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Rwanda’s Ubumuntu Arts Festival and the celebration of humanity

The festival is an expression of humanity; created by Hope Azeda to bring about social change in Rwanda



Rwanda's Ubumuntu Arts Festival and the celebration of humanity
An aerial view of the venue for the Ubumuntu Arts Festival.

This year marks 25 years since the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda. In the years since, Rwandans have grown even stronger and proven that there is still beauty in humanity. The Ubumuntu Arts Festival is one of the fruits of the spirit of the new Rwanda.

The festival is an expression of humanity; created by Hope Azeda to bring about social change in Rwanda. Ubumuntu is a Kinyarwanda word. It means “being human”. The festival is a confluence of music, poetry, dance, and dialogue between people of all races and creeds.

When Hope Azeda started the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in 2015, she hoped to foster the African belief in a shared humanity. As the festival slogan goes, “I am because you are, you are because I am: we are human together.”

Azeda’s inspiration came from Archbishop Desmond Tutu who introduced the word ubuntu into our collective lexicon. In his words, ubuntu means, “my humanity is bound together in yours; for we can only be human together.”

Rwanda's Ubumuntu Arts Festival and the celebration of humanity

Every July, at the end of the 100-day Genocide commemoration period in Rwanda, people from different walks of life come together to inspire change in the world. The festival is designed to be a part of the national and international genocide commemoration activities. It aims to show that art can help us rise above the pains and struggles of being human and find joy within.

Ubumuntu Arts Festival gathers performers from Rwanda and around the world who come together to explore the trauma of conflict and the depths of the human experience.

As curator and convener of the festival, the founder and Artistic Director of Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company, Azeda, has had a profound influence on contemporary Rwandan theatre. In 2018, she was honoured as a McNulty Prize Laureate for her invaluable work through the Ubumuntu Arts Festival.

The inaugural edition in 2015 attracted participants from 11 countries and a multi-cultural audience of about 5,000 arts enthusiasts on each of the two days of the festival. 

Following its immense success, the event has grown to include two additional days involving 18 countries. Through the years, Ubumuntu Arts Festival has addressed themes such as: Connecting Art with Technology (2017); Binding Art to Resilience (2018).

This year’s edition of the festival will hold on the 12th to the 14th of July under the theme; “When walls come down-TRUTH!”

It begins with the Ikaze Night, a welcome party and celebration of music, culture and arts from all participating countries. It will hold at the Kigali Conference and Exhibition village on the 11th of July.  The event seeks to raise money to keep the festival free.

Rwanda's Ubumuntu Arts Festival and the celebration of humanity

Ugandan Afro Soul Singer, Lilian Mbabazi will headline this year’s Ikaze Night along with Alexander Star from the USA and the band, Under The Surface from the Netherlands.

The festival is held at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Once a year -on this memorial ground- the beauty of humanity is celebrated in performances from Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Nigeria, Cambodia, DRC, Ireland, Germany, Iraq, Belgium, Gabon, USA, Switzerland, South Africa, England, The Netherlands, Burundi, Syria, and Rwanda. 

Amongst its many featured performances have been the story of the Nigerian Chibok girls and tributes to women peace builders.

The festival is supported by the Aegis Trust, which runs the Kigali Genocide Memorial on behalf of Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide. The Aegis Trust is a genocide prevention organisation working to prevent mass atrocities and build peace around the world.

What makes Ubumuntu Arts Festival? Simple. It’s; Humanity, creativity and collaboration.  



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Culture & Tourism

Contents of two ancient pyramids unveiled in Egypt

A team of archaeologists had uncovered sarcophagi and the remains of an ancient wall dating back some 4,000 years ago.



A man brushes off dust from a sarcophagus, part of a new discovery carried out almost 300 meters south of King Amenemhat II’s pyramid at Dahshur necropolis, exposed near the Bent Pyramid, about 40km (25 miles) south of the Egyptian capital Cairo, during an inaugural ceremony of the pyramid and its satellites, on July 13, 2019. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

Egypt on Saturday opened two ancient pyramids south of the capital Cairo and unveiled a collection of newly found sarcophagi, some containing well-preserved mummies. 

Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani told reporters the Bent Pyramid of King Sneferu, the first pharaoh of Egypt’s 4th dynasty, and a nearby pyramid would be reopened to visitors for the first time since 1965.

Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany speaks in front of the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

He also said a team of archaeologists had uncovered sarcophagi and the remains of an ancient wall dating back to the Middle Kingdom some 4,000 years ago.  

The finds were made during excavation work in the royal necropolis of Dahshur on the west bank of the Nile River, in an area home to some of Egypt’s oldest pyramids.

“Several stone, clay and wooden sarcophagi were found and some contain mummies in good condition,” the antiquities ministry said in a statement. 

The ancient wall stretches some 60 metres and is situated south of the pyramid of 12th dynasty pharaoh King Amenemhat II, also in the Dahshur necropolis. 

The finds also included funerary masks as well as tools dating back to the Late Period — which spanned almost 300 years up to Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 BC — used for cutting stones, the ministry said.

Egypt has in recent years sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism, which took a hit from the turmoil that followed its 2011 uprising.



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eSwatini bans “weird” witchcraft competition

The proposed competition of witchcraft and magic spells was unheard of and regarded as an anomaly in the country



eSwatini bans "weird" witchcraft competition
(File photo)

A competition pitting witchdoctors against each other in a battle of skills this weekend in eSwatini — formerly known as Swaziland — has been banned, according to a government statement.

