Rwanda: A deprived youth, despite the country’s economic growth

Written by Aimé Sindayigaya and edited by Jules Niyibizi.

According to the National Youth Policy of Rwanda, 67% of the country’s population is under the age of 25 years. Unfortunately, the youth in Rwanda faces many challenges that prevent them from benefiting from their country’s progressing economy. Unexpectedly, some of these challenges are a result of the policies implemented in the country’s pursuit of economic growth.

Education challenge


The lack of quality education is one of the challenges faced by pupils in primary schools in Rwanda and this is linked to the country’s budget constraints. Rwanda is a poor country which does not have the financial means to rapidly build sufficient education infrastructures. It lacks funds to train enough teachers and thereby guarantee quality education for all primary school pupils. The country already spends 4.8% of its GDP on education out of which 45.3% is allocated to primary education[1]. Despite such financial commitment, Rwanda still has a high but steadily decreasing pupil to teacher and class ratios estimated at 58 and 81 respectively[2].

Furthermore, this lack of quality education is also a consequence of neglecting to sustain primary education in the country. A report published in May 2012 by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact assessing the UK Department for International Development’s education programmes in three East African countries including Rwanda pointed out that “ there is no major study carried out by the ministries of education on teacher attendance or teaching time within school day as part of the core management of the education system.” The same report also discovered “a relative neglect of other aspects of teacher workforce management such as recruitment, retention and school leadership.” The concerns of teachers regarding the quality of education in primary schools in Rwanda, have previously been pointed out by Volunteer Overcoming Poverty (VSO) in its 2003 report titled “Seen but not heard” and also during a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) programme broadcasted in 2011 that featured interviews with teachers from Rwanda.  Teachers’ anxieties affecting their morale towards providing quality education include delayed and low salary payment, lack of tools to improve their professional performance, unsupportive management, and a perception that teachers in Rwanda are not appropriately valued in the society.

Due to the lack of quality education in primary schools, only half of the primary pupils in Rwanda meet curricular expectations in reading in their mother tongue while the majority does not meet curricular expectations in numeracy[3]. According to Rwandan Ministry of Education statistics, in 2011 there were 2,341,146 students enrolled in primary schools, accounting for almost 20% of the country’s population. However, due to low quality in education even in the case where these students manage to complete their primary school education, their literacy and numeracy levels could generally be well below expectations.

Another challenge facing young people in Rwanda is that a great majority of them is not able to complete primary or secondary school. This is happening despite the government’s efforts to make it possible for all children in the country to attend school by abolishing fees for primary and lower secondary studies. Such valuable policy has led to an increase in enrolment rate in primary schools. However, “half of the children who make it to primary school in Rwanda drop out before the end of primary school life cycle” says a recent global report by UNESCO published in 2012. The reasons of dropping out can be associated mainly with poverty, low quality education, and cultural perception towards girls. Enrolments in lower secondary school also remain low. The country’s Ministry of Education estimated the drop out rate in secondary schools at 7.4% in 2010. When that rate is aggregated to that of the children who drop out at primary school level, the number of young people who are still deprived from education at the end of each education life cycle becomes worryingly high.

Since many children from the poorer families are the most likely to drop out of schools, inequality in education remains a challenge to the overall Human Development Index (HDI) of the country. The most recent HDI report of 2013 indicates that Rwanda looses 29.4% of its HDI as a result of inequality in education. One can only hope that the new approach of dispensing aid through transferring cash and grant directly to the poorest in Rwanda, as recently announced by the UK DFID minister[4], will help children from the poorest families in the country to attend school and subsequently help in reducing Rwanda’s inequality in education. Furthermore, Rwanda’s supportive aim to achieve 12 years of free education for all within seven years[5] could also contribute towards reducing inequality in education within the country.

Nonetheless, other challenges deterring young people from attending secondary school despite being given the opportunity still linger.

Policy challenge

imgimg6One of the most poignant reasons that many young people in the rural areas of Rwanda do not attend or drop out of secondary schools is linked to the policies implemented to bring about economic growth in the country. This fact is explained in details by Marc Sommers, an internationally recognized youth expert.

