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Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood

Marc Sommers

Publication Year: 2011

Young people are transforming the global landscape. As the human popu­lation today is younger and more urban than ever before, prospects for achieving adulthood dwindle while urban migration soars. Devastated by genocide, hailed as a spectacular success, and critiqued for its human rights record, the Central African nation of Rwanda provides a compelling setting for grasping new challenges to the world’s youth.

Spotlighting failed masculinity, urban desperation, and forceful governance, Marc Sommers tells the dramatic story of young Rwandans who are “stuck,” striving against near-impossible odds to become adults. In Rwandan culture, female youth must wait, often in vain, for male youth to build a house before they can marry. Only then can male and female youth gain acceptance as adults. However, Rwanda’s severe housing crisis means that most male youth are on a treadmill toward failure, unable to build their house yet having no choice but to try. What follows is too often tragic. Rural youth face a future as failed adults, while many who migrate to the capital fail to secure a stable life and turn fatalistic about contracting HIV/AIDS.

Featuring insightful interviews with youth, adults, and government officials, Stuck tells the story of an ambitious, controlling government trying to gov­ern an exceptionally young and poor population in a densely populated and rapidly urbanizing country. This pioneering book sheds new light on the struggle to come of age and suggests new pathways toward the attainment of security, development, and coexistence in Africa and beyond.

Published in association with the United States Institute of Peace

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Studies in Security and International Affairs


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p. ix

List of Illustrations

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p. xi

List of Boxes and Tables

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p. xiii

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pp. xv-xx

Several years ago, I wrote that the central irony concerning Africa’s urban youth was that “they are a demographic majority that sees itself as an outcast minority” (Sommers 2003: 1). Since that time, field research with rural and urban youth in war and postwar contexts within and beyond Africa has led me to revise this assertion. ...

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pp. xxi-xxiv

I remember hearing, long ago, that Herman Melville’s method for completing Moby-Dick was to write each day for twelve hours and chop wood for two. It is an admirable recipe for escaping a book’s hold on its maker, and laying the work, finally, to rest. ...


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Chapter One. Youth in Waithood

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pp. 3-40

Just before a wedding ceremony, the man and woman (or man and man, or woman and woman) who are to marry have identities as separate individuals. They are single. At the close of the ceremony, they form a union. During the wedding ceremony itself, the two people are no longer single but not yet joined. ...

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Chapter Two. Doing Research in Rwanda

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pp. 41-67

Prior to starting field research for this book in September 2006, I learned of a field research endeavor that had ended abruptly perhaps two years earlier, with Rwandan government officials detaining research assistants and giving the lead researcher (a foreigner) twenty-four hours to leave the country. ...


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Chapter Three. Living in a Vertical World: Rural Youth and the Government

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pp. 71-94

Most main roads in rural Rwanda run atop the high ridges of the famed mille collines (thousand hills). The roadways are home to minibuses, trucks, cars, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, and the large, high-status, four-wheel-drive vehicles of influential Rwandans and internationals. ...

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Chapter Four. Low Horizons

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pp. 95-114

Entering a rural sector begins, appropriately enough, at the sector office. There, the government leaders who manage and administrate sectoral policies preside. Just outside, civilians and lower-level officials can often be seen waiting for meetings or audiences with officials. Nearby the offices are, quite often, other government buildings, such as clinics, meeting rooms, and a police station. ...

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Chapter Five. Striving for Adulthood

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pp. 115-139

Rural Rwanda is a tough place to come of age. The pressure on youth to meet social expectations is great, and the consequences of failing are harsh. The hard edge of what appears to be an inflexible part of Rwandan culture is illuminated by the following quote from an executive secretary of a rural sector: “You can’t become a man without building a house. ...


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Chapter Six. Desperation on the New Frontier: Urban Youth and the Government

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pp. 143-155

Kigali is Rwanda’s new frontier. While the literature on rural Rwanda is deep and diverse, there is precious little documentation about urban Rwanda. This state of affairs persists despite the fact that the roof of restrictions on urban migration has receded and Kigali’s population is rapidly advancing. ...

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Chapter Seven. An Inconstant Existence

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pp. 156-175

In prior field research, rural Rwandan youth that I interviewed referred to the prospect of migrating to Kigali as an impossibility. A youth leader explained that “youth don’t have the heart to go to Kigali because they don’t know Kigali.” Another male youth asserted that “youth can’t go to Kigali because they don’t know anything and they can’t go just to wait around” for a job...

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Chapter Eight. Prostitution, AIDS, and Fatalism

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pp. 176-188

The situation facing many urban female youth is desperate. No group of Rwandan youth faces circumstances so grave. Their desperation is tied to limited options and the horrors of life as a prostitute. Many female youth descend into prostitution because they lack alternatives. ...


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Chapter Nine. Stuck Youth

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pp. 193-242

Rwanda faces the imminent prospect of producing almost an entire generation of failed adults. Many are stuck, struggling to become adults but unable to gain acceptance as one. The potential outcomes of this situation are alarming. There were strikingly high levels of frustration and anxiety affecting nearly all of the male youth the research team interviewed in rural Rwanda. ...

Appendix. Bet/Wager [Performance Contracts] on the Umudugudu Level

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pp. 245-249


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pp. 251-261


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pp. 263-274


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pp. 275-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780820338927
E-ISBN-10: 0820338923
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820338903
Print-ISBN-10: 0820338907

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 18 b&w photos, 2 maps, 9 tables
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Studies in Security and International Affairs
Series Editor Byline: Gary K. Bertsch and Howard J. Wiarda, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 780478706
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Stuck

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Subject Headings

  • Youth and violence -- Rwanda.
  • Rwanda -- Social conditions.
  • Rwanda -- History -- 20th century.
  • Youth -- Rwanda.
  • Youth -- Rwanda -- Social conditions.
  • Youth -- Rwanda -- Economic conditions.
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