13 November 2012

Rwanda: Of Conferences, African Youth and Change


I am one of those people who seem to have a somewhat severe allergy to conferences, meetings or endless series of workshops that appear to have no end.

Symptoms manifest themselves by the inability to sit still, a low attention span, the skill to sleep with eyes wide open and a complete lack of comprehension for conference themes that read: "Cross-thematic comparative best practices of trans-border trade." I usually marvel at such complex themes and secretly wonder if the people who come up with them are entirely sober.

Nonetheless, conferences are important. They offer platforms where discourse can occur between key players who shape the socio-economic and political landscape of countries and continents. Even though calls to action and declarations can occur years after one has probably moved onto a new career, conferences do play a significant role in bringing to the fore urgent issues that affect our world.

That is why, at a recent youth conference held in Addis, I sat up straight and immediately stopped the doodling I'd spent close to ten minutes doing. A heated debate was taking place on the relevance of why we were all gathered there. One of the participants mentioned that for youth across Africa to engage in a continental conversation, it shouldn't be as a result of a call to arms, but of forums where people can share ideas, network and lend strength to the voice of youth across Africa.

After all, the Pan-African movement from the early sixties was largely shaped by such forums, was it not? Another participant promptly refuted that claim saying the problem with young people today is that they were cooped up in such incessant conferences, rather than effecting change on the ground - where their efforts were needed most.

As a chronically indecisive Libra, it was difficult to decide which group had a more winning argument, but the fact remained - whether through forums or protests, youth across Africa need to really start controlling the destiny of this continent.

It shouldn't be in the hands of international donor agencies nor various control groups. It is an offense to logic that over 90 per cent of the African Union's programs are funded by foreign donors.

Africa's destiny also shouldn't be in the hands of corrupted African leaders, whose personal self-aggrandisement is at the expense of empowering African youth. At one point during the conference, youth from different countries in Africa were sharing experiences, on how disenfranchised the youth were in their respective countries, and how the older generation was hell-bent on stifling their voices. I almost felt like the kid who has no war stories to trade, the result of having grown up in a safe and secure home, unlike others whose upbringing was in a warzone.

I had no disenfranchised youth stories to tell, simply because the youth in my country are far from victimised. It is sad that a country like Rwanda and its focus on youth empowerment is the exception to the rule in Africa. It is sad that the prominent leadership positions occupied by young Rwandans are a rarity in this dear continent of ours.

They say that change is made - not given. Through our actions, we in Rwanda have begun to change the global narrative of our future. We have looked inward for strength and solutions, and over the last few months, have managed to overcome international crisis after crisis. From the DRC saga, to threatened aid suspensions and what not - this tiny country is purposely crafting its own path and better yet, showing other African states that this is doable.

At the helm of all this is a committed team of young men and women.

The question now is, how can such winning formulas be shared across Africa? What is an effective way to harness the energy of African youth, futile street protests or mind-numbing conferences aside? How, practically speaking, can young Africans collaborate and effect change across the continent?

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