Archive | April, 2019

Rwanda’s catalyst​ for Hope!

9 Apr

My passions in life are Women, Africa, and the arts. On a recent visit to Rwanda, I had the opportunity of meeting the countries most celebrated artist and activist, Hope Azeda. I was introduced to Hope through one of my Ugandan sister, Fiona Marwa. It was the last day of my trip in Kigali and had a limited amount of time but Fiona insisted that I touch base with Hope, who was also trying to push through a crazy work schedule. I was fortunate enough as she made time between her meetings, rehearsals and running Rwanda’s top performing arts centre.
We met at a beautiful book shop in Kigali, which had the most breathtaking view that saw endless hills and immaculate gardens. On sitting down with her, her energy and spirit ignited my soul. I knew that although we had set aside 30 minutes to talk, it will be worthwhile.

So who is Hope Azeda?
Hope is the director and founder of the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company.
Hope Azeda was born in Uganda. Her parents, Norman and Beatrice, were born and lived in Rwanda but fled to neighbouring Uganda in 1959 as a result of increasing ethnic tensions following a Hutu uprising against Tutsi leadership.
Hope is one of 11 children and her sibling’s life in Uganda was spent living at a hospital residence, where her mother worked as a midwife. Her father lived and worked at a refugee camp, teaching maths and French. Hope later went on to study at Namasagali College in Eastern Uganda, where her love and passion for the arts began. This led to her pursuing a career in music, dance, and drama. Growing up, Hope’s relatives had told her how beautiful Rwanda was, so it had always been a childhood dream of Hope’s to return to Rwanda – a place she called home despite never having lived there. In 1998, Hope followed her dream and moved to Kigali. It was not easy as she had no friends there and was not fluent in Kinyarwanda or French (two of the languages spoken in Rwanda). Many of her family lived in Rwanda but unfortunately became victims of the Rwandan genocide.

Soon after her arrival in Rwanda, Hope founded the Mashirika Performing Arts Media Company in Kigali. At first, she used to sit with her students under a tree and work, they now work from a beautiful house in Kigali.
When she arrived in Rwanda, there was no infrastructure. She went on to say “the country was on its knees. It was in ashes and was trying to rise. As an artist, your instinct takes you there – what can I do?.

As we began chatting in the coffee shop, we realized that we needed a lot more time together and so he invited me to come and visit the centre and sit in on a rehearsal. A few hours later I arrived and a beautiful colourful house. As you enter, the entrance hall is a mirrored room, with beautiful quotes on the wall. The rest of the house is made of a kitchen and an office and I was led outside to the upstairs terrace, where the students are rehearsing for the show.
The terrace, like most of the ​Rwandan terraces,​ overlooks another spectacular view of Kigali’s rolling hills and perfectly manicures laws.

Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company.

Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company were established in 1997. Through different modes of performance including dance, movement, music, drama, and spoken word, Mashirika is constantly exploring new ways to develop, learn and create exciting theatre. The company uses the arts as a tool for social transformation. Partnering with organizations such as the Aegis Trust and the Ministry of Justice, Mashirika has produced many films, plays, and performances based on the causes and prevention of genocide, the Gacaca proceedings (a system of community justice in Rwanda, to help with community rebuilding) and the importance of unity and reconciliation. Mashirika uses performing arts to engage the audience, and teach about important issues. Through its use of interactive theatre and forum theatre, Mashirika is at the forefront of theatre for development; demonstrating its mission that performing art can be Mashirika Theatre Company

The mission
The Mashirika Performing Arts Media Company mission is to prove that performing arts is not only entertainment but a tool of social transformation and source of employment. Mashrika uses drama as a tool for social transformation, its productions intended to teach, commemorate and raise awareness of important issues.

Topics of plays have ranged from reconciliation to sexism and AIDS. Plays are taken to communities in villages and markets, intended to create platforms for civic dialogues to encourage development and reconciliation. Mashirika has been at the forefront of using theatre for development, using forms like interactive theatre, image theatre, forum theatre.

