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Speech by H.E. Paul Kagame at the Young Achievers Awards

Kampala, 11th December 2011

Your Excellency President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda;
Your Royal Highness;
Organizers of this event;
Young achievers that we have seen here on stage;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

Before I start my speech I wanted to say that while we wait for an East African football team, I congratulate the Uganda Cranes. I thought they would be among those receiving an award here today for their achievement.

However, yesterday I was supporting two teams; one of them lost, the other one won – the one that lost was Amavubi and the one that won was Arsenal. So, it wasn’t entirely a loss for me…

I am very happy to be here with you to share the pleasure and meaning of this event. I am especially honored to be among you here and to be associated with this wonderful occasion.

Mr. President, I want to thank you for inviting me and to thank the organizers of the Young Achievers’ Awards.

Being here in Uganda and addressing the Ugandan youth feels familiar, it is like being home talking to our own Rwandan young men and women. That is because they have a lot in common, but also because their destiny, like that of other young Africans is intertwined.

It is our responsibility as leaders and mentors to encourage them to work together, develop a can-do attitude, define their purpose and make the right choices. But equally, it is the young peoples’ responsibility to embrace this mentality and make it the basis of their actions.

Tonight, however, belongs to the many young achievers that we have just witnessed receiving awards.

Let me say to you all that, irrespective of the category you belong to, you have performed outstandingly and should be proud of yourselves, as we are of you. I congratulate you all on your hard work, unwavering spirit of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, as well as your desire to be, and do, the best you can.

It has to be recognized that such achievements do not come by accident or miracle. They are a result of investment of your time, talent, and even money, in pursuit of personal goals.

You will have accomplished your mission if your efforts inspire other young people to similar or greater achievements and enable them to realise their full potential.

To your peers, you have demonstrated that when you are ambitious and proactive, anything is possible, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges. It is this way of doing things that creates the brand of Africans that will restore our dignity, advance the cause of self reliance and end Africa’s perpetual problem of poverty and underdevelopment.

There will be many more moments like this one; each will be different and well-deserved. But they all provide an opportunity to encourage a conversation and subsequent action towards even greater individual and collective success. We must therefore continue this culture of recognizing excellence in our societies wherever there is merit.

As you know, Africa has always been a land of immense potential in terms of knowledge, innovation and talent. But over the centuries, we lost this leading role – and perhaps crucially, we lost belief in ourselves intellectually and in our creative abilities. The result of this loss has been a tendency for some of our young people to adopt things that have no meaning to our wellbeing, instead of rightly seeking modernization while remaining grounded in our own values.

Mr. President, when you have stressed time and again the importance and urgency of regional integration, I can’t help but imagine how this would be served best by conscious young people who are focused on this idea.

The future of our continent has never been brighter. African economies have been growing steadily despite the ongoing international economic crisis. Our own region of East Africa attests to this fact. Various surveys have indicated that, at between 7 and 8% annual growth, East Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in Africa and a top investment destination.

We must take the opportunities that this offers in order to transform our societies. It is this dynamism of new ideas, products and services that we can build on for further growth. And for this to happen, we need a more empowered and entrepreneurial youth, equipped with the knowledge to address issues of development.

Taking on the new leadership role and exercising their creative potential, young people have to effectively participate in the political and economic processes in our countries. It means changing the mentality that has crippled us into thinking that we cannot do things by ourselves, which has had a negative effect on Africa.

I was reminded the other day by a young person, in fact let me say, my daughter, I was texting with her and I noticed that on her status on Blackberry Messenger she had; “When you think you can, then you can. And if you think you can’t, you are right.” So I think all of us must think that we can. But even for what we can do, we must make the right choices.

We live in exciting and fast moving times – a pace which, I am sure, suits all those who are impatient to see development, particularly dynamic young people. The evolution of ICTs and new media are contributing to this change. Whereas in the past, progress in some parts of the world took decades to reach others – today ideas, information, innovations and products from anywhere in the world are available at the touch of a button.

These are prospects we must seize for our continued progress and for Africa to play a more strategic role in world affairs.

The new world order has demonstrated beyond doubt that all countries need to work together to find solutions to their problems. This is even more compelling for us in Africa. And the youth in our societies must be in the vanguard because they possess all that is required to change their lives and their societies for the better. They are the force with which to close the gaps that exist within our societies and between us and the rest of the world.

Let me add, however, that knowledge and skills alone are not sufficient to help us advance. The transformation we seek will come about if we embrace the right values, to turn what we have acquired into usable products.

The real innovators – those who will change our societies – are those who reject the business-as-usual approach and instead have the courage to go beyond the conventional methods of doing things. They are the ones who are assertive and not comfortable with dictates.

This is the challenge you, the drivers of our future, must face.

It is when you have that dignity and are prepared to protect it that you will make inventions that answer our circumstances.

In the new Rwanda, one of our priorities is to instill in our youth, a strong sense of self worth and character – what we call in Kinyarwanda “AGACIRO”. This is in addition to providing skills and knowledge so that they develop themselves, participate in modernizing our economy, and confidently compete globally.

Let me reiterate that we have the principal responsibility to take charge of our development, find solutions to our problems, and also tell our own story. You, the young people of this country Uganda, of East Africa and Africa in general must be real agents of the change we seek. And I find no better place to deliver this message than at this event.

I wish you all the best in your endeavours – thank you once again for the honour of this opportunity and for your kind attention. Once again I thank you Mr. President and the organizers of this memorable event.

Thank you very much.