RWANDA hosted the biennial Pan-African Dancing Festival, FESPAD in Kigali again this year. The festival which took place from July 24 - 31 attracted quite a number of African music talents who entertained fans at Amahoro Stadium and other venues.
The Congolese music maestro Koffi olumide graced the opening of the festival presided over by President Paul Kagame, with his troupe of captivating dancers, but it was the Ugandan Chameleon whose antics excited my entire household. Some fancied his hairdo, others tried to sing along with him, yet others whispered to each other about his attire.
Unfortunately our main stream media did not help much in terms of background to the festival. What is FESPAD and why does it matter? The answers to these questions are provided in the latest issue of Hope Magazine published by Daniel Rebero. It will suffice here to use Rebero’s introduction to his cover story, FESPAD CAN DEFINE AFRICA, where he says “ The strength of the festival is embedded in three ingredients; a major cross –cultural promotion, using it for development and as a good platform of promoting the culture of peace”.
While my household and their fellow Kigalians enjoyed the music and dances offered by FESPAD music artist, I got my fair share of the festival courtesy of Ishyo Arts Center, an organization based in Kacyiru, Kigali and Rwanda Development Board, (RDB) the major sponsor of the festival.
Ishyo hosted the ARTerial Network, a Pan -African cultural organization which held a series of workshops and conference during the week of the festival aimed at the promotion of African culture and the Arts, bringing together artists and experts from Southern Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Northern Africa, USA Great Britain, France and Asia.
Of great interest to me was the discussion about cultural industry. I was intrigued to learn that in some economies, cultural industries contribute as high as ten per cent of the county’s GDP. The argument then was that culture should be placed at the heart of development policy as it constitutes an essential investment for the future.
On July 29, RDB organized a conference at Serena Hotel as part of FESPAD activities, where the issue of cultural industries was also discussed. Local and foreign experts in the field of film, theatre, music, drama and other performing arts discussed the growing field of cultural industry.
The industry which encompasses the production, sale, distribution and creation of works of creativity, requires promotion, and legal protection and regularization to prosper. Rampant cases of piracy were reported as one of the set backs to the development of the creative arts industry in Rwanda followed by lack of training opportunities for the youth.
Surprisingly, it was the foreign participants that raised issues of inadequacies in our school curriculum in relation to the promotion of creative arts. The need for emphasis on creative disciplines in the school system attracted considerable conference attention.
A young teacher informed the conference that very few schools offered subjects relevant to the cultural industry, “only those who can afford the likes of Green Hills Academy and Riviera High school benefit from such exposure”, he said amidst applause. The applause, to me signified the recognition of curriculum deficiencies by the majority of people in the conference
In my opinion, universities and other institutions that train teachers should train arts educators, to equip teachers in primary and secondly schools with knowledge and skills to instruct our youths in Music, Dance, Drama, the Fine Arts and Literature.
One American participant pointed out that today in USA, There is a surplus of drama teachers and arts educators who could be mobilized to assist our teacher training institutions to produce competent arts educators. In the short run, if we have to develop cultural industry, we have to invest in relevant education.
Also important is that school curriculum developers should take into account UNICEF statement that culture and the arts are children’s human rights, and provide them with facilities, and more time-table considerations.
For in addition to facilitating identification and nurturing specific artistic talents among learners, the arts are an essential component of education and all children should benefit from them.
The arts provide children an opportunity to perform, create and communicate their ideas and feelings through artistic media. These activities are nourishing to the body and soul and as research suggests “that young people who learn about and participate in the arts acquire skills that help them in decision making, problem solving, creative thinking, and teamwork.
An increasing number of studies also find that arts programs motivate children to learn, assisting in improving performance in core academic subjects.”
One conference participant told me that he had taken his daughter to the United States of America because her talent was not catered for in our school system. Public and private educational institutions should rise to the occasion to feel the gap.
But most important parents and policy makers should understand that investment in the arts is worthwhile and accord to them the attention they deserve.