By Saniya Giniatullina, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
Elisabeth Kaneza discusses Africa, with a focus on Rwanda and youth from different points of view: how it was affected by the 1994 genocide, what is the current situation, the poverty and the lack of education, what and how the situation can be improved. She begins with statistical analysis on the youth compared to African population, to continue then the discussion on their human and civil rights. One of her first statements highlights that the most exposed groups are the youngest ones:
“Where there is conflict, children and young people are the most vulnerable. They suffer a lot and they are voiceless. And this is due to the fact that in many countries the implementation of children and youth rights is just not correct, is just not being done.”
Ignoring the young people’s rights such as education, sanitation and other living standards is like ignoring the future of the country. In many East African countries, the average life span does not even reach five years of age. She later invokes some examples of NGOs and governmental institutions which are currently active in the scene. However, she also mentions that the conditions are worsened by the lack of financial aid and in great part negligence of the main problems by other states:
“The African Union, especially the commission, is very clear in saying that the young people need to have a role for the development of the continent. We just saw the number: if 65% of the population is below 35 years old, we need to find a way to empower them, we need to find a way to make them work for our development.”
Her speech includes a flashback to Rwanda’s genocide, which played a large role in Africa’s development and involvement from Western countries. After shortly describing the events of the 100 days of terror, she explains the consequences to the population, of which approximately 20% had been brutally murdered:
“Young people were the leftovers of the genocide. They were very vulnerable, in need of help, and what became clear was that a large majority of the people involved in the genocide were young people. […] And what we had on the other side was that the young people were very premature, they had to grow very fast. So there were some young people, as I told you before, who found themselves as the leaders of the family, at the age of maybe 10 or 12.”
She concluded with suggestions on how to strengthen the bridges between Western and African countries as well as examples of previous experiences of those who travelled to different continents and their inspiring stories. The amazing thing is the information filter between the two worlds: the Western one lives in a tale commercialized by media and barely proving personal interest, meanwhile the African one scarcely has enough means to even obtain any information of what is happening throughout the rest of the world. This enormous abyss needs to be overcome, but it is necessary to do it using diplomatic cooperation and willingness:
“But today, there is a lot we can learn, we can expand our horizons. Sometimes even when you go to a village in Africa and you tell a child about the capital cities, they will not believe you: they will not believe there are streets, they will not believe there are big houses. So now, bringing the two worlds together, bringing someone from the West to tell them that it is possible, this is a change. And bring someone from the West to let them see the realities on the ground: there are poor people; you are throwing your food away, while some people have nothing.”
Her speech is definitely an eye-opening and suggestive story: a deep introspective on the African reality, on the problems that the world is facing, but also hopeful proposals for a potential change and improvement of the future. In addition to the increased cultural exchange between Africa and the rest of the world. The appeal is to found the basics of solid relationships among Africa, Europe, America, Asia, Australia – we live on one planet and we need to support each other. We still have so much to learn, but for some reason we prefer to turn our heads in another direction.
“The Potential for Youth Engagement in Rwanda and the African Union”
A Lecture by Elisabeth Kaneza, Communication Department, Embassy of the Republic
Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy in the African Union
“African Perspectives: An African Vision for Positive Developments in Africa”
(Berlin; June 26th – 28th, 2013)