The author is Eric Birori, a citizen reporter at Never Again Rwanda
Youth and the future are naturally linked for generations, but this linkage can be productive when they have country’s ownership in their hands. It is not the easy task because it requires the creation of favorable conditions that allow them to participate in political, social and economic life of the country.
This is sometimes hard to be attained because the country always belong to adult’s hands who are decision makers, opinion leaders, parents who can offer to young people the opportunities to express their needs to build a better future whenever they want.
It is oftentimes leaders pledge to invest in young people but once they are elected, it gets hard to fulfill their promises to engage youth in the decision making processes and those decisions are often made with little or no input from the youth.
Youth show interest in being empowered with opportunities and skills and to make sure that their views are taken seriously by leaders and adults. But because they show it in their own ways it gets hard for leaders and adults to believe that youth can be full responsible and owner for the country’s future.
From my experience as a facilitator of Inzira nziza project of Never Again Rwanda working with youth in five districts of the country, young people show that they want more and better opportunities to participate in decision-making processes in order to gain skills and resources that will help them to participate. But they consider leaders and older generation to be their hindrances because they consider them as immature and inexperienced.
By the other side, adults and leaders portrayed some youth as a segment of population who don’t know what they want, who seek short term benefits, drug addicted and other negative behaviors.
But all of them (leaders and youth) when given opportunity for roundtable discussion they argue that they are both partners in shaping the country and express some sense of belonging except that intergenerational misunderstanding.
This showed me that both youth and local leaders need more spaces for dialogue to decrease misunderstanding and stereotypes and that will help to strengthen their relationship as a way to hand over to youth country’s future.
However, being active citizens is beyond being provided resources and opportunities but it is better to instill ownership, responsibility and opportunities to dream for a better future to young people. It is also beyond voting, joining a party or pressure group, campaigning, or standing for election but it must be a lifestyle of patriotism and positive attitudes toward the country.
Moreover, we have experience that lack of critical thinking among youth provokes them into negative behaviors that can negatively impact the whole country.
Thus, empowering young people with resources is needed but importantly is to provide them skills that will instill in them confidence, responsibility and ownership to use these resources for a better future. This means that Government and its partners need to invest in programs that promote youth- resilience, and ownership and strengthening the mindset that decrease unhealthy behaviors and that will encourage youth to become patriotic and responsible citizens.
To implement this Government need to be accountable in order to encourage every segment of the society to participate in the decision making processes and offer opportunities for young people to demonstrate their ability to be citizens in their own local environment through practical experiences and activities.