Over two days in July, thousands of people came to the Kigali Genocide Memorial for the inaugural Ubumuntu Arts Festival. The festival was organised by Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company and took place in the amphitheatre at the memorial with performers from thirteen different countries, including Rwanda. “Ubumuntu” is a Kinyarwanda word for “Humanity”.
The festival was organised to bring people together and share a message of humanity. Throughout the event, the crowd frequently chanted, “I am because you are. You are because I am!”
Speaking on why the Kigali Genocide Memorial was chosen to host the festival, Hope Azeda, Artistic Director of Mashirika, said, “The memorial is a dark place for us in Rwanda. Few people feel able to perform in the amphitheatre because the space holds so many painful memories. But as artists we must go to such dark places, and even the dark places within ourselves too.”
During workshops held before the evening performances, playwrights, directors and choreographers joined panel discussion to explain the importance of arts as a way to show unified commitment against mass atrocities, famine, wars, and other injustices affecting the world. Participants spoke about the power of art, drama and music to bring people from different backgrounds together:
“The arts form bonds between different cultures. Through the arts you get the chance to take a journey into other people’s countries, into their lives, into their cultures and their imaginations.”
a Sri-Lankan playwright said during one of the discussions.
The performances, workshops and forums featured artists, artistic groups and journalists from Rwanda, the USA, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Serbia, Canada, Lebanon, Egypt, the DRC, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.
The Ubumuntu Arts Festival was supported by genocide prevention organisation Aegis Trust, which runs the Kigali Genocide Memorial on behalf of the Government of Rwanda. Speaking about the importance of the festival, Yves Kamoronsi, Country Director of Aegis Trust said,
“This festival will spread a culture of peace and promote humanity. It will help artists who come from other nations to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, and learn about our history so that they can become ambassadors for humanity and share a message of peace back home.”
The Ubumuntu Arts Festival shared the vibrancy of African and international art and the importance embracing our shared humanity. The festival has inspired, challenged and started a dialogue about what it means to be human.
The festival has now become an annual event, with the second edition due to take place from 14-17 July 2016 at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.