Organisers had planned to hold the competition in Manzini, the second city of eSwatini, a country in southern Africa ruled by King Mswati III, one of the world’s last absolute monarchs.

“The proposed competition of witchcraft and magic spells was unheard of in the country and it was regarded as an anomaly in the lives of the people of eSwatini,” government spokesman Percy Simelane said in a statement.

“Government will not sanction any competition of that nature. Anyone who will persist with any activity related to witchcraft will face the full might of the law.”

The statement, released on Tuesday, said the Witchcraft Act of 1889 defines witchcraft, sorcery or the practice of voodoo as a punishable offence.

“Government cannot sit back and watch while the lives of the citizens of this country are exposed to illegal and weird practices that have the potential to poison the minds of (Swazi people), especially children,” Simelane added.

“Government will not allow the voodoo competition — period!”

eSwatini has a population of 1.3 million people, with many following Christianity and indigenous beliefs.

The Times of Swaziland on Wednesday quoted “Africa Gama”, the organiser of the event, as saying the competition would have pit witchdoctors against traditional healers as under the previous king Sobhuza II, who died in 1982.

“The King was concerned about unnecessary competition among healers so he called them to one place so that they could demonstrate their powers,” he said.

“I was competing with traditional healers, doctors, and prophets from across the world.”



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How Malawi’s busker is fighting myths about albinism

Chigwandali is not your usual street musician. He is an albinism musician and has featured in a Madonna-produced documentary



How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi's musician with albinism Lazarus Chigwandali performs in Lilongwe's Area 3 Market. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Like scores of other buskers, Lazarus Chigwandali plies the streets of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe hoping for a few coins from appreciative passers-by.

But Chigwandali is not your usual street musician. He is an albino, releasing a professional album, and the star of a documentary produced by Madonna.

Albinos are often targeted in brutal attacks in Malawi and other southern African countries because they have white skin due to a hereditary condition that causes lack of pigmentation.

Killings, abductions and gruesome dismembering of body parts for witchcraft and rituals are all real dangers.

Despite the risks, Chigwandali, 39, has been out in front of the public for years playing his upbeat tunes on a homemade banjo and a drum that he hits with a pedal operated by his right foot.

His big break came just last year when a tourist took a video of him on a cellphone and the footage was seen by Swedish producer Johan Hugo, who asked him to record an album.

Chigwandali, who sings in the local Chichewa language, draws on his tough upbringing for his music, telling of constant harassment, suspicion and the threat of physical attack.

“Growing up, people didn’t want us being close to them because of our skin,” he told reporters.

“People would leave when I went to watch a football match with my younger brother (also an albino), others would jostle us.”

“The album talks about the plight of persons with albinism. How people should not stigmatise others.”

‘Blows you away’ –

Chigwandali’s music stands out on its own — energetic with sharp vocals that catch everyone’s attention as they walk by.

Hugo, the Swedish producer, was so impressed by the video clip that he tracked down the Malawian busker and offered to record his music.

How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi’s musician with albinism, Lazarus Chigwandali, poses with his managers Siphiwe Zulu (L) and Esau Mwamwaya before leaving his home at Likuni to go and perform at Area 3 Market in the capital Lilongwe. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

“A few golden times in life something blows you away in such an amazing way you just cry and laugh and shake your head,” Hugo said later on social media.

“(It was) one of the coolest and most emotional moments of my life.”

Chigwandali still busks occasionally to provide for his wife and three sons — two of them albinos — though he hopes the blossoming projects he is involved with will soon bring in a regular income.

He wears a wide-brimmed hat to keep off the sunlight that causes painful damage to his sensitive, heavily-freckled skin, and a traditional handmade shirt with a matching pair of trousers.

Ikponswa Ero, the UN’s chief expert on albinism, told reporters that Chigwandali was playing a unique role in tackling prejudice against albinos.

“He is using the arts for advocacy, which is a powerful tool because it touches people’s hearts, so he is really doing something important here,” she said.

“People like Lazarus complement people like myself who report and help build policy.”

And Malawi has experienced a surge in violent attacks on people with albinism.

In a report last year, Amnesty International said that since November 2014 there had been 148 crimes reported against people with albinism, with at least 21 deaths.

For Chigwandali, he says his “recent status as a famous musician has made it difficult for me to be a target because I am more prominent. So, now I go to the village without the fear of being abducted.”

‘Give voice to albinos’ –

Originally from the town of Dedza in central Malawi, Chigwandali moved to Lilongwe after his much-loved younger brother died of skin cancer in 2006.

Superstar singer, Madonna met him during a visit to Malawi last year, and took an executive producer credit in the documentary, simply titled “Lazarus”, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April.

How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi’s musician with albinism Lazarus Chigwandali performs in Lilongwe’s Area 3 Market. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

“A powerful voice of a new generation in Malawi,” Madonna wrote beneath a picture of the pair on social media when they performed together in Malawi.

As well as Madonna, Chigwandali hopes to emulate Salif Keita, the Malian afro-pop star singer who also has albinism.

Now preparing for his album launch, he has released a promotional track “Ndife Alendo”  (“We are strangers”) which has been played on several BBC radio stations.

“My message is reaching the whole world now,” he said. “But there’s also been really amazing support from Malawi radio and TV — I want people in my home country to hear this music and appreciate it.

“This has all been a rollercoaster ride for me, these things don’t happen in real life normally. I don’t know what to expect. But I trust that people want the best for me. 

“I hope my music gives a voice to people with albinism, so they understand they’re as worthy as any other human being.”



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