The New Times (Kigali)

Rwandans Are Reaping the Fruits of Cultural Exchange

For too long, Rwandans have only known their culture and very little about that of the people around them. If you ask the average Rwandan man or woman on the street to tell you about another country in the world, they might be able to talk about their technological and economic development but not their culture.

Enter foreign institutions such as the German Goethe Institute, the French Institut Français du Rwanda and the Korean Cultural Centre, and you realise that cultural exchange isn't about the loss of one's culture. It's basically about showing your culture to others and having and appreciating what they share you in return.

The Cultural Attaché of the Ministry of Sports and Culture, Lauren Makuza, talks of the need to maintain our traditional music. "Westerners are good at their own music, which is RnB and others. We are the creators of our traditional music and we are the best at it".

"The Kigali up music festival had a lot of traditional singers from all over Africa who came to share their culture and learn something from ours. Africans should do more in maintaining their traditional music rather than trying to copy others," Makuza advised.

He credited this amicable exchange of culture to the different institutions that worked together to make it possible.

Local artiste, Mighty Popo, who brought an improved Inanga (traditional harp) back to Rwanda from Canada says, "taking the Inanga to Canada was about sharing my culture with people in Canada. And from this sharing, I managed to modify the Inanga, which made it easier and better to use," Mighty Popo said.

But before sharing another person's culture, one has to understand and protect their own. And foreign institutions have played a big role in promoting this.

Dr, Peter Stepan, the Director the Goethe Institut, the German cultural institution which started operating in 2008, says the major aim of the Institut is not about simply bringing German culture to Rwanda.

"We do a lot of activities to support traditional culture by cooperating with local cultural institutions like Kwetu films, Almond Tree films and many more. Yes, we show German films, but we usually show films from other countries and even Rwanda. The major aim of this is to create a major ground for literal exchange of behavior, lifestyle and character," Dr Stepan said.

Diana Ramarohetra, the Secretary General of Institut Français du Rwanda, says the exchange of culture is basically about sharing skills for example among traditional musicians, and movie makers.

"We partnered with Kigali up Music Festival and brought Ismael Lo, the legendary West African musician. He met Rwandan artistes and performed with them; they had different cultures but they learnt a lot from each other," Ramarohetra said.

Ruth Ingabire, who frequently goes for movies at Goethe Institut, says the aspect of exchanging culture is quite entertaining.

"It is quite boring to keep listening to the same musicians over and over again. So bringing a musician from outside will not only benefit those that sing with them but the public as well," Ingabire said.

Alex Kambanda, a law student at the National University of Rwanda, says a lot still has to be done to make Rwanda a hub of culture and a ground for favourable cultural exchange."For example, Ishyo Theatre is the only place that regularly screens movies in Kigali. And if one wanted to perform on a roofed stage with a big audience, they would have to borrow a church, which is not possible for non gospel artistes," Kambanda said.

There is obviously a lot that needs to be done. However, there has certainly been a lot of progress as well.

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