Can arts lead to reconciliation?

Goethe-Institute Kigali in cooperation with Never Again Rwanda organized on open discussion forum on the role of arts in reconciliation, on May 24 at the Goethe-Institute’s grand studio in Kacyiru, Kigali.

Panelists were local renowned arts personalities and leaders including: Hope Azeda, a leading figure in Rwandan theatre and the founder of the Mashirika dance and theatre group; Odile Gakire Katese, a Rwandan actor, director and writer who is an artistic director of Ingoma Nshya, a female drummers initiative; and Elizabeth Spackman, who currently teaches in the department of literature at the Kigali Institute of Education (KIE).

In his introductory remarks, the Goethe-Institute Kigali director Dr.Peter Stepan said that the inspiration for initiating the discussion forum in Rwanda was a big conference that took place in South Africa where participants reflected on the role of arts in healing and how it can contribute to reconciliation.

The debate moderator was Ariane Zaytzeff, a French theatre artist and PhD student. She opened the discussion by asking panelists to explain reconciliation as a concept. In their comments, all panelists tried to explain reconciliation based on their artistic works and knowledge.

“The concept of reconciliation, I approach it in the sense of bringing people together,” said Gakire. “What is important is coming together.” She also said that arts can play a bigger role in rebuilding, as it was also used as propaganda tool.

During Rwanda’s troubled history, some artistes used their talent to incite hatred and violence, which led to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis.

Azeda said that she sees reconciliation as a pillar of humanity. “I see reconciliation as a need, so as an artist I should seek it,” said Azeda.

Azeda said also that in her first artistic production, titled ‘Amashyiga ya Sehutsitwa’ (Firestones of Sehutsitwa, a play reflecting the history of Rwanda), she explained that sections or ethnic groups are like firestones: for a meal to cook, it needs the support of three firestones. “We all need each other,” Azeda added.

Spackman focused her work on recently demobilized former child-soldiers, in a play called ‘Hozwa Mwana w’Urwanda.’ It translates to mean a Rwandan weeping child should be cared for. It depicts the life of a group of boys recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and their recollections of the forest and war. The piece also delves into their stories of homecoming and their current transition and integration into society.

Spackman said that those demobilized youth did amazing work. “Working something together is important,” she added.

The expert panelists also took a close look at how they use their art work in reconciliation, and analyzed whether reconciliation is a goal to reach. “I think reconciliation must be a process,” said Spackman. “It is a daily work.”

After a lively discussion of panelists, the audience, which was mostly comprised of youth, also had time to make comments and ask questions on the event’s theme.

Gaby, a member of ‘Ingenzi,’ an association of young genocide survivors, said that arts are a powerful tool to get a message across to a lot of people.

Azeda, answering a question from one participant on the role of arts in reconciliation, said: “We use arts to focus on what we share in common, hence we are going towards reconciliation.”

Open forums to discuss social issues play a significant role in post-conflict countries’ efforts towards reconciliation and sustainable peace.

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