It is a commonly held view that investing in the youth is investing in a generation that is capable of not only sustaining the gains made, but also a force that will take the country to a much higher level of transformation.
This informs the focus the post-genocide Rwanda put focus on the youth following the liberation of the country 25 years ago.
Before 1994 in Rwanda, this view had long lost its meaning as affairs of the youth always took the back seat among national priorities, and instead the generation of youth were mobilised to actively take part in bringing the life of the country to a halt.
Young people were indoctrinated with the seed of hate right from their time in school, where one part of them was taught to hate another while the other part were left behind in everything a nation can offer, including the very basic right to an education.
The hate that was sowed over the years culminated into the wide-scale massacre that was the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, in which the youth who had been indoctrinated for years were weaponized to kill over a million innocent Rwandans within just 100 days.
In essence, the seed of hatred was one investment that the former selfish leaders made to advance their evil political interests, until the post genocide government took over.
When the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) liberated the country – whose fighters were ironically predominantly youth, it was just as important to integrate the youth as a driving force one which the nation’s transformation agenda would be built.
The post-Genocide government much earlier realised there was an urgent need to place the youth at the helm of the development agenda with belief that they would sustain Rwanda’s gains.
For the past twenty five years, the Government has been making significant investments with an aim to make the youth an integral part of the transformation journey and the investment is already bearing fruits.
They youth have been engaged in several fields; in business and political spheres, and have been active in other decision making positions.
Young Rwandans have been running successful agri-businesses, a sector that was previously looked at as one of failures; they have been running successful technology companies, and they are leading public and private sector initiatives.
Young Rwandan entrepreneurs like Clarisse Iribagiza and Patrick Buchana are a testimony of this.
They both have been running some of the popular technology firms providing transport, logistics and e-commerce solutions.
Iribagiza is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of HeHelabs (now DMM.HeHe), a technology company that develops innovative technologies.
She founded her business in 2010 at the age of 22 as an undergraduate at University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology where she was pursuing a bachelor of science in Computer Engineering.
Mid-way through her course, she attended an incubation programme with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she was able to connect the dots between what she was learning in school and how she could immediately apply it in the real world.
Iribagiza is now a member of the Presidential Youth Advisory Group at the African Development Bank and is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Africa Leadership University.
In 2015 she was named among the top 30 young African promising entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine, among many accolades. She is just 31.
On the other hand, Buchana who runs AC Group, another technology company known for having initiated the process for smart public city transport.
The young entrepreneur’s company introduced Tap&Go, a smart card that allows city dwellers to commute public buses without having to use cash, whose subscription locally is currently in hundreds of thousands.
His technology has brought efficiency and transparency in transport business not just in Rwanda but in other African countries.
Both the two entrepreneurs’ companies have already attracted global investors.
For Buchana, the fact that the youth are able to achieve their full potential in a country where it was impossible at some point is in itself a reflection of the meaning of a true liberation.
“Liberation to me means freeing us from things that stop us from achieving our full potential. Today, it’s possible because of a government that is visionary, that sets the right priorities and had tangible measures of tackling any challenge that stands in the way of her citizens,” he says.
In 2017, DMM Group, a Japanese tech giant invested millions of dollars in the two companies, acquiring a stake in AC Group and taking a hundred per cent shareholding in Hehelabs.
The amount invested in the two companies was compared to that the Government sold former Umubano Hotel, now Marasa Umubano hotel. It was reportedly sold at $20 million.
The two are an example of the generation of young people the Government has been investing in to allow them play a unique role in the country’s transformation journey.
Assumpta Uwamariya, another 29-year-old female entrepreneur, says historically the young were always at the back of the development agenda of the country.
“Nobody cared about them, but today the ground has been laid. You easily see more young people who hold positions of managing directors and chief executives across different public and private institutions,” she notes.
Uwamariya runs Karisimbi Wines Limited, a company that processes and produces wines from homegrown fruits and vegetables – beetroot, pineapple and banana.
That, she says, has been made possible because of a conducive environment which she says the Government has been able to set for young people to thrive.
“They liberated the country but it is now our role to take it to another level and with aspects like good governance and leadership, security, and equal access to existing opportunities, there is reason to believe we are a promising generation,” she notes.
Rosemary Mbabazi, Rwanda’s Youth Minister says the journey to integrate the youth was informed by the belief that the leadership had in empowering its citizens.
“Right from the RPF Manifesto, what was driving the agenda before even the liberation, was centered on empowering the citizens and one of the key citizens are the youth,” she says.
The fact that the people who liberated the country were youth, Mbabazi believes, made it only fair to believe that youth had the potential to drive the country forward when handed the right tools.
“It is not by coincidence that youth are now given the opportunities. It is from the vision of our leadership which, from day one, considered the young people as the key players of our nation’s development,” she notes.
Mbabazi also recalls that before 1994 the young people had no platform, rather they were used as tools for destruction.
She particularly highlights that the people who were in political leadership of the day used to create youth groups not to promote the interests of the country but to sow hatred, divisive ideology, which resulted in the Genocide against the Tutsi.
“It was really designed in a way that the young people were not seen as decision-makers but people who would receive decisions taken by elders within their own interests,” she recalls.
Before the post genocide government, the youth had no representation in parliament, there was no national youth council, representation beyond Rwanda was a nightmare, they didn’t run businesses, and they didn’t have a say in the private sector.
“The political ideology, political orientation was just to keep the young people not so much informed, which would make them the convenient tool they were made during the Genocide against the Tutsi,” she said.
To demystify that mindset and create a new generation free of hate and genocide ideology took a lot of efforts and time, says the minister.
It took the elaborate vision which was translated into policies and programmes that the Government has been implementing.
“After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, at the constitutional level, the policies we made, laws and programmes, the institutional framework that was set up, was all preparing for the better future,” Mbabazi explained, adding that this began with the youth.
The Government has been promoting programmes like Ndi Umunyarwanda, Urunana rw’Urungano (network of like-minded people), and other networks of young people within and out of Rwanda, all aimed at building a unified nation centred on the young people.
Such programmes have also enabled the process of creating awareness and sensitisation among the post-genocide generation not to be contaminated by those who had negative ideologies.
The Government has also invested in programmes that economically empower the youth.
Among others are innovation and technology hubs, specialised windows run by institutions like Business Development Fund to support young entrepreneurs, and vocational training programmes aimed at preparing a generation of people that is able to perform work.
Young people have been facilitated to access startup toolkits through specialised programmes, while others have been receiving business development training and skills.
The Government has also made sure that young people participate in exchanges that shape their understanding on global affairs through platforms like YouthConnekt.
Going forward, the leadership is working to address existing challenges like unemployment as well as make sure the young people are mobilised to sustain the gains.
Buchana believes that the youth are a promising generation based on, among other things, the passion and commitment they have to run businesses beyond the borders.