Huguette KAZENEZA was born in Gihanga on January 31, 1989 in a middle class family as she affirms. In secondary school, she studied at the “Collège Communal de Gihanga” before taking on her studies in the scientific section at “Lycée Municipal de Gikungu” in 2005. Afterwards, she enrolled, in 2010, at the “Pontificia Univerista della Gregoriana” in Rome where she studied Theology and Philosophy. She currently works at East Africa Youth Leadership Program (YouLead). However, as she has a Master degree in Peace Studies and International Relations at Hekima University College (Nairobi), she wants to step forward and get a PhD. She dreams of becoming the first female president of Burundi. Below is the full interview with her.
I am very passionate about young people and about peace. It is thus a journey of life. We can’t stop advocating for peace, for forgiveness and reconciliation. We can’t stop advocating for young people’s inclusion and empowerment.
Akeza.net: Who is Huguette KAZENEZA?
Huguette KAZENEZA: My name is Huguette KAZENEZA. I was born in Gihanga on January 31, 1989 and I am the firstborn in a family of two children. I have one brother. I may say that I come from a middle class family. My family name KAZENEZA holds a great significance for I was awaited so long by my parents. Thus, this has always made me wonder what my life’s purpose is and what my mission in this world is.
Akeza.net: How and when were you hired at East AfricaYouth Leadership Program?
Huguette KAZENEZA: In March 2018, I had participated in “Youth Scenarios Building on Africa Union Agenda 2063” organized by Africa Alliance Young Men Christian Association (AAYMCA) in collaboration with African Union (AU). In November 2018 then, I participated at the You Lead Summit in Arusha. At the Summit, I and some of my colleagues from AAYMCA were given the opportunity to share the Youth Scenarios Building. I may say that it is from there that the organizers spotted me and asked me to moderate one session at the Summit and also read the communiqué at the closing ceremony of the Summit in front of EAC officials.
After the Summit, I remained in contact with the You Lead Summit organizers, helping once in a while but also coming up with the theme of the 2019 Summit. In June 2019, I was honored to be part of a high delegation of Africans among them Hon. Erastus MWENCHA (Former Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission and one of the fathers of the AU Agenda 2063) and Doctor Gloria SOMOLEKAE (Former Deputy Minister of Finance and Development Planning of Botswana) to Germany in what was called Speakers’ Tour on African Union Agenda 2063, to talk about the African Union Agenda 2063. That trip changed completely my life in terms of speaking up for my continent.
It is when I came back that I started engaging more in the preparations of the You Lead Summit 2019 and I joined the team fully in September 2019 as a regional coordinator in charge of Kenya and Uganda. Since February 2020, I work full time at You Lead which has now moved from a Summit to a full Leadership and development program as the Deputy Head of the secretariat with the focus on regional coordination.
Akeza.net: When you started working at East Africa Youth Leadership Program, how did you feel?
Huguette KAZENEZA: I may say that the best feeling of my life was my first day of the You Lead Summit 2019, when I sat behind and watched 300 young people from EAC seated and conversing about East African matters. I almost cried with joy. I and the team had put all our energies to organize this event and it was happening. We had 30 Burundian delegates including former President Sylvestre NTIBANTUGANYA, Hon. Denis KARERA, Venant NDEREYIMANA from the National Youth Council, Young CEOs and other brilliant young Burundians. For me, it is still memorable.
Akeza.net: What was your experience as a black woman at the University in Rome?
Don’t relax, after Bachelor. There is Masters and PhD, just go for it if ever the opportunity is there.
Huguette KAZENEZA: First of all, my years in the “Pontificia Univerista della Gregoriana” in Rome were the most beautiful years of my life. Although a Jesuit University (Catholic), there were even students from other religions. I remember that, in Theology, we were students from 40 countries.
So, my first challenge was the language, to study in Italian and I didn’t have the choice, I had to adapt quickly. Another challenge, in my first semester in Philosophy I was the only woman and the only black in class. It was a bit hard to speak but I was integrated well with a group of Italian students who became like brothers to me.
At the end of my journey in Gregoriana, I become the first ever female and black class representative in a class of 153 students with only 12 females. That was one of the best days of my life.
Akeza.net: As a Burundian woman who strives to work harder for peace building, what do you think of the Burundi case?
Huguette KAZENEZA: I have met people who encourage me and people who think I am losing my time. But both have helped me. Those who encourage me make me feel I made the right choice, those who discourage me, make me question my choice and find the true reasons of it.
Doing peace building especially in Burundi is not easy because people are much sided. When you talk, they want you to take their side. But in peace building, it is about finding middle grounds. It is also about compromising sometimes and forgiving. It is not easy at all.
Akeza.net: How far on in the journey to achieving your goals?
Huguette KAZENEZA: I wouldn’t say that I have achieved my goals for I have principles and sometimes I had to make even painful and risky decisions though I don’t regret it. I am very passionate about young people and about peace. It is thus a journey of life. We can’t stop advocating for peace, for forgiveness and reconciliation. We can’t stop advocating for young people’s inclusion and empowerment.
Akeza.net: What’s your dream for Burundi?
Huguette KAZENEZA: I dream of a prosperous Burundi everyday and I want to contribute to it. At this stage of my life, I contribute to this dream through the work I do at You Lead and I am still trying to figure out how more Burundian young people can benefit through our programs. In peace building, I am still trying to come to understand what can be done and how to do it. We have many young people especially outside Burundi, we need them to return home and I am happy that the new president of Burundi is calling them to come back home.
Akeza.net: What are your ambitions and goals today?
What if I became one day the first female president of Burundi?
Huguette KAZENEZA: My foremost ambitions and goals today are to make young people understand that they are not only the future of our society but also the present. In this region and the whole Africa, young people are more than the majority of the population but they keep crying for change. It’s up to us to be the change we want!
Today I work for a regional organization and it is exciting. Nevertheless, I would like one day to work directly for my country in the ministry of youth or the ministry of foreign affairs. What if I became one day the first female president of Burundi?
However I have something personal I want to achieve. My parents didn’t do much schooling but they pushed me and my brother to go beyond what they did. Today even in my extended family I am the first to have a Masters degree and I am not planning to stop here without a PHD even if I want first to concentrate on work. My dream is just to be among the many people who are striving to lift up our place.
I want to encourage Burundian young generation not to stop after the 3 or 4 years of their Bachelor. Don’t relax, after Bachelor. There is Masters and PhD, just go for it if ever the opportunity is there.
Interview by Melchisédeck BOSHIRWA