Ubumuntu Arts Festival 2019 was a call to break down barriers to humanity

Organisers also invited revellers onto the stage to showcase their artistic skills. / All photos by Craish Bahizi

Curtains fell on the Ubumuntu Arts Festival at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheater, Sunday night, with a call for all citizens of the world to actively take part in breaking down barriers to human progress.

From Friday July 12, artistes and performance troupes from 16 countries across the globe staged performances, and held workshops and panel discussions centered around this year’s festival theme: “When the Walls Come Down – Truth”. The 16 participating countries were selected from a pool of applications from performance troupes across the globe.

Some of the previous festival editions have run under themes like; ‘Art Meets Technology: Bringing Stories of Home to Life’, and ‘Art and the Path to Resilience’.

US artiste Alexander Star (left-donning cropped blue denim jeans) is joined by other performers at the opening night of the festival at the Amphitheater, Friday night.

But in terms of adherence to the theme, this year’s festival towered above all four previous editions, posing a string of difficult questions on which to ponder: ‘What if the walls you built for others today, became your own downfall tomorrow?’, ‘What if the walls we live in were built on illusions?’, ‘What if you were the voice of reason that could burst barricades of confusion?’, ‘What if you were the glorious light that could crumble the walls of darkness?’

‘What if your own children became victims of the burning walls of hate, the burning walls of prejudice you built?’, ‘What if you were trapped in the walls of fear built by self?’, ‘What if these broken parts… this history, the wounded walls became your strength?’, ‘What if beyond these walls, there are voices of survival, voices of hope?’, ‘What if these walls built are a force of a false world that encases us as it destroys our humanity?’

Revellers having fun at the festival.

Most of the performances hinged on the role of each individual in breaking down human barriers, both visible and invisible –barriers of ethnicity, language, religion, social status, and the “wall within” – the one in our minds. The underlying message in all the performances was that of love as the only antidote to these structural walls.

In line with the theme, this year’s stage design took on a minimalist approach by UK set designer Matt Deely, who has previously designed the stage at some of the previous editions. The stage assumed a vibrant, fresh and open-air look, in part also inspired by the fact that this year’s festival was a dedication to Generation25, the generation of Rwandans born immediately after the Genocide.

On the festival stage were performers from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, Austria, Canada, France, Malawi, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the US, UK, and Uganda.

An Australian entertainer delivers a vibrant aerial acrobatics performance during the show.

Day One featured performances from Rwanda, Uganda, Austria, Turkey, DRC, and the US.

The night’s highlights included a dance piece titled, ‘Bound Alone’, performed by MindLeaps Rwanda. The piece explores how men help each other during hardships, and how individuals endure their own problems, while being part of a team.


MindLeaps is an international non-profit that uses dance to develop cognitive skills and socio-emotional learning for at-risk youth to equip them for life. Some of the dancers were Congolese and Burundian refugee youth from Gihembe refugee camp. However, the Street Dancers company from DR Congo, were Day One’s crowd favourites, thanks to their well choreographed dance piece titled, ‘Blood’.

Lillian Mbabazi (C) was among the main performers at this year’s festival in Kigali.

Masharika dancers delivered an energetic performance.

Day Two, featured performances from Rwanda, South Africa, Canada and Kenya, and collaborations between Sri Lanka and the UK, and Rwanda/UK. The day’s highlight was the South African one man play, Kafka’s Ape which, simply put is a marvel of a theatre piece.

Kafka’s Ape is a solo performance about a primate’s struggle to overcome the confines of captivity. The play takes a metaphorical view of South African society, highlighting the complexities of identity in post-apartheid South Africa, and in society in general. It is an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s ‘A Report to an Academy’, about a primate’s struggles to overcome the confines of captivity. In his journey out of the cave, Red Peter, acting the ape, contests identity based on outward appearance.

Hope Azeda, the festival curator (right), shows off a present she received for organising a successful festival.

The other highlight of Day Two was Generation25, a collaboration between Rwandan artists and the US’s Collaborative Arts Ensemble (CAE), and a closing dance piece by Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company.

Alexanda Star entertains festival goers.

The closing night featured performances from Burundi, Uganda, France, Rwanda, and a Great Lakes Region collaboration on the opening performance, I am a refugee but …

It also featured two collaborations –Sri Lanka and the UK (Mother Wall), and Generation 25 (Rwanda/US),that featured US rapper Alexander Star with students of Umubano Primary School.

After the closing performance of Generation25, it was time for the festival’s climactic moment, as members of the audience were invited on stage to scribble messages of humanity on the stage wall.