty?

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President Paul Kagame delivered a heartfelt speech on Liberation Day, particularly inviting the youth to step up to the plate, telling them “we are counting on you, the liberation generation, to take us further.”

The President and Commander-In-Chief of the Rwanda Defence Force made the call during a historic speech in front of tens of thousands of people at the significantly upgraded Amahoro Stadium in Remera, Kigali, where national Liberation celebrations were held amid pomp and colour.

It was a rousing speech that gave an account of the country’s transformation journey since the Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army halted the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and rallied the youth to step forward and be counted.

The New Times

Speaking in front of a 12-guard parade mounted by the RDF and Rwanda National Police that had earlier mesmerised thousands with a spectacular parade, Kagame paid tribute to Rwanda’s liberation heroes, singling out the security forces’ outstanding service and discipline over the years.

“Our army and security forces are a powerful symbol of unity and safety,” Kagame said, adding, “In opinion surveys ranking trust in public institutions, Rwandans consistently rate our security forces among the highest”.

That is no accident, he said.

‘A pact of trust’

After the Genocide, Kagame recalled, “the first encounter that most Rwandans had with the new authorities, was with our army.”

The situation in the country was still extremely tense and dangerous, said Kagame, who led the RPA to victory on July 4, 1994, following a four-year armed struggle.

“Yet, our forces did everything in their power to treat all Rwandans with professionalism and humanity, setting the tone of everything that followed.”

“Even today, they remain close to the community, and invest in projects that matter to our development, such as infrastructure and medical services.”

“This pact of trust (Igihango),” Kagame said, “is indeed the solid foundation upon which our country was rebuilt.”

 

A Rwanda Defence Force guard composed of women during a march-past at the event.
A Rwanda Defence Force guard composed of women during a march-past at the event.

It was not easy, he recalled, reflecting on the last three decades of the country’s transformation.

Kagame admitted that “remaining principled and consistent is hard (and) very difficult,” even for the bravest of the brave.

‘Politics no longer a tool for exclusion’

But there was a dividend in doing hard things, which he described as “absolutely beautiful”.

“We have shattered every negative taboo and assumption about being Rwandan. Our politics today is based on accountability and ambition,” Kagame said in a speech that repeatedly drew applause from his cheerful audience.

“It is a way for all Rwandans to lead a better life,” said Kagame, who is expected to return to the campaign trail this week ahead of the upcoming general elections due in slightly over a week.

“Politics,” he said, “is no longer a tool to exclude and harm each other.”

Kagame said Rwandans do not fear their government “because it serves all of us without distinction.”

The endpoint of the liberation struggle, he said, “was to build a state in which each of us is valued, and citizens are always at the center of government action.”

 

Thousands of Rwandans and friends of Rwanda at the newly revamped Amahoro Stadium during the celebration on Thursday, July 4.
Thousands of Rwandans and friends of Rwanda at the newly revamped Amahoro Stadium during the celebration on Thursday, July 4.

But the Head of State warned that, while Rwandans had made “huge strides towards this mindset, we must remain vigilant.”

‘Speak up, take part, give back’

At this point, the President focused his attention on young people, telling them it was their civic responsibility to carry forward the liberation legacy handed down from the older generations.

“I am addressing this message in particular to Rwanda’s young people, especially those born over the last thirty years,” he said. “This country is yours to protect, defend, and make prosperous.

“It is worth repeating that real liberation only begins when the guns fall silent. We began that stage thirty years ago, and we are counting on you, the liberation generation, to take us further”

Rwanda’s struggle today, he said, has a “bigger scope than just surviving.”

It is about living well, with success, Kagame said. “Succeeding against poverty, dependence, and indignity.”

“Succeeding as an upright nation of Africans who play our part to build a better continent and a fairer world,” he continued.

“You have the freedom and the opportunity to live the lives you want,” the Head of State told the youth, adding, “but wherever your life takes you, remember your duty to uphold the good politics we have built.”

“Speak up, take part, and give back,” Kagame said, as he continued to address young people. “Those are the civic values that we want to define the next generation of Rwandans.”

But are Rwandan youth ready to rise to the occasion?

Speaking to The New Times, Lilian Ishimwe, a 22-year-old youth leader in Gihango Sector, Rutsiro District in Western Province, said Rwandan youth were fortunate to have leaders who do not only believe in them but also mentor and empower them, adding that the ball was firmly in young people’s court.

Learning at the feet of icons

“We are lucky that we continue to learn at the feet of our courageous liberation icons, but they will not be around forever, at one point we will be on our own, which is why we need to make the most of the opportunity we have to learn today and be ready for tomorrow,” she said.

She added, “This is our country, and it is our responsibility to build it. We need to get started already and it doesn’t have to be from the top, everyone can start small, from our communities, by participating in grassroots initiatives like Umuganda, and serving the vulnerable.”

Describing as “brilliant” the President’s Liberation anniversary speech, Ishimwe had a special message to young people: steer clear of drug abuse, promiscuous behaviour and other forms of unbecoming conduct.

Peter Ndayisaba, the Musanze-based coordinator of youth volunteers in Northern Province, said the President’s message was “loud and clear”, adding, “most of us are ready to answer the call.”

Citing the around 1.8 million youth volunteers around the country, Ndayisaba said the youth had been mobilised and inspired by liberation heroes and heroines and that many were ready to answer the call of duty. “The good thing is that we still have people to look up to and we have their full support, but there is already a sense of readiness on the part of most of us.”

 

Rwanda Defence Force officers during a parade while celebrating the 30th anniversary of Liberation Day at Amahoro stadium on Thursday, July 4. Photo by Dan Gatsinzi
Rwanda Defence Force officers during a parade while celebrating the 30th anniversary of Liberation Day at Amahoro stadium on Thursday, July 4. Photo by Dan Gatsinzi

For 30-year-old Eurelie Uwimana, the youth coordinator in Kirehe District in Eastern Province, the Rwandan youth have come of age thanks to “our leaders’ consistency in entrusting us with responsibilities, which has inspired confidence in us”.

Youth are represented in different organs, including in parliament where they have two slots specially reserved for youth representatives.

Uwimana added, “Our leaders have put us in positions of leadership and continue to light our way,” noting that the youths who may still habour doubts in themselves or fall short due to different factors have an opportunity to catch up.

‘President believes in youth’

“We are on the right course,” she insisted. “But we’ll need to continue mobilising all of our peers to ensure everyone has that sense of urgency and is ready for responsibility.”

Steven Gisa, 24, from Kigali’s Kibagabaga neighbourhood and a student at Ines-Ruhengeri, observed that the President’s message was from a leader who believes in the Rwandan youth.

“To be honest we’re the most privileged and empowered generation of youth than any before us,” said the third-year student of civil engineering.

He said today’s youth are largely active at the community level, citing the role of youth volunteers in various good causes, in Umuganda (community work), and supporting the disadvantaged.

Gisa, who was inside the stadium during the President’s inspirational speech, was also eager to point to the involvement of young people in economic activity, crediting the government for promoting initiatives that empower the youth.

Granted, some things are easier said than done, but it is perhaps fair to say that Rwandan youth – well, at least some – have come of age and are taking note and learning the ropes of leadership.

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