In his research conducted on Rwandan youth published in 2012, Sommers  explains that the Rwandan culture stipulates that for the youth to be recognised as adult men and women they ought to be married. In order to marry, a young man has to build a decent house first.  In the Rwandan rural area, such a house has to be roofed with tiles because roof tiles are easy to accumulate and have become the most preferable roofing option rather than expensive iron sheets that do not last long. Additionally, roofing a house with banana leaves is out of the question since it is viewed as a disgrace within the Rwandan society.

Sommers’ study asserts that prior to the Rwanda’s government policy that forbids cutting trees for environment purposes in 2005, roof tiles were cheaper for male youths to procure and thus faster to build a house. This is because roof tiles were hardened by firewood making its supply abundant.  After the policy was introduced, the supply of roof tiles declined while the demand remained high. Subsequently, the price of roof tiles soared and it is now difficult for male youths in the rural areas of Rwanda to build a house.  “The new method employed peat to fire tile ovens is unfamiliar and requires machinery and technical training which in order to secure, permission must be obtained from a national government in the city capital”, reads the research.

The research also points out that the housing policy mandating that all new houses be built in the villages referred as imidugudu affects young people. The policy was introduced among other reasons to manage land efficiently and increase agricultural production in the country. However, it imposes that large standard dimension houses be built, implying that male youths need to procure more roof tiles. However, considering that the price of roof tiles has significantly soared, young men cannot afford to build a large house in the new villages.

Partly due to the aforementioned policies, many young people in the rural areas do not attend or drop out of secondary schools in order to look for work. Young people prefer working rather than studying so they can start earning and saving towards buying enough roof tiles for their houses and marry, subsequently become adults within the Rwandan cultural society. However, finding employment will be another challenge for the Rwanda’s youth to overcome.

Unemployment challenge


Regardless of their education level and where they reside throughout the country, young people in Rwanda are facing a similar problem: unemployment.  The 2010 Rwanda’s Youth Statistical indicator states that youth unemployment in the country increased from 10.5% in 2000 to 28.9% in 2005. Moreover, according to the National Youth Policy, 42 % of whose age is between 14 and 35 years are either unemployed or working on seasonal small scale agriculture. While youth unemployment is a common issue to all African countries and beyond, the bottom line is that the economic growth that Rwanda has been achieving has not led to sufficient employment creation.  A report by the Institute of policy Analysis and Research published in 2011 suggests that “for the last two years in a row, Rwanda has ranked as one of the top reformers in the World Bank’s doing business indicators but ranked low on the UNIDO CIP indicator which shows the level to which growth has translated into economic transformation and subsequent employment creation.” The employment to population ratio that indicates the ability of an economy to create jobs for adults seeking employments moved from 86.7 in 2005/06 to 84.2 in 2010/11. The report explains that any ratio above 80% implies that there is an abundance of low quality jobs and a need to work in order to survive. This is the case with Rwanda’s fast growing economy. Farming remains the most likely and lowest paid job available for the majority of young people living in the rural areas.

The causes of youth unemployment in Rwanda also include the fact that young people, particularly those living in urban areas, do not have the skills required by potential recruiters. In addition, entrepreneurial skills are still low among the youth and entrepreneurship based on hawking in the streets is also restricted in the city capital, Kigali. Young people with such entrepreneurial venture have to a) seek a permit to sell their goods from the authorities; once the permit is granted they will be b) allocated a place in the city where to c) run their businesses. However, obtaining a permit requires money and connections, which the poor youths who emigrated from the rural area do not have. As a result, they are refrained from potential employment opportunities. This means that dropping out of school and searching for a job in order to buy enough tiles for houses is not enough. One will still have to migrate while not having any guarantee of securing employment in the city. In a special report compiled by Marc Sommer and Peter Uvirn published in 2011, it is stated that “Rwandan youth in villages and in Kigali primarily viewed rural-urban migration as an escape from humuliation and failure in rural areas rather than a way out of impoversishement.”

