East African Community partner states have been advised to consciously market and advertise the region's cultural attractions in order to help develop the bloc.
The Minister of Sports and Culture, Protais Mitali, gave the advice on Tuesday while officially opening the first-ever EAC Arts and Culture Festival - codenamed Jamafest- currently underway at Amahoro National Stadium in Kigali.
He observed that the region is well endowed with what should help economically to develop the bloc.
The minister noted that though the region is endowed with diverse cultural heritages like dance, drama, arts and crafts,
its usefulness would also depend on how well it stimulates the regional oneness as one people with a common destiny.
"Culture is not how we do things and it's not just about the economic value of our creative industries. It is what defines
us as a civilisation and it helps us understand the world around us, explain it and sometimes escape from it," he noted.
The cultural festival aims at showcasing regional cultural products, including traditional clothes, locally made soft
drinks and food products and others reflecting different regional cultural heritage.
Jamafest (Jumuiya ya Afrika Mashariki Utamaduni) was organised under the theme, "Fostering the East African Community Integration through Cultural Industries," and has attracted hundreds of performers from all the five EAC partner states.
Mitali explained that it was prudent for the region to embark on cultural industry which he said contributed immensely to both developing and developed countries.
According to the minister, the available statistics indicate that in both the developed and developing countries, export of creative goods and services amounted to US$592 billion in 2008 compared to US$267 billion in 2002 which meant an annual growth rate of 14 per cent over a period of six years. The South to South trade on creative goods reached almost US$60bn in 2008.
The minister regretted that the EAC was still importing cultural products which he said was impeding the region's growth.
"Much as EAC Partner States are still big net importers of cultural products, we need to seize the available opportunities to reverse the trend. The rise of the digital economy and the increasing commercialisation of the arts and culture, globally, create a window of opportunity for the region," he said.
During the official opening there were cultural dancers from all the five countries.
The EAC Secretary General, Amb, Richard Sezibera, pointed out that without the involvement of culture, integration cannot be realised.
"As we integrate deeper, as we realise the benefits of integration we will continue to emphasise and strengthen our commonalities as we celebrate our diversity. Culture is not merely about what we do. It is first and foremost about who we are, where we were and what we hope to become. If nations can be said to have souls, culture is a window into that soul, albeit an imperfect one," he said.
The festival will be rotational among all the partner states.
Sezibera said the festival aims at promoting regional socio-cultural integration through arts and culture and also provides a platform to showcase culture as a primary driver of EAC integration and sustainable development.
Gorge Cishahayo, a Rwandan who owns Saluna Cosmetic Company, that manufactures cosmetical products, said the event would expand his market especially as he exports to other regional countries.
"In business everything is about networking. However, if we could have such events at least thrice a year, it would be better. I normally export to Uganda, Tanzania and DRC and we want to extend to all the regional countries and this is an opportunity for us."
Peter Kigame, a Kenyan who was exhibiting traditional garments, said other than selling his products he was also interested in learning other regional cultures.
The launch was characterised by several activities, including live performances, fashion shows, plus launch of a Jamafest Village of Countries at which the EAC partner states are showcasing their different cultures, art exhibitions and sales, workshops and symposiums.