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Ubumuntu Arts festival: An exercise in human introspection

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Rwanda introduces an international festival to promote values of humanity

For the first time since the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, Rwanda introduces an international arts festival dubbed “Ubumuntu” which literally translates to humanity. The festival took place on July 11th -12th at Kigali genocide memorial, the final resting place for 259,000 victims of the 100 days pogrom.

Artists from more than 13 countries around the world took part in a two days event of panel’s discussions, workshops and performances that attracted a large audience of locals, expatriates and visitors from all over the world.

The festival`s official song which features a number of local artists gives a message that if you are a human being let`s your heart be filled with humanity. The emotional Ubumuntu song was played throughout the two days festival and encourages people to strive for humanity.

The main theme was “I am because you are”. It explored what it means to be human despite the fact that people comes from different race, nationality, religion among other divisions that have sparked violence throughout the world and cause much pain.

The festival is Hope Azeda`s brain child who is a leading figure in contemporary Rwandan theatre. The founder and artistic director of Mashirika Performing Arts &Media Company told The New Times that the festival is an exercise in human introspection. She went on saying that it is a platform for Rwandans and the world at large to call into question our humanity and bridge the gap between being a human being and being human because the two are totally different.

The audience was thrilled in emotional performances that brought to mind some of the wars and atrocities that happened throughout the world. Emotions were further triggered by the fact that the festival was taking place at Kigali genocide memorial, a symbol of humanity`s failure 21 years ago in Rwanda. The public left for their respective home with thought provoking questions about themselves and the history.

Surprise Nsabiyumva, a 21 year-old student at Kigali Independent University was astonished to find out that Rwanda has talented performing artists. He said that theatre has the power to influence people to avoid acts against humanity and that it will be good if more events like this should be organized to educate the upcoming generation.

The 20 year-old Ms. Fiona Umutoni, a dancer and actress who performed in Mashirika play based on rape said that theater is a platform to show how our society can be if we act as one. “We act to show the difference we want in our society, you are because I am”. She added that people should always consider their neighbors and try as much as possible to make them comfortable.

Philip Luswata the founder and director of Uganda`s Theatre Factory told Kigali Today that the biggest problem we have as human beings and which bring most conflicts is the lack of communication. “Arts allow you to package different messages in a way people can appreciate”. He reiterated that it enables you to say things you would otherwise have not said so it is a powerful tool. Omar Abi Azar is Zoukak`s theatre director based in Beirut, Lebanon noted that theatre is able to question values and what is humanity.

“Cut off my tongue” is one of the performances that impressed the audience. It is a storytelling and dramatized poetry in which artists use movement, dance and music to tell a story about Kenyan identity and aspirations. It was first played in 2008 after Kenya post-election violence at a time of great tension and uncertainty.

The show deals with interrelated stories about life in Kenya grouped around tribe and ethnicity, political critique, identity tradition and genealogy. The show also address cut across post-colonial Africa and the continent struggle to deal with the question of “Nation-State”.

Ubumuntu Arts Festival will from now on be concluding the 100 days of mourning that begin in April 7th each year to remember and honor those who lost their lives in 1994 genocide against Tutsi. It is expected to be an annual platforms whereby art will be playing a leading role to help people express their opinions and share values about all aspects of life that affect humanity.

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