To sum up, the lack of quality education, the high drop out rates in primary schools, the low enrolment rates in secondary school and the lack of employment creation lead to questioning whether the country’s vision of transforming its economy from an agrarian to a knowledge based economy relying on ICT is realistic. In fact, a recent global report by UNESCO published in 2012 reads, in reference to Rwanda that “(…) it is not clear that ICT and other services, which tend not to create as many jobs as other types of industry, can help children of poor parents escape from poverty in a country where 90% of the population is engaged in agricultural production and the secondary gross enrolment ratio is only 36%”.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, young people in Rwanda are continuously dealing with the hardships of their country’s past social and cyclical internal and regional political complexities. The repercussions are that an uneducated and unemployed young person is being exposed to different kinds of nuisances, particularly to the fact that Rwanda is located near a conflict zone in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Furthermore, it was recently reported that the suicide’s number in Rwanda has increased from 94 in 2011 to 290 in 2012. Among the causes of suicide, economic programs that do not meet the aspiration of ordinary people in Rwanda were cited[6].

The Way Forward

Considering that the Rwandan youth remains the sole and main resource of the country, and that Rwanda will never be able to achieve its economic vision if a large number of its youth is not educated, the most viable solution for Rwanda is to increase its education budget in order to achieve quality education and develop the capacity of the majority of its youth. In particular, policy makers should ensure that the youth in Rwanda develop critical thinking capabilities that can be translated into entrepreneurial ideas for employment creation in the country. As for increasing the education budget, this could be achieved by taking the surplus from other over-funded programmes such as the military and public relations and allocate it to the youth education programmes.

The need to preserve the environment and to house the population in a modernised and orderly way to increase agricultural production should be supported. However, policy makers in Rwanda ought to take into consideration the cultural factors which also influence the behaviour of people within the society and in that perspective have economic implications. At the same time, policy makers have to ensure that the policies to be implemented in pursuit of economic growth are scrutinised to meet present and future needs of the  Rwandan youth, to the extent of considering that the youth would want to be recognised as adults and enjoy a healthy family life within their cultural society.

Pursuing economic growth does not necessarily translate into people’s happiness. This concept originates from Bhutan, a landlocked state in South Asia located at the Eastern outskirts of the Himalayas.  In 1972, Bhutan rejected the Gross Domestic Product as the only measurement of its economy progress and instead used the Gross National Happiness. The new indicator measures the quality of life and social progress in a more holistic and psychological term. The concept has gained popularity in recent years to the extent that the UN has commissioned for a happiness index report to be compiled. The report outlines a list of factors demonstrating the causes of unhappiness among citizen of any nation. Surprisingly, some the causes of unhappiness outlined in the world happiness index report are the aforementioned challenges faced by the youth in Rwanda. Unemployment, lack of quality work, lack of quality education, failure of citizen to practice their culture and attain a family life when one wants to do so, are all listed as barriers to achieving happiness.  As explained Rwanda’s fast growing economy has not necessary addressed these barriers and it could be possible that it will never do, as far as the Bhutan’s concept is concerned. Therefore, Rwanda should also aim at bringing happiness to its youth alongside its economic growth.  In this first ever published happiness index report of 2012, Rwanda ranked 132 out of 156 countries, the second highest ranking country in the bloc of East of African after Uganda.  Could more be done by policy makers to improve the ranking of Rwanda’s happiness index? The report reads: “Policy goals should include high employment and high-quality work; a strong community with high levels of trust and respect, which government can influence through inclusive participatory policies; improved physical and mental health; support of family life; and a decent education for all”.



[2]  Rwanda education statistics report released by the Ministry of Education of Rwanda in January 2012, pg 8. Teacher and classroom pupils ratios means 1 teacher for every 58 pupils and 1 classroom for 81 pupils.






Insightful Quotient is a website that encourages debates on how to achieve sustainable development in developing countries using an intercultural cooperation. Therefore, we welcome your insightful arguments that provide scrutiny and ideas that can elaborate further the analysis and suggestions detailed in this article.

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