Do the concentrated numbers of male youths in urban Rwanda threaten social stability? The World Bank investigates this theory, examining the concept that large concentrations of male youths are disconnected from their cultures and prone to violence due to the ‘youth bulge’. However, interviews with urban male youths in Rwanda indicate that they are constrained by limited opportunities rather than menaces to society. The situation confronting most Rwandan youth and most of their counterparts in Africa remains alarming – a largely silent emergency.
The ‘youth bulge’ theory suggests that a heavy concentration of male youths in urban areas leads to situations of violence, uprisings, revolutions and even terrorism. The prevalence of this theory in post-conflict literature has led African policymakers to attempt to avoid the urban ‘youth bulge’ by targeting aid to rural areas. For example, policymakers in Liberia have directed post-war reintegration strategies towards rural areas even though agriculture does not appeal to urban youth.
In pre-genocide Rwanda, anti-urbanisation policy severely limited the educational and employment opportunities available to male youth. Forced immobility meant that while young men had few rural opportunities, they were not allowed to migrate to find better employment. The education system allowed few students into secondary school and provided poor or impractical vocational training.
It is likely that the high numbers of male youth participants in the violence in Rwanda is attributable to limited opportunities resulting from faulty anti-urbanisation policy. Instead of eliminating the threat of the urban ‘youth bulge’, these policies created a life of entrapment and frustration that translated into desperation and violence during the genocide.
- Young men had far less land than their fathers and were often unable to support a wife or a family.
- The educational and legal system prevented young men from access to education and inheriting land, which forced them into low-paid, temporary jobs.
- The government vocational education system targeted towards rural youth was ineffectual. Not only was the community required to pay many of the costs and choose appropriate courses, but also forced immobility meant that graduates could not find jobs in an already saturated workforce.
- The hopelessness resulting from the lack of opportunities made Rwandan youth susceptible to genocide instigators whose recruitment strategy mixed coercion and promises of material gain.
Given that Rwandan youth today face similar patterns of limited education and employment opportunities, there is a threat that the violence could reappear. Policymakers must learn from the past in order to create effective programmes for the current youth generation.
- The ‘youth bulge’ theory unnecessarily labels young men as essentially dangerous. Youth may have excellent reasons to be frustrated and faulty policies based on the ‘youth bulge’ assumption may only fuel their discontent.
- Policymakers need to accept and support the decisions of youth not to reintegrate into traditional society. This means providing positive engagement and support to them whether in urban or rural areas.
- Young women are often ignored in post-conflict policy. All of Africa’s youth needs to be engaged and supported through appropriate, proactive, empowering, and inclusive measures.