This report compares the results of parallel research projects carried out among impoverished, nonelite youth in postconflict Rwanda and Burundi. Arguing that the plight and priorities of nonelite youth should be of serious national and international concern, particularly in countries that have unusually youthful populations that are overwhelmingly poor and undereducated, it finds striking differences between the groups, with a significantly bleaker picture for youth in Rwanda.

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Summary

  • Extensive research with nonelite youth in postwar Rwanda and Burundi revealed stark and startling contrasts between the lives of poor Rwandan and Burundian youth, particularly concerning issues of masculinity, education, urban migration, and social mobility.
  • Severe manhood pressures and the threat of failure for male and female youth emerged as the dominant research theme in Rwanda. In Burundi, severe economic pressure surfaced as the dominant research theme. Yet many youth there believe that the future holds promise if they can work hard, remain flexible, and have some luck.
  • Although youth in Burundi contend that educational accomplishment directly influences social mobility and survival strategies, the Rwanda research points to low demand for education and training among the lesser-educated youth majority.
  • For Burundian youth, especially male youth, urban migration was a risky but nonetheless desirable option. Meanwhile, Rwandan youth mainly viewed rural-urban migration as an escape from humiliation in rural areas.
  • Whereas many Burundian youth held out the hope of improving their lot and perhaps even ascending socially, the commanding imprint of risk aversion led many Rwandan youth to focus on minimizing prospects of collapse.
  • Most Burundian youth believe that they have options and possibilities while most Rwandan youth do not. While Rwandan youth face constraining adulthood mandates and government regulations, as well as a severe housing crisis, Burundian youth perceive a range of options for making plans and then implementing them.
  • Weak governance and adaptable cultures appear to provide nonelite youth populations in postwar contexts with opportunities for creative advancement. Strong and restrictive governments and cultures, while capable of implementing policies that are favorable to economic growth, may also create calamitous results for many youth.
  • Boosting Rwandan youth prospects calls for reforming or perhaps eliminating housing and informal economy regulations that undermine their aims. Aiding Burundian youth necessitates an enhanced focus on jobs and job training. Qualitative research on marginalized youth perspectives should be carried out before youth work begins.

About this Report

This report compares the results of parallel research projects carried out among impoverished, nonelite youth in postconflict Rwanda and Burundi. Arguing that the plight and priorities of nonelite youth should be of serious national and international concern, particularly in countries that have unusually youthful populations that are overwhelmingly poor and undereducated, it finds striking differences between the groups, with a significantly bleaker picture for youth in Rwanda.

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