In 2012 several youths under their ‘Sick City Entertainment Group’, came together to commemorate the 8th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi through creative and innovative artworks.
For the youth in Kigali, it was through drama as they staged the first edition of their commemoration event at the Amphitheatre Kigali Genocide Memorial.
Before then, the group was known only for dance performances often competing with other dance groups outside the country. As young people, they danced for fun and to entertain.
The event was dubbed ‘Forget not your past’ before it was shortened to ‘Our Past’ and the former made the theme for the annual event. The first event attracted 400 mourners, mostly youth. The show has over the years grown its audience to over 2,000 members.
At the time Christian Intwari, the founder, brains behind the event and a member of Sick City, had just completed high school. As one who had been in the entertainment world he knew exactly what would attract the young people, born during or after the Genocide, to this commemoration event and more so, educate them about the history of the Genocide they knew little about.
“During this time, everybody in this country commemorates. Our aim was more than just that. We wanted these young people who were not there during the horrific period to learn more about it and what they were commemorating,” Intwari says.
Now in its seventh year ‘Our Past’ aims to educate young people about the Genocide and to inspire them to take the initiative to rebuild the country through poetry, musical performances, drama, dance, theatre, and workshops with leaders.
“Being youth, I knew that my audience would need some bit of entertainment to attract them. At first, it wasn’t easy coming up with entertaining concepts in a period of mourning, but we had to engage a creative team,”Intwari adds.
The show has since featured music performances by Gashora Girls Academy students and recitations from renowned poets like Carmene Ella, Natasha Umuhoza, Elysee Jabo who have recited powerful poems depicting the situation before and after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
The event also provides an interaction platform between the young generation and Rwandan leaders in different fields to have extensive conversations with the young people on the events that occurred.
A video of “Our Past” messages from all over the world is screened to the mourners during the events.
“We also encourage parents to talk to their offspring about the Tutsi Genocide and the general history of our country. We want parents to tell the truth to their children about what really happened so that whatever happened doesn’t happen again. We also urge the youth to be active in fighting Genocide ideology,” Intwari adds.
This year, panelists from the art sector have been lined up to hold discussions with the audience under the topic ‘What role did Artistry play in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and what place do we give art in today’s Rwanda?”.
The panelists include Regis Isheja, founder of Trans Meet Media,Philip Nyirimihigo, co-founder of Illume Creative studio, Yzolde Gasamagera, co-founder of Uzuri K&Y, Dominique Alonga, founder of Imagine We Rwanda, and Atom, real name Diogene Ntarindwaa, a professional comedian.
Taking ‘Our Past’ beyond borders
Intwari reveals that the organisers in Rwanda began as 14 members but the number has since reduced to six, with most of the members moving abroad to further their studies.
Members of ‘Sick City Entertainment Group’ who are based in other countries also hold similar events in their respective countries for young Rwandans in the Diaspora and other attendees, under one umbrella, Sick City Entertainment Group.
So far, the event has been held in different parts of the world, including Malaysia, China, Canada and the United States. Plans are underway to hold another event in Canada.
Helping Genocide survivors
The event is also an opportunity to collect funds and other items to help the needy.
In each of the editions, organisers collect funds and items in order to help less fortunate Genocide survivors. In the three four years since 2013, they worked with ‘Icyizere Village’ in Kanombe, where they gave out items and chicken, until they moved on to extend their help to Ntarama Sector in Bugesera District.
“In 2016, I approached the sector leader on our intentions and he advised that we renovate the houses of Genocide survivors as they were in a sorry state,” Intwari says.
They agreed and committed to renovate five houses. Three houses are fully complete with the fourth nearing completion.
Pressing on despite the hurdles
Intwari reveals that even though ‘Our Past’ has been successful over the years, it hasn’t been a smooth ride for the organisers. Being young people it has not been easy getting sponsors to finance the shows.
We have approached many offices including institutions that are in charge of youth but most of the sponsors we have offered to support us in kind. I have to use my own money to finance the event, Intwari says.
Even with the financial constraints Intwari says he is noticing the impact of such events toward the young people and for him, this is what keeps him going.
“I have received feedback from many young people on how the testimonies have helped them reconnect with their Rwandans and identity. This is what we are mostly aiming at. We want young Rwandan people to be able to fully understand their history so they can be able to tell it better wherever they go.
There are so many people out there telling false stories about Rwanda’s history and, as young people, we need to help ourselves fight genocide ideology and pass on these stories to the generations to come,” Intwari says.