The New Times (Kigali)

8 February 2013

East Africa: Rwanda Hosts First-Ever EAC Arts and Culture Fest

The festivals, to be hosted biennially by the partner East African Community states on a rotational basis, aim to foster an East African cultural identity that depicts the cultural life of East Africans, illustrate their cultural unity in diversity and to create an enabling environment for the promotion and development of arts and creative industries.

THE FIRST EVER East African Community (EAC) Arts and Culture Festival is here. Dubbed JAMAFEST (Jumuiya ya Africa Mashariki Utamaduni Festival), the event opens on Monday, February 11, 2013 at various venues across Kigali city.

EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of Productive and Social Sectors Hon. Jesca Eriyo in a communication announced that Rwanda had been selected by the evaluation committee after "having submitted the most outstanding proposal".

Rwanda clinched the prestigious deal after beating Uganda, the other East African state to express interest in playing host to the festival.

The festivals, to be hosted biennially by the Partner East African Community states on a rotational basis, aim to foster an East African cultural identity that depicts the cultural life of East Africans, illustrate their cultural unity in diversity and to create an enabling environment for the promotion and development of arts and creative industries as a tool for sustainable socio-economic development.

"The theme of this year's festival is; 'Deepening Integration through Culture and Creative Industries.' The gala seeks to bring artistes and East Africans together to dialogue, learn, exchange, network, and celebrate the region's rich and diverse cultural heritage."

It is hoped to provide a platform for East Africans to celebrate their similarities and diversities, while deepening and widening the arts and culture market and promoting better understanding of the benefits of integration in the Community and beyond.

A host of activities have been lined up for the inaugural event, including cultural villages, art exhibitions, fashion shows, workshops and symposiums as well as live performances, among others. These will be conducted at more than five different venues.

According to festival organizers, the first edition is expected to attract at least 3,000 visitors each on an average stay of 10 days and projected average expenditure of USD 70 per day. This would translate into visitor expenditure to the tune of USD 2.1 million.

The festivals are to be held in conjunction with host Partner State Governments, private sector and civil society, and are expected to attract a cross section of East Africans and visitors to the region alike.

The EAC Arts and Culture Festival comes to life following a decision by the 23rd Council of Ministers meeting held in Arusha in September 2011 to have the region host regular arts and culture festivals.

In the long run, it is projected that the festival will contribute greatly towards the promotion of cultural tourism as well as conservation, safeguarding and development of cultural heritage and the overall marketing of regional cultural groups, workers and creators with their diverse products at regional and international levels.

In short, the festival will showcase employment opportunities and experiences that East Africans can harness.

Additionally, the Festival is expected to generate short term and indirect employment especially for the young people aged 20-35 years, and provide an additional incentive to ancillary sectors like the media and hospitality sectors.

Under Article 119 of the EAC Treaty, partner states commit to promote close co-operation amongst themselves in culture and sports, with respect to the promotion and enhancement of diverse sports activities, and the promotion of cultural activities, including the fine arts, literature, music, the performing arts and other artistic creations, among others.

There are obvious economic rewards to be reaped in organizing such unique cultural events which attract tourists. For example, the Rio Carnival brings in an estimated $500 million into Brazil's coffers each year.

Much closer to home, there is the hugely popular Sauti za Busara annual music festival held in Zanzibar every year, that attracts over 200 performers and thousands of visitors, providing, in the process, a boost to the tourism and travel sectors, to name but only two.

Around festival time, the island buzzes with a range of fringe events: traditional ngoma drum and dance, fashion shows, dhow races, open-mic sessions, after-parties and performances of Zanzibar's oldest taarab orchestras are arranged by the local community.

Similarly, the JAMAFEST is expected to create an expanded market for the arts, highlight the importance of arts and culture in integration and enhance creativity in the region, among other impacts. It will further enhance the public's awareness of the regional integration processes, while promoting virtual integration of the East African people and enhancing the image of the EAC as a tourist destination.

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