Paul Harman and Nina Hajiyianni attended the ASSITEJ Executive Committee in Rwanda Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills, and Kigali the capital is spread out on the flanks of several ridges which catch the breeze and make for cool mornings and evenings despite being very near the Equator. We hit the dusty dry season but regular rains and the surprisingly temperate climate make the valley bottoms able to pro- duce a vast range of fresh produce. Breakfast consisted of fresh pineapple, avocado, carrots and cucumber, washed down with lo- cally packed mango and orange juice. Rwanda produces coffee and tea too. Blue Band margarine and sliced white bread are less appe- tising modern amenities. While great poverty is evident everywhere – the average cash income is 25p per day – careful land manage- ment means everyone can have an allotment sized patch to feed the family on rice, potatoes and vegetables. Milk is traditionally a sacred blessing given ritual respect but today it is available as UHT in car- tons. Wealth is still measured in cows.
Exile and Return
Most of us remember the genocide of 1994 but there was a similar civil war in 1959. Both events created waves of exiles whose sons and daughters are now returning with skills from more advanced countries, from France and Belgium, Sweden and the UK. While NGOs and UN agencies dominate the streets, the economy is one of the fastest growing in Africa. Everyone has a mobile phone and along main roads we saw lines of a hundred people digging trenches for optical fibre, broadband cables – advancing at half a kilometre a day and providing work for poorer people. There is house building at a phenomenal pace, from roadside mud-block cabins for the rural poor to city developments of European style private housing. We stayed in a row of modern rented houses behind a high fence in the diplomatic quarter. Spacious if sparsely furnished.
There is a sense of dynamism in the small but growing cultural and creative sector. Our visit was planned to coincide with FESPAD, the Festival of African Dance hosted for the continent by Rwanda, and a major conference on Creative Industries attended by Ministers and addressed by successful music entrepreneurs from the US, academ- ics and other specialists. The contribution of ASSITEJ members was modest, but proposed only sustainable and achievable projects. Yvette Hardie, ASSITEJ Treasurer from South Africa, led workshops at the Kigali Institute of Education, showing how teachers can deliver the arts in schools. Nina and I gave a two day theatre workshop for young actors, introducing a range of approaches to devising plays for younger audiences.
Heritage for All?
I met the newly appointed Director of National Museums, returned from the UK with a CV, which includes time at the V&A. A theatre project involving the young actors we worked with may be the out- come of some intense sharing of ideas about modernising Rwanda’s colonial-era museums. Should Rwanda’s museums earn cash by seling to tourists – gorillas, genocide and grass palaces, or should the emphasis rather be upon raising Rwandan’s awareness of the posi- tive aspects of their culture, developing a confident and unified national identity?