What I did on my holidays, or: the use of debating in Rwandan civic education
In July 2009, 30 university students (15 from 5 Rwandan universities and 15 from the University of Melbourne, Australia) met for a human rights workshop in Kigali. None of the Rwandan participants were aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Rwanda is a signatory, and only a few had vague ideas about the existence and the provisions of Rwanda’s 2003 Constitution and the specific laws and policies that were enacted to address human rights in the country. Rwandan youth participants in similar workshops organized in 2006, 2007, and 2008 also lacked a basic understanding of human rights. It should be stressed that Rwandans of this age that are able to go to university and participate in English-speaking events will be some of the most privileged in this country, and as those attending such events will have self-selected, it is not unreasonable to assume that these were some of the most politicised (and, one would think, politically aware) young Rwandans in the country. If a democracy is only as robust as its citizens, Rwanda is in trouble. The purpose of this piece is to review the creation and promulgation of a debating programme which evolved in response to this sort of worrying finding. Debating is used in Rwanda as part of a broader programme of civic awareness and advocacy conducted by a Rwandan NGO, Never Again Rwanda (hereafter NAR) from March 2011. This work is based on fieldwork conducted by the author (shown in fig. 1) in Rwanda in spring of 2010 (when the programme was devised) and spring 2011 (when I was fortunate enough to be present for the inaugural Rwandan Schools’ Debating Championships).