Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood

Marc Sommers

Insight into a vexing problem faced by countless youth in Africa and the Middle East


"An incisive, thoroughly researched, and empathic inquiry into how the youth in Rwanda cope with survival, adulthood, the legacy of genocide, and an oppressive state."
—Filip Reyntjens, author of The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006

Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood should be must reading for policy makers, aid officials, and leaders of post-war societies who are concerned about youth. Sommers’s findings call into question much of the conventional wisdom about youth in war-torn societies, and are a reminder of the importance of listening to the priorities and perspectives of the poor youth majority of these societies before drafting policies and programs designed to assist youth. Policies divorced from the realities of these youth will inevitably be counter-productive and will fail. Along the way, Sommers offers important insights into the political dynamics and prospects of post-genocide Rwanda. It is to be hoped that Sommers’s insightful critique of Rwandan policies will be met not with defensiveness but with an open and comprehensive review of government assumptions and practices.”
—Howard Wolpe, former U.S. presidential envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region

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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.

Studies in Security and International Affairs

Published in association with the United States Institute of Peace

Page count: 288 pp.
18 b&w photos, 2 maps, 9 tables
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Marc Sommers is an internationally recognized youth expert and a visiting researcher with Boston University’s African Studies Center. Sommers is a 2011–2012 Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and was a USIP Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow in 2009–2010. He is the author of six previous books including Islands of Education: Schooling, Civil War, and the Southern Sudanese (1983–2004) and Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania, which received the Margaret Mead Award in 2003.