African History through a Youthful Scope
Well, today was a milestone; we did a school tour around the great Kawangware area in Nairobi. This was an eye opening encounter we had and that we will never forget for the rest of our lives. Youth and history is an increasingly compelling subject for study in our project, entering into political and historical space in highly complex ways. To pay attention to youth is to pay close attention to the topology of the social landscape and their environment whether it’s at school, home or playground.
We had the great opportunity of sitting down with kids from Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan united by one institution, A SCHOOL. This was unexpected because such a scenario is usually expected in an international school, but we were blessed to get that in Kawangware, one of Nairobi’s sprawling slum areas. One of the kids we spoke to candidly was seventeen year old Olivier from Rwanda. He was not born when the Rwanda Genocide happened in 1994, but his knowledge of the tragic incident was fresh and authentic. He was passionate about the message of unity and reconciliation and how it helped reconcile Rwanda. This knowledge that Olivier has is not in the syllabus, it is self-taught, through methods such as observation, listening and research which showed a boy in exile but still passionate about his country Rwanda.
We also had two boys from South Sudan, Pascal and David, who are from two different tribes that do not see eye to eye in South Sudan, the Dinka and the Nuer. The two tribes are embroiled in bloody wars that have destabilized South Sudan for years and even more recently between Riek Macar and Salva Kiir, who are their respective leaders in the world’s youngest nation. David said that John Garang who was then the leader of SPLA and former president of South Sudan was the unifying factor. This is because he made the people of South Sudan fight for one common goal, independence from Khartoum. When he died, Pascal said that this left a power vacuum, both the Dinka and the Nuer wanted positions of power hence the bloody wars that followed.
Young people in Africa today are defined by two major characteristics: caution and ambition. Katlego, a young animator from South Africa working independently in Johannesburg, told me the anniversary of the ANC “isn’t directly related to me or to my life. I don’t know any young people around me who care about the African history either. Instead, African youth think about how to set our roots in the big cities and grab a better position for ourselves in the future. Africa is still developing fast, and the opportunities to have a better life are now or never” Katlego explained. “Who wants to risk losing everything we have achieved for a vague dream?” he adds.
Katlego isn’t exaggerating. Openly commemorating historical events, in person or online, carries real risks in some parts of Africa, like Ethiopia and Rwanda. In Rwanda for instance, Olivier told us that the Rwanda government considers conversations about being Hutu or Tutsi as harmful to national stability. Another risk, according to Olivier, is the instability Rwanda would potentially face once people were allowed to be discussed openly in regards to the 1994 Genocide, which would likely lead to a wider conversation about the legitimacy of the President Paul Kagame. Olivier won’t do anything that would lead to the former, and he doesn’t want to see anything that would lead to the latter. “I believe in a strong government,” he said. “To maintain the stability and achieve a larger goal, I think some sacrifices are acceptable.” In other words, Rwanda can’t both become strong and reckon with the 1994 Genocide at the same time. In Ethiopia, every year some that hold even private memorials of Emperor Selassie are punished. At least three activists were reportedly detained this May for plans to commemorate the anniversary in Addis Ababa.
To meet and listen to young, engaged people from different African countries. To hear them reflect upon their diverse history in a youthful perspective. To see their commitment and willingness to form a better Africa. This was an experience that we will treasure and keep in our archives.