What the UK can learn from Rwanda

rwanda

Young people are full of aspirations and energy, but our potential is often stymied by depressed economies, insecurity and limited opportunities to have a say in the decisions that affect our lives.

The issue of youth unemployment has crept up the political agenda, with little resultant action. There is a feeling among young people that our concerns and hopes are overlooked and our voices ignored. The way we see it, power still rests disproportionately in the hands of leaders, mostly men, twice our age or more.

Young people in Rwanda face many challenges, but the Government has made steps towards empowering young people in the decision-making process. We are seen not only as tomorrow’s leaders, but also as central actors and beneficiaries in today’s society.

Rwanda’s constitution, drawn up after the genocide against Tutsi in 1994, was designed to heal divisions in our society, and guarantees parliamentary representation for groups that often lack a voice such as youth and the disabled people.

There are lessons that can be learnt from Rwanda’s real attempt to make Parliament more representative.

Two out of the 80 Parliamentary seats, in the national elections this week, were reserved for young people. They are chosen by other young people from universities, colleges and youth groups across the country from 23 candidates who put themselves forward.

There is also a quota to ensure women are adequately represented. Our Parliament is the only one in the world where women outnumber men. The new Rwandan constitution reserved at least 30 per cent of seats for women MPs, but early results suggest they will make up 64% this year’s election.

As the Vice-President of the District Advisory Council representing youth, I know that we need a voice for the fears and hopes of young people.

Some people might regard two seats for youth as inadequate given that young people comprise more than half Rwanda’s population of 11 million.  Some may think quota systems are just symbolism.  Others might equate youth with inexperience and question the entire premise.

Critics made similar arguments when women were first elected to Parliament under the quota system. But, today, you wouldn’t find a single Rwandan – man or woman – who disputes that the influence and leadership of women has been essential to Rwanda’s social and economic progress in the nearly two decades since the genocide.

It is women who took the lead in healing the deep wounds in our society. Our economy is growing fast, our health service and schools are improving and our streets and villages, which once saw such bloodshed, are now the safest in Africa.

The prominent role played by women in Parliament and throughout the Government has helped transform attitudes throughout Rwandan society.  Women now have much more say in their families and communities. We reach better decisions because of their experience and views.

In a similar way, youth MPs can empower young citizens throughout the country to step up and take full part in the lives of their communities. I believe that what we lack in experience, we make up for in energy, ideals, imagination and capacity. Young people can bring a fresh approach to problems and the future matters to us. We are less set in our ways and excited by the possibilities change.

We are a new generation of strong, educated and ambitious citizens. As the group most likely to be affected by the laws passed by Parliament, we deserve a seat at the table.  No group has a bigger stake in getting it right. Perhaps the UK should follow Rwanda’s lead.

 

* Janvier Murenzi ran for a youth seat in Rwanda’s parliamentary elections. He is the currently the Vice President District Council Coordinator, National Youth Council (District).

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