Combining art and activism:
As the Genocide had taken the front stage in the Rwandan narrative, Hope decided to use that as a way to find healing, create awareness and establish a brighter and positive platform for those to come.
The production, Africa’s Hope, was a theatre production which was commissioned in 2004 for the 10th anniversary of the genocide, more than 1,000 performers drew on personal testimonies from the war. Its running time was 100 minutes, which represented the 100 days of the genocide. The play was performed in Rwanda and in Edinburgh for the G8 World Summit in 2005. It also recently toured 15 schools and theatres in the UK.
The subject matter was incredibly difficult and it dealt with emotions and trauma through the eyes of a child. Hope, felt that as adults, they had messed up and wanted to explore the narrative through the eyes of the children.

Her other works and projects since have dealt with other social topics from sexism to Aids, often performed in sites ranging from refugee camps to open football pitches and village halls.

Ubumuntu Arts Festival.

In 2015, with a grant from the African Leadership Initiative, Hope set up the annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival, bringing music, dance, art and theatre to the amphitheater at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It attracts about 5,000 people per day. Azeda chose the venue not only for its symbolic value, but also because the performances give Rwandans a way to engage with the conflict both individually and as a group, or through what she calls “public introspection”. “The set is well-dressed, the scenography is there… It crosses into your own internal conversation,” she says.

The G25 production
G25 is the latest theatre production, will commemorate 25 years since the end of the Genocide. When I visited the centre, I sat in on their rehearsals for this production. The production will be performed in two phases in Rwanda, after which it will be staged in New York. For the first phase of the production, Mashirika will collaborate with artists from the UK and Argentina, and their joint piece will be performed on April 12, at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheatre, to coincide with the start of the official genocide commemoration period. The second phase of the production will see further collaboration between Rwandan artists and those from the U.S, and the performance will be staged at this year’s edition of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in July, at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheatre. The production will then be staged in New York, in the US. On the production, Hope​ says, “The theatrical performance will be a collective of young voices questioning the past as they take on the responsibility of being guardians of a dark history they were never part of. The big question at hand would be; ‘why did one million people die in 100 days, in a country they love, with beautiful people and a beautiful culture’?”
Azeda described G25 as “an open script of global concerns”, as the issues it seeks to address are not unique to only Rwanda, but rather a rallying call to global young voices to be authors of their own destiny.​

My time with the performers at their rehearsals​ and a few pictures taken in the house.

Through Waka talent agency, we aim to work​​ with The Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company and Ubumuntu Arts Festival with the aim of creating​ powerful Pan African​ synergies​s that tell our stories, in the most authentic way.

Rwanda- The land of a thousand hills

9 Apr


My three passions in life are Women, Arica, and the arts. When I founded my Pan African talent agency, Waka Talent, in 2011, my dream was to have a footprint and synergies with territories across Africa. Rwanda was one of the countries that were in my Pan African expansion plans.
I, like many people, was awakened to the country Rwanda through the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Through the media, we were fed a few of the facts that the Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda during the Rwandan Civil War, which started in 1990. It was said to have been directed by members of the Hutu majority government during the 100-day period from 7 April to 15 July 1994. At that time in my life, I was uneducated about the history of our continent, as our educational system was based on the biased and untrue view through the eyes of the colonizers.
In 1994, I was in a relationship with a boy who was of Rwandan origin and before the brutal break-up, I was able to hear of the harrowing stories of how his family fled the country. I remember a few days, whilst visiting them in their Johannesburg home, the family were incredibly worried, as their grandmother had gone missing from her village in Rwanda but was soon discovered after walking for days, she was then brought to South Africa to live with the family. Although she did not speak English the pain and trauma in her eyes spoke volumes.
Fast forward to 2004, I was cast in one of the first films made on the genocide, Hotel Rwanda. Once again the trauma and history intrigued me.

My Rwandan experience.
The background.
Rwanda is a republic in central and eastern Africa. Uganda is to its north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. Over the years, it has been reported that the capital city, Kigali is the safest city in Africa. I was rather overwhelmed at the sense of calmness and as a global citizen who has traveled to many cities, I can honestly say that I felt 100% safe, walking the streets, lying in bed or exploring in the middle of town. The streets are immaculate, the people, like the rest of East Africa, are welcoming, humble and wonderful to talk to. On my morning walks,​ I was welcomed to the magnificent landscape of rolling hills, organised traffic, Bod-Boda driver (Motorbike taxis) and as mentioned before, a wonderful​ sense​ of calmness.

