What differentiates this year’s Liberation Day celebrations, or Kwibohora25, from those which preceded it, is that it signifies the passage of a quarter of a century — the time that it takes for a generation to bloom.
Therefore, we would like to celebrate this Liberation Day by highlighting the new generation of Rwandans who were born after 1994.
And there’s no better way to do that than by speaking to Hope Azeda, director and founder of the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company, who is behind “G25” or Generation 25, a play by and for the Rwandan youth.
Members of Mashirika in a past theatrical play. Courtesy.
So, here’s to all of you who have no horrific memories from the Genocide, but have heard the stories, carry the burdens and have questions to ask — and to those grown-ups who can help you find the answers.
Mashirika is a Performing Arts and Media Company at the core of which is social transformation through art. Since its inception in 1997, Mashirika has been re-telling the story of Rwanda and confronting crimes against humanity through theatrical productions such as the Bridge of Roses (2014), Shadows of Memory (2014), Angels of Hope (2010), and Africa’s Hope (2008).
“So when 25 years rolled on, and the clock ticked, we had to think of what this anniversary means to us as artists,” Azeda explained.
Yannick Kamanzi, assistant director and lead actor in the G25 play, took the lead: “G25 stands for Generation 25 — the generation that was born after the Genocide.”
“G25 is a production that portrays what it is like to be born after the Genocide, and contemplates questions such as, ‘How do you recollect yourself?’; ‘How do you remember?’; ‘How do you connect with something you haven’t experienced?’’; ‘How do you see the future?’ G25 is about the sons and daughters of survivors, the children of betrayers and traitors, and those who found refuge abroad at the cost of losing touch with their origins.”
Yannick continued: “There has been a call over the years for the youth to sustain the past. But how do you sustain something you cannot understand the roots of, or the roots, as you see them, are ashes — they aren't tangible enough to build on?”
Mashirika’s vision to bring together young people, and take them through a journey of self-discovery and emotional expression was an ambitious project. First, Mashirika focused on creating safe discussion groups made of young people to encourage public speaking and critical thinking, and to understand what it means to be a G25 child.
During these open conversations, hot topics came up regarding identity, pain, and hope. By February this year, auditioning for the cast members had begun, and from 130 candidates, only 30 made it to the final stage of the selection process.
Hope illustrated: “With our 30 candidates we run several workshops before concluding to a cast of 15. We were very aware that we are dealing with teenagers, whom we had to bring down to the ground, and ask them to be present in spirit, soul, and body.”
G25 was born out of the need to listen to the youth and tell its stories. Naturally, the production didn’t come with a script, but it is the result of all the round-the-table discussions, workshops, and debates which preceded.
Hope explained: “We wanted G25 to be something that comes from the actors because they are not just the storytellers; they are also the story bearers.”
G25 is a 60-minute performance, split into five main stories. The first story is of a baby girl whose mother was killed during the Genocide, and a Hutu child saved her. The primary question that this story raises is: “What does it mean not to know your roots and not to have anything to hold onto?” The second story is about a boy born out of rape. He doesn’t want to open up about his past, but he raps to express himself. Not even his girlfriend knows that his lyrics talk about his real-life story.
The third story is about an HIV bearer who has survived death several times because her mother has attempted to kill her again and again. When her boyfriend proposed, she couldn’t say "yes" because she was worried that she would pass the HIV onto him.
Here’s an extract from the production: “I have encountered death so many times; it doesn't scare me anymore. I want to live; I want to have dreams. But if they don't work, I am still breathing.”
The fourth story is about a boy who has made peace with his father’s death, only to discover that his father isn’t dead, but he is on the run for the crimes he has committed. The boy’s identity changes from being the victim to being looked at through the image of his perpetrator father.
Lastly, we have a young man from the diaspora who is looking for the definition of home. If Rwanda is associated with trauma and the death of his mother, so is the UK home?
“We consider every story presented in our production a gift. But how do you tell somebody else's story? How do you carry somebody else's gift and deliver it with justice? The person whose story the actor is telling is in the audience, so we had to be very careful about how we represent them. This is not a simple text; it is somebody's life. And the actors aren't just embodying one person, but everyone who falls under the same history,” Azeda said.
Probably the biggest challenge of this production is that it doesn't end on stage. The questions that the actors ask on stage and the audience witnesses are taken outside the space of the performance and carried within.
“For a long time, Mashirika was talking about the victim and the victim’s healing, but we didn't know that there are levels of victims. And this is what G25 is about — a generation that has no survivors; no perpetrators; no rapists, but it is full of victims,” Azeda pointed out.
Yannick added: “Often you feel crazy, that it's just you asking this question. But when you know that somebody else is asking the same question — even if you don't get the answer — you are happy you are not alone; you belong to a movement.
Many people feel that their story is isolated and that nobody can understand them. But the moment you realise it is a shared story, a shared journey, you know you need to participate. There's more to life than being self-centered.”
G25 is inspired by the Rwandan Genocide, but it knows no borders because Genocide isn't customised to Rwandan culture, and Genocide can take many forms. Around the world, young people are questioning violence, unemployment, drug abuse, identity.
G25 aspires to address the values of humanity and the struggles of the youth at a global level. The youth is more informed and ready than ever to lead difficult conversations and to take the future in its hands.
Note: In November 2019, G25 will travel to New York, US.