|Article by Ogova Ondego
Published December 13, 2007
Two organisations seeking to contribute to the social reconstruction and economic development of Rwanda and Burundi have been established. The two bodies are Isoko and Burundi Film Centre, respectively.
Led by Canadian Jennifer H. Capraru (artistic director), Indian Nandita Dinesh (workshop director) and Rwandan Emmanuel Munyarukumbuzi (events manager), Isoko (The Source) is expected to provide theatre training workshops, establish a travelling theatre to take performances out to the hills, and to create a theatre centre and performance space in Kigali.
According to Capraru, the establishment of Isoko is in line with President Paul Kagame who she quotes from The Hindu newspaper of India as having told an international conference on Creative Economy in Kigali that Rwanda’s greatest post-genocide healer has been art and culture.
“The Rwandan head of state,” The Hindu article says, told the gathering that “the creative industries would be a primary economic activity, and publicly declared that his country would develop its own model of cultural enterprise.”
But Isoko will hardly be the first theatre company in ‘The Land of A Thousand Hills’ as Rwanda is popularly known.
Mashirika Creative and Performing Arts Group, founded by students of music ,dance and drama at Makerere University in Uganda in 1997 before relocating to Rwanda a year later, has been around over the past nine years.
Hope Azeda, a founding member of the group who now heads it as artistic director, says Mashirika has 20 actors who specialise in music, dance and drama.
But Rwanda, like any other nation-state under transition, may be dominated by what is often referred to as development theatre. Though some people are offended by this categorisation, it need not be taken as negative.
According to Mashirika, its mission is to prove that performing arts are both fun and a tool for social transformation and economic development.
Azeda admits that lack of theatre facilities in Rwanda has been a great challenge to Mashirika that uses multi-art art forms in tackling contemporary issues. “It has also been a great inspiration to raw creativity,” she says. “I believe theatre is a great tool for social transformation not forgetting a variety of films for health that Mashirika has produced.”
Back to The Market (for that is what the Kinyarwanda word Isoko means in Kiswahili, Soko).
“People always ask us why we choose theatre when there are so many more urgent problems like poverty, malnutrition, and so on, in the world,” Capraru says.
And what is her response?
“We believe that there is no one way to solve a problem. Theatre might not fill your stomach, but it can make you forget your hunger pangs for a little while. It may not make you literate, but it can educate you. The solutions to the world’s problems are many. This is ours,” she says on behalf of her colleagues, Munyarukumbuzi and Dinesh.
Capraru, Dinesh and Munyarukumbuzi writing on the Isoko website, contend that theatre “delves deep into the emotions, minds, bodies and imaginations of the performers and creators in a way that leaves no room to hide…members of diverse groups, classes, and ethnic groups can find themselves in an environment where they must be emotionally open in a way that is not required in most fields.”
While Capraru is a theatre director, producer, writer, and teacher, Dinesh is a graduate student in performance studies in the USA. Munyarukumbuzi, on the other hand, is a communications student, choreographer and dancer of Rwandan traditional dance.
Meanwhile, reports DENISE HASTINGS, three Canadian filmmakers have helped establish a cinema centre and trained 36 young adults in Burundi.
The organisation, Burundi Film Centre (BFC) is a media development project launched by the three Canadians from their own resources and through which some 36 students aged 18-25 years have been trained in the basics of film production that has resulted in five short dramatic films that have so far been screened in Montreal.
Burundi, located just south of Rwanda, is a nation emerging from a war-time crisis and entering a new era of cultural understanding, tolerance and education. The absence of a developed media has crippled the nation’s ability to operate as a proper democracy and exposed the need for professional journalism and artistic expression through audio-visual storytelling.
Both Rwanda and Burundi, though located in Central Africa, speaking French and being politically and socially turbulent, have recently been admitted to the emerging East African Community comprising the relatively stable Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
All pictures courtesy of Mashirika Creative and Performing Arts Group and Isoko