On the streets of Kigali.

Since the end of the Genocide, the country has been socially and politically stable. As a result, agriculture, roads, mining, and tourism have developed. The government also placed itself as the leader in gender equality principles.

The Memrorial.
On visiting the genocide memorial, I learned many interesting facts but the one that stood out the most was the truth behind the fraction between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, facts that media have not revealed.
This is what i discovered-
Humans migrated to what is now Rwanda after the last ice age. Hunter-gatherers settled the area in the late Stone Age and were followed by early Iron Age settlers. These were ancestors of the Twa, a group of Pygmy hunters who still remain in Rwanda. Additional migrations took place between 700 BC and 1500 AD. This divided society into three groups which are the Hutu, Tutsis, and the original Twas. For centuries, these three groups live in harmony, it was only when the colonizers entered the territory, did they create the tension and hierarchy between the Hutus and Tutsis. It was in 1884, the Berlin Conference assigned Germany Ruanda-Urundi. German East Africa was then formed when this area was combined with Tanganyika. In 1894, Gustav Adolf von Gotzen explored the country. The Germans favored the Tutsi group and help suppress the Hutu group of people. During World War I, the Belgians took the territory.

It was World War I, Rwanda became a League of Nations mandate with Belgium in control. Belgium also kept the class system in place and promoted Tutsi supremacy. They also considered the groups to be different races and created identity cards labeling each person a member of the Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa group. They based this classification on arbitrary physical characteristics. This fact, sent shivers down my spine as it reminded me of the South Africa apartheid laws of classifying black people, with the pencil test.
(The pencil test is a method of assessing whether a person has Afro-textured hair. In the pencil test, a pencil is pushed through the person’s hair. How easily it comes out determines whether the person has “passed” or “failed” the test. This test was used to determine racial identity in South Africa during the apartheid era, distinguishing whites from coloureds and blacks. The test was partially responsible for splitting existing communities and families along perceived racial lines. Its formal authority ended with the end of apartheid in 1994. It remains an important part of South African cultural heritage and a symbol of racism.)

This friction continued after World War II, here the two groups emerged and became rivals, one based on the Tutsi elite and the other based on Hutu emancipation.
This rivalry continued throughout the ages right up until the known 1994 Genocide.
My time at the memorial was traumatic as the two-hour tour gives you insight into the back history. Picture, artifacts, clothes, personal items are on display. There is also a beautiful rose garden of remembrance, where families can go and show respect to their family members and friends that were killed in the genocide. As a group, we laid a wreath on the tombs and said a prayer.

The Mashariki film festival.
Earlier this year, I reached out to the Mashariki Film festival as I wanted to create a synergy between them and my agency, They responded​ and we entered​​ into a partnership​.
I flew into​ Kigali​ for​ the festival, which​ is in its 5th edition. My agency was an official partner and I also sat on the jury for the African​ feature film category. I wanted to host an acting and producers master class but the schedule was full, so on my​ next visit in the year, I plan to see Waka Agency can work with actors and performers​ from​. They are a performance art​ and​d media company, not affiliated to the festival but have been in existence for nearly two decades. ​

– Opeing night of The festival.

The festival categories were made up of the following:
African feature films, African short films, African documentaries, East African feature films, East African short films, East African, and national short films. Each category had a team of three jury members, assigned to watch, critique and analyze each submission.
The jury groups were made up of film and industry practitioners​ from across the world. My jury included Klaus Keli​ from Germany and Kivu Ruhorahoza, from Rwanda.
Klaus, a revered filmmaker​​ educator​ , ​and trainer, who has worked extensively in Europe and has been instrumental in training in East Africa, particularly in Rwanda. Kivu is internationally known for his feature film Grey Matter which won the Jury Special Mention for Best Emerging Filmmaker at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and the Ecumenical Jury special mention at the 2011 Warsaw Film Festival. He also won the Grand Prize of the Tübingen French Film Festival, Best Director and Signis Award of the Cordoba African Film Festival and the Jury Special Prize of the Khouribga Film Festival in Morocco.

