The inaugural East Africa Arts and Cultural festival which concluded on Feb 17 in the Rwandan capital Kigali has left a challenge to artists and other participants, especially Rwandans, to appreciate and value one's works of art and culture as is a practice of most other East African countries.
The festival, also known in Kiswahili as Jumuiya ya Africa Mashariki Utamaduni( JAMAFEST) which intends to cement unity of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda through culture and arts exchange started on Feb. 11 bringing together cultural performances from all the five partner states of EAC.
The Rwandan artisans showcasing their crafts such as locally made soft drinks, paintings, fabrics and traditional troupes that displayed several cultural features hailed the week-long event's positive influence, noting that it had acted as their eye opener on the opportunities in well-utilised artistic and cultural impressions.
"Artists from countries like Kenya and Uganda notably value their talents and artistic products, a factor that has given them considerable success in the industry and most of them can earn a living from their art unlike we the Rwandan artists who have some good artwork but don't know how to promote it or present it to the public," says Vincent de Paul Nyiridandi who exhibited his sculpted gorilla images.
"For example there were more artists from other EA countries than from Rwanda because those people know how to seize every opportunity and endeavor to export their culture to anywhere possible. And, some artisans and cooperatives from Kigali did not mind to attend and took the event for granted."
Pacceur Gashema, a designer of fabrics, said he and other keen local artists gained more ideas from artists from the neighboring countries who are more experienced, like making more innovative and meaningful pieces of art which can capture the market more easily. Gashema noted, "Throughout the talks we had with some of them, they noted that most of the Rwandan artists produce the same crafts and most of those products especially paintings deliver an obvious message yet an artist should prompt the viewer to dig for the meaning themselves- which in fact makes art art."
The guests to the event also thanked the participation of all artists from all over noting that they had the opportunity to see new products and learn about some of the amazing and the strange traditions in East Africa. They also noted that some of Rwanda's exhibitions were far too good compared to those from the neighbors and should be appreciated.
"Our cultural dances are good compared to most of the others we saw. This should tell us that if we dared export our culture to even beyond the EAC in such festivals abroad, like the Hispanics promoted Salsa or and the Japanese the sword, then our dances would grow to be a proud identification of our culture and country anywhere on earth."
The organisation of the JUMAFEST has met considerable success, attracting over 600 participants and many more guests, and ended on a positive note.
Since its grand opening which was spiced by a street carnival with different cultural impressions being showcased in Kigali's roadways, the event was successful, prompting the government to rethink on increasing the number of such events around. Lauren Makuza, the Director in charge of culture at the Ministry of Sports and Culture (MINISPOC) noted that not even the tricky timelines that had to be met or the tiresome mobilisation process could deny the JUMAFEST a good attendance and delight from some of the amazing exhibitions and performances.
Makuza said: "The idea of the JUMAFEST was adopted just in September last year by the ministers of East African affairs of the EAC member states and Rwanda was chosen to host it. We had limited time to organise it but due to efforts of different groups including artists and some members of the public who shared responsibilities amongst themselves, we were able to host it successfully."
The JUMAFEST will be hosted by different member states of the EAC on a rotational manner once in two years. Rwanda is due to host another annual event, the African dance festival or FESPAD next month.