Ange Kagame, a philanthropist and daughter of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Photo by: personal collection

It was an image that spoke volumes: On the fringes of last August’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, President Barack Obama welcomed heads of state to dinner at the White House. Most of the dignitaries brought their wives. Paul Kagame didn’t.

The Rwandan president arrived with Ange Kagame, his only daughter, a now 21-year-old budding philanthropist who, in many ways, represents the next generation of promising African leaders — a generation that stands ready to shape a continent ripe with opportunity despite its long history of poverty, conflicts and other development challenges.

True to the summit’s theme, Kagame plans to invest in the future through her passion in education, women empowerment and health.

Devex spoke with the political science major about her vision for Africa’s future and ways to get more of her peers engaged in international development.

What skills do young people need to be the most effective leaders?

I think education is most important. We have to get to a place where education is not just a privilege for some but a right for everyone.

The right to education has the potential to serve as an equalizer of opportunities globally, allowing every young person, wherever they may live, to develop their skills, contribute to building their countries as well as participate on the global stage.

Is there room for young people to express their opinions even when it goes against the mainstream or may be disruptive?

Definitely there is. We live in a social media-driven world. With a large number of us with access to Twitter, Facebook and different social media outlets, the news and what is going on in the world is that much closer to us.

Social media has also given people, especially the youth, a sounding board to express their views. Social media, however, goes beyond just allowing the youth to express their opinions. It allows for everyone, irrespective of age, geographical location or socio-economic status, to participate in the debate as well as the actions taken on the issues that matter most to them.

What unique role do young people play in shaping government?

I think Africa’s case is a particularly interesting one. In Rwanda, over 70 percent of the country’s population is comprised of the youth. On a larger scale, Africa is the continent with the largest youngest population in the world, with over 200 million between the ages of 15 and 24. This is both a challenge but even more so, it is an opportunity: This means a bigger and more vibrant workforce, which of course translates into a huge economic advantage. Despite obstacles such as unemployment, Africa’s young population continues to show the potential for innovative young entrepreneurs across the continent to drive the economic transformation.  

Most importantly, this opportunity comes with a great deal of responsibility and in some sense an obligation, as well. The youth should own the development process of their respective countries and feel very much a part of it.

What is your vision for Rwanda’s development and the development of Africa? Do you think this is different from that of your parents’ generation and from other Rwandans your age?

My vision for Rwanda and my vision for Africa are intertwined. I hope that in this generation’s lifetime, we can live to see a self-reliant and stable Africa. That we can start to be defined more by our successes rather than the negative images that have become synonymous with Africa (poverty, war, disease et cetera). I hope that we can continue to work towards a more industrialized and developed continent and hopefully start to see middle-income countries become the majority. This transformation was possible with Southeast Asian countries that not too long ago were considered “Third World.” I believe the same can happen on our continent as well.

Our parents’ generation and our generation grew up under different circumstances. Our parents were born during difficult times and forced into exile at a very young age. They had to fight for their country and identity.

In a way, the work has been made easier for us. We belong somewhere, we have a place to call home, we have an identity, all from the sacrifices our parents’ generation had to make. The foundation is there, we just have to make the best of it.

What’s the most challenging part in carving out your own views on development from your parents’? Is there a disconnect between the older and younger generations’ visions for the future?

The case of Rwanda has proven that progress is not about the young versus the old. Instead, it is about leveraging the strengths both have to offer.

Rwanda’s transformation in the past two decades is a result of a country with young people who refused to accept the status quo, demanded more for and from itself. But this progress was also the result of learning from the older generation and building on our historical practices to come up with solutions most relevant to our context.

It is only through a combination of the young and the old, the traditional and the modern, that we can deliver the kind of future the next generation deserves.

What is one thing you would tell young people your age to inspire them to reach their potential?

I live by the mantra, “Never touch anything with half of your heart.” You do not have to be great at everything, but find what it is you are passionate about, what it is you love, what keeps you up at night and do that. Do that to the best of your ability. Strive to be the best at it. Stop at nothing. Give it everything!

Want to learn more? Check out the Youth Will website and tweet #YouthWill.

Youth Will is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, The Commonwealth Secretariat, The MasterCard Foundation and UN-Habitat to explore the power that youth around the globe hold to change their own futures and those of their peers.

About the author

  • Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.