We were given the task of watching​ 12 full-length​ feature films with the aim of sourcing the best in the selection. The films submitted came from all African territories​ from South Africa,​ Kenya, Morocco​, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and others. Of the jury’s​ that I have​ sat on, I have to say that this selection was incredibly tough, the majority of the films were all high​ callibre.
After many hours of debate, deliberation, a few​ disagreements​s, we all agreed that the best film in our selection came from Morocco.

The film Indigo by Selma Bargach.
Indigo is the color blue of the aura given by a psychic to children who have the gift of clairvoyance​. This is shown through the main character, Nora. The actress, Rim Kettani is a first-time actress and is only 13 years old, she brilliantly narrated the story of a young girl who is confronted with violence and the world of the irrational.
The filmmaker​​ did an excellent​​t job in narrating the story and directing the film, creating magnificent​​t mise-en-scene and emotionally driven scenes.
We as the jury believed​ that the story has universal appeal.

The lack of gender equality.
As Rwanda has become known as one of the most gender equal territories, I was rather disappointed at the lack of representation​ of female filmmakers. On the opening night, there was very little mention of the female input to the festival, The festival has a platform titled, ‘Girls in film’. At first, this intrigued me as I saw it as a possible platform for young girls to learn the world of filmmaking, only to discover that the platform is for women who have graduated in film and working as producers and filmmakers. Another alarming incident was on the closing night, along with other jury members and delegates, both male and female, it was noted and discussed the lack of female representation in speeches, acknowledgment, and presence. The prize for the best actress was awarded by an all-male delegation and as the emcee stated the most powerful filmmakers in Rwanda. I find that worrying as there are many female filmmakers and practitioners who could have added value to that. The snide and below the belt comment from the emcee was also unwelcomed by many, it went along the lines of perhaps the actress knows each of the male representatives personally. We need to move away from that type of language. After the comment, there was an uncomfortable silence from the audience. I have brought these facts up with the organizers but being the feminist that I am,I have also made contact with local female filmmakers on how we can work together as African filmmakers and writers, so to ensure this gender disparity does not occur again. The festival has welcomed the suggestion.

Other activities.
In between my jury duties, workshop attendance and watching films, I managed to experience some of Rwandan city life. My Kenyan sister, Nyambura Waruinzi and I treated ourselves to steak at a lovely restaurant​, close to our residence. The food was delicious, ambiance​​ and decor were​ magical, a little pricey but worth the experience. When two powerful​ Africa​n female forces get together over red wine and a meal, it can only lead greatness. Watch this space for future Kenya​- SA projects​.

After our meal, we met up with our other delegates​​s for a night of dancing, laughter, ​and fun.

I also was treated to true Rwandan cuisine​, thanks to my Jury colleague, Kivu.

We had Cassava leaves known as Isombe, Chicken curry, spicy aubergine with potatoes​ and chicken​ curry, East​ African style.

On another day I had the opportunity​ of having a meeting at the Ikirezi Bookstore. This book​ store hosts a bouquet of African​ authors and hopefully will stock my book soon. The book store is close to downtown Kigali and has a spectacular view.

My love for East Africa has now been extended to Rwanda, I would like to give special thanks to my superb hosts Jean de Dieu Ngirabaganwa, the Assistant Coordinator of the festival. He is also a revered director, camera operator, ​and fixer in Rwanda. Our on the ground hosts, Mwiza Gloria, Didier Mpatha and Bingo Regis. All three ensured we were happy at all times, drove us to the necessary destinations and shared the beautiful East African hospitality. They truly made our stay a memorable one.
To my new family and friends who stayed at the same apartment compound as me as well as the other delegates, thank you for the laughs, honest conversations and for sharing delicate and beautiful stories.

When creative Africans unite.

Look out for my next blog where I will share my time with some ofRwanda’s most talents performers.

Until next time Murakoze Urakoze, Asante Sana, thank you!!​