Rwanda – building an engaged youth twenty years after genocide

Rwanda is still in need of healing and reconciliation, and the Rwandan youth still need to reflect on lessons learned from the past in order to construct the future they want and deserve.

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Conflict Background

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By Ingvild Gundersen

Twenty years ago, a genocide occurred in the heart of Africa, in the small nation of Rwanda. The 1994 Genocide perpetrated against Tutsis lasted for one hundred days, where one million Tutsi and moderate Hutus were brutally murdered. When the Genocide ended with the liberation of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the country had been destroyed and the people devastated.

The founding members of Never Again Rwanda (NAR), a human rights and peacebuilding organization that arose in response to the 1994 Genocide, recognized that the minds of young people were exploited to destroy Rwanda – both leading up to and during the 1994 Genocide. Even as a post-genocide society, NAR observed that divisions continued to exist between young Rwandans. Guided by a vision of a nation where young people are agents of positive change and work together towards sustainable peace and development, the founding members established NAR to empower youth with opportunities to become active citizens.

A Public Speaking Competition is one of the many activities NAR facilitates for the young generation in Rwanda. The idea of a public speaking competition was born in 2011 after a commemoration debate in Rubavu and Kigali, Rwanda. It was acknowledged that commemoration topics did not offer a two-sided debate, and a public speaking competition was launched in Rwanda in 2011. This public speaking art inspired the founders to allow the youth from the Great Lakes region to exchangeviews on conflict in their countries and thus broaden the competition. NAR launched the first regional public speaking competition in 2013, including youth from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and DRC.

Important topics in the public speaking competitions are the security and situation of people in the region, emerging and persisting stereotypes and rumours, and human rights violations that affect the life of ordinary citizens. This year’s theme for the competition held in Huye in the Southern Province was “How can we as young generation deal with the past to build peace in the Great Lakes Region?” All participants wrote and delivered a speech with a title that was connected with the theme of the competition. This connection needed to be visible and explained, and participants could interpret the theme in any way they wished. Four winners, two Anglophone and two Francophone speakers were selected to participate in the regional competition with the same theme, which took place in Rubavu, Western Rwanda from March 6th – 9th.

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The goal of the public speaking competition is to provide youth with a forum, whilst enabling their active and constructive participation in dealing with the past, as NAR acknowledges that many Rwandans, especially the younger generation, struggle to come to terms with the horrors of the past. NAR wish to increase youth’s capacity in critical thinking through research, strengthening regional youth exchanges, opening discussions on dealing with the past and promoting peace, with the purpose of including new points of view, as well as to develop a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance and non-discrimination.

Engaging youth in every aspect of society and giving them a voice is NAR’s main objective, and having youth participate in Kwibuka20 activities is another way NAR empowers and motivates the youth of Rwanda.

Kwibuka means remember, and every year NAR organize multiple activities leading up to commemorations of the Genocide. This year, the theme of Kibuka20 is Remember – Unite – Renew, and NAR aims to give the younger generation a chance to engage and explore further steps towards a peaceful society; where people are able to overcome alienation, division, and restore peaceful and supportive relationships based on a shared commitment to communal solidarity. NAR focuses on the role young people have during commemoration and will create different platforms where all Rwandan youth can learn and reflect on the genocide, create a shared vision of confidence and prosperity, and bring inclusive hope for a better future.

A trauma workshop will be facilitated by NAR, which will take place in Huye in the Southern province of Rwanda. The participants will be 20 Secondary school students that will be trained on how to overcome trauma, as trauma and fearful memories of the Genocide are often passed down to the younger generation. Students will also be trained in relaxation exercises which they may use to support friends, classmates and family members suffering from trauma.

Global Umuganda is facilitated by NAR along with other youth organizations working on Kwibuka20. Global Umuganda is community work where young Rwandans will support vulnerable people in their communities. International youth is targeted as well as they are mobilized to help people in their communities in the spirit of Rwanda, and they will also draw and paint messages of peace to the people in Rwanda. In Rwanda a specific focus will be set on Genocide survivors, and youth will help them fix their houses, build kitchen gardens and clean the streets.

Another activity where Rwandese, African and international youth is targeted is the project, ‘A Million Voices’, where youth stand up to end genocide. A picture with a statement to end genocide is taken, along with their name and country of residence.

NAR is partnering with the Commission Nationale de Lutte contre le Génocide (CNLG) to organize the 3rd National Conference on Policy and Practice on Genocide Commemoration. For the conference, NAR is expecting to host 200 participants in Rwanda to discuss the main theme, ‘Rebuilding Rwanda, Preservation of memory – 20 years after the Genocide Perpetrated Against the Tutsi’. NAR aims to use this conference to give youth an opportunity to play an active role in building Rwanda’s future and it will be conducted in a highly-participatory and interactive manner, with youth as a key resource. There will also be presentations by experts and plenary discussions encouraging participatory interactive discussions, moderated by resourceful speakers. The presentations and discussions will be centered on the theme commemoration theme Remember – Unite – Renew.

Rwanda is still in need of healing and reconciliation, and the Rwandan youth still need to reflect on lessons learned from the past in order to construct the future they want and deserve.

The Rwandan diaspora is also invited to attend the conference through live video and social media. This will enhance the vision of the youth as Rwandans from different sectors are coming together, enabling them to constructively share their concerns and bring up important recommendations to different commemoration stakeholders.

NAR works to build a platform for Rwandans to participate in inclusive commemoration as a means of promoting healing.

For the 20th commemoration NAR focuses constructively on the youth as they realize that the youth is the future of Rwanda and sustainable peace is possible only if the youth is engaged and given a voice.

Ingvild Gundersen is currently finishing a master’s degree in Intercultural Relations and Social Advocacy at Lesley University in Cambridge MA. As part of the program, Ingvild is completing an internship with Never Again Rwanda, a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation. Born and raised in Norway before moving to the US to study,  Ingvild hopes to to pursue a career within human rights and peacebuilding.

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