A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

ImagiNations Gather in Rwanda: The Dance of Art and Politics
By Dowoti Desir

Rwanda is a lush, green land fragrant with the scent of sweet grasses, papyrus and palm. Her topography rolls and coils with grace. La terre de mille collin the land of a thousand hills- was the spectacular backdrop to the 5th edition of the Festival Panafricain de la Danse (FESPAD). FESPAD is a bi-annual cultural ritual staged in Kigali since 1998.

The festival was an initiative put in place by the Union of African Organizations (now the African Union) eight years ago as the manifestation of development objectives that sought to unite various African populations. Minister Joseph Habineza of the co-organizing Rwandan Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports, dedicated the gathering, themed "Dance, Culture & ImagiNation" to renewing the message of cultural richness and diversity found in Africa and towards a parallel commitment of benefiting and mobilizing support for African children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Kigali's Amahoro Stadium was filled with twenty-five thousand participants from over twenty African nations including Rwanda's own Diaspora hailing from Switzerland, Belgium, and Burundi. Traditional dancers and contemporary musical artists ranged from the National Ballet of Kenya to the Zoukous dancing religious choir "Azaf International". Hip Hop artist Casanova, the Fantoms Crew and Rwanda's lithe Ihanika dancers had audiences swaying. Rising musical powerhouse Ugandan ragga star José Chameleon and the incomparable South African superstar Reggae artist, Lucky Dubé were also featured.

The U.S. was not with out its own: jazz impresario Randy Weston and his band, African Rhythms were masterful. While Weston has had a long and illustrious history with fellow musicians and jazz aficionados in North Africa, he arrived a relative unknown by the largely Central African audience. The octogenarian is now not only known for the legend he is, but for his new role as a U.N. Cultural Ambassador. Joining him in the same capacity was Rwanda's internationally recognized singer, Jean Paul Samputu. For eight days and nights Africa rocked the house!

FESPAD was co-sponsored by theWorld Culture Open (WCO), a New York-based NGO headed by Dr. Grace Chung Lee. In partnership with Minister Habineza and the

Rwanda itself is struggling to be a better country. Still in the complex and painful process of finding justice and reconciling conflict. Her people are recuperating from the 1994 genocide led by the Interhamwe, a Hutu civilian militia of anti-BwaTutsi extremists, who slaughtered almost 1,000,000 people. As one walked through the streets men clad, almost ironically, in a uniform of rose pink shirts and shorts were spotted cleaning the road sides. They were imprisoned genociders charged with maintaining the country's pristine parks and excellent roads.

Rwanda is now tackling its development challenges head-on with President Paul Kagame's government, the discovery of natural gas, and streaming foreign investment. This literally young country (the average age of Rwanda's population is 15 years old) aims to heal and rebuild itself swiftly.

With a focus on the arts, Habineza pointed to the vital role of culture in pulling his country and its economy together. "[In Rwanda] we use one language. We are one culture, one people but for bad leadership. Bad leadership even used the arts: media and song, to encourage hatred. What did we use to correct this? We used the arts to heal and bring back unity to the country....Government feels the challenge is to get our artists to use their creativity to compete worldwide, using our dance, clothing, and music. The creativity of artists makes them successful and their success makes Rwanda successful."

Supporting Rwanda's rebuilding and rebirthing process can make life beautiful for her orphans and 6,000 street children, and ultimately our own children no matter where they are. During the closing night's fire-work ceremonies, Samputus performance was joined by some seventy cheerfully clad children- many of whom lived on the streets of the nation's capital. Often parentless, one of the many blisters of genocide, they sang in joyful voices. Their song: I Dream I Can Fly.

To send support for children in Rwanda contact Mr. Napoleon Ahmed Mbonyunkiza of AROENA SAUVE LES ENFANTS, Rwandan Association for Orphans and Non-Accompanied Children at