Storytelling in the digital era: Are young people getting the most from it?

Artists should adopt digital storytelling to capture the attention of the youth

As the country continues to commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, several activities are ongoing, with the youth at the centre of it all.

Over 60% of Rwanda’s population was born after the tragic events of 1994, and concerns have been raised on whether content and stories shared to educate the youth on what happened at the time, are relatable.

Although several youths have been lauded for organising events that are for and by the youth, such as Our Past and G25, artists and content creators have been urged to put to use the various platforms that the youth can relate with.

Youth born after the Genocide are claiming their space in telling stories of their country’s tragic history

21-year-old Eduige Isimbi, a member of AERG, an association of student survivors of the Genocide, for instance,  believes the availability of stories and content around the truth about the Genocide is not a problem, although the manner in which they are disseminated to reach  the masses remains a challenge.

“I think artists should first know their target audience and what platforms are available to their audience and go after them. I think at the moment a wide range of young people are using podcasts, video blogs, and so artists need to make use of these. Some years back, we had access to these stories only through mainstream media like newspapers but now with technology, most of them are available on the internet,” she says.

Paola Ingabire, an actress and author, concurs that there’s no one that can better tell your story than yourself, which is why filmmakers, singers and authors need to be available in all the digital spaces for the youth to be able to access information.

“We have to dare to talk about our stories on our digital platforms as we do with our work. As artists, we have to own our history, because it’s our responsibility to protect it, share it around the world and make sure it doesn’t get twisted,” she says.

She is quick to add however, that it also matters how artists tell their stories in this digital era.

“For stories to capture the young audience, they need to be unique and unpredictable,” she says.

Capturing the young audience

Dominique Alonga, together with her friend, recently launched a new podcast, Breaking Silences.  In a period of just four months, the podcast has already garnered 6000 views, she reveals. She recently hosted a young Genocide survivor who shared his story with the audience.

She agrees that new digital mediums are increasingly attracting the attention of the youth and thinks that artists need to adopt these mediums to further share their stories.

“They need to know that these commemoration events could be more than just being formal or organised at the national level. They need to be creative in a way that their stories are widely shared so that the youth can relate to these stories,” she says.

Eric Soul Karenga, of Afrogroov, however, believes that, over the years, there has been progress in the commemoration period as events currently get a wider audience.

“We have seen the youth that were born during and after the Genocide come and they are owning the space and being creative in their events like our past and G25,” he says.

He, however, adds that artists need to take use of the digital space, just like Rwandan cultural music icon Cecile Kayirebwa, who posted a link of one of her songs, Indoto (dreams), on her official Facebook page. The link was accompanied by a short poem that kicked off ‘Kayirebwa’s 7 Days Campaign’, where for a week, she will share a poem and selected song from her Imyaka Ishize album.

In the poem, which is translated and paraphrased from Kinyarwanda, he says will reach to every Rwandan youth audience.

Claver Irakoze is a survivor of the Genocide. After realising the need to educate young people about the events that happened in 1994 so that genocide doesn’t ever happen again, he released a song and a video with illustrations for kids.

Recently, he released his first book, This Child is Me, a children’s book with illustrations, and content that is child friendly, the first of its kind, that is about the Genocide. He explains that the motivation was starting the conversation about his survival without traumatising his children

“The content and illustrations are meant for young children although it doesn’t mean to say that I’m faking the truth. I chose to share the truth in a more progressive way because my kids will not understand what dying means.

So if they ask how their grandparents died, I will say they went to heaven because that’s what they understand. As they grow up, they will be curious to know how they went to heaven and that’s when I will explain the details,” he says.

He also says that the other purpose of his book was to spark conversations between parents and their children, as they are easily approachable.

He advises creators to “convey messages bearing in mind that we need to be critical in how we approach our creative processes. Using inappropriate images or having poems that blame, rather than teach, will not help your audience.”

Last year, Netflix aired a television drama series, Black Earth Rising, that was about the Genocide, written and directed by English film director, Hugo Blick.

The series, however, was widely criticised, mostly by the Rwandan audience on social media, for being fictional and misleading.

Wilson Misago, a content creator, scriptwriter and producer at Afrifame Pictures, says that it is mandatory for Rwandan creators to better tell their stories and share them on different platforms.

“As a Rwandan content creator, I’m sure that we are the ones who are in a better place to tell our own stories. Black Earth Rising, as well as other many films, which were made by the West, about Rwanda, are biased and shallow and they are told in the perspective of the West, which sometimes does not respect our own culture and ownership of our own stories,” he says.

For that matter, Karenga believes, that for any artist to tell the truth, they should depict stories from Kinyarwanda songs, plays and poems, especially if they are original compositions.

“They say that, to hide information from an African, hide it in a book, but I say to hide true information about Rwanda, hide it in Kinyarwanda poems and stories, yet that is where the truth lies,” he says.

Unfortunately, the biggest challenge for Rwandan filmmakers, according to Misigaro, is the financial constraints.

“I think that local productions have a long way to go in order to have their films featured on Netflix because the quality that Netflix requires is so hard to produce because of our financial difficulties and we do not possess powerful production houses,” he says.



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