New generation in Rwanda reclaims future through arts and creativity

“Rwanda is an experimental place. I suppose it is part of our DNA.” Carole Karemera, a veteran cultural manager, reflects on the reason behind the recent surge of creative energy in her native country. Having founded Ishyo Arts Centre 12 years ago with the vision of making cultural experiences accessible to all, Carole has been at the center of the creative renaissance in this eastern African country.

Over the years, the cultural manager has closely observed the development of creative sectors across the world while traveling extensively as an actor and an advocate for creativity. What became increasingly clear was the lack of professional training opportunities in the Rwanda: “There is not enough schools teaching artists how to monetize what they do, and the cultural value chain is non-existent.” When Ishyo Arts Centre was selected as the national implementation partner of Strengthening the Cultural and Creative Industries in Rwanda, a two-year project financed by Republic of Korea’s Funds-in-Trust to UNESCO, the team started by asking a simple yet revealing question: What skills do Rwandan artists and creative workers need to take their creations to the next level? More than 1,750 responses later, cultural management classes with focus on budgeting, funding, contracts and marketing strategy were conceived, reflecting the practical and urgent needs on the ground. At the end of the two-year project, around 100 creative professionals from across Rwanda gained practical management skills.


Discussion on the state of creative sector in East Africa
Many of the international experts who led the classes hailed from Africa, providing Rwanda’s future arts leaders with the opportunity to learn about the continent’s best practices. “We need to break away from the north-south model, a one-way knowledge transfer, and start having dialogues among contemporary African creatives,” says Karemera.  Luc Mayitoukou, a music producer based in Senegal, led the music production workshop. “We looked for an expert with a good overall understanding of Africa’s music scene, who was also interested in learning about our music industry and developing a tailor-made program.” The spirit of pan-African cooperation, Carole says, is also a symbol of reconciliation with Rwanda’s violent past. “In the aftermath of the genocide, reconnecting with our neighbors was extremely important. We had to rediscover a way to live together, and it extended beyond our borders.” Twenty five years after the genocide, the door to Rwanda is wide open, with citizens from 15 African countries granted a visa-free visit.


Being a female artist - It wasn't easy at first, but I was ready to fight for it. 

Weya Viatora, singer


While the project covered a wide range of disciplines including music, theatre, film production, visual arts and creative entrepreneurship, an integration of theories and practice was at the core of every module. The Visual Arts Curatorship Training dedicated each afternoon to visit local exhibition spaces in order to learn from real-life curatorial examples, while the Film Production and Management Training encouraged the participating filmmakers to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test by writing and producing a short film, screened at the end of the workshop.


Weya at a photoshoot for her album
Weya Viatora, a 23-year-old Rwandan singer, was one of the participants in the music production class. Despite her young age, she is no novice in the Rwandan music industry. “When I met Weya for the first time, she was in the middle of making music with a 80-year-old woman – she was only 17,” recounts Carole. Pursuing a career in music as a young woman has not been without obstacles. “Very few female artists manage to produce a song, and the radio rarely play songs by Rwandan women. I also had to fight the pressure from my family since being a female musician is considered ‘indecent.’ We work late and families are often afraid we might get caught up in bad acts.” Against all odds, Viatora is steadily gaining recognition across Rwanda. “I was ready to fight for it. It wasn’t easy at first, but when I started booking performances and interviews, people’s perception slowly changed. I showed them it is just like any other job.”

UNESCO’s workshop came at an opportune time when she prepares for the release of her second album in 2020. “I was surprised by how practical it was. We learned about the entire chain of music production from creation to reaching the listeners.” The singer found the segment on copyright to be particularly enlightening. “Today, I know all the advantages of copyright registration and how relevant it is to my livelihood. When you register your music, not only the musician, but also the producers and the composers are compensated – it magnifies the value and the incentive of the production. The room full of musicians and producers had the same epiphany.” The participants also found the online music platforms interesting. “In Rwanda, you bring your new music to the radio station as it is still the best way to make money and reach the public and. Afterwards, you may be invited to perform on air or book a show. Online platforms are still new and we don’t make too much profit from that yet.”


Closing ceremony of the Korea-UNESCO project
The Korea-funded project is the latest addition to the unprecedented momentum for Rwanda’s creative sector. The Five-Year Strategic Plan for the Development of Creative Arts Industry 2017-2022 by Rwanda’s Ministry of Sports and Culture vows to integrate cultural and creative industries into Rwanda’s national economy development strategy. The UNESCO project came to a close on 29 October, celebrated by more than 120 guests in attendance. Didacienne Nibagwire, managing director of IYUGI, a creative consultancy company in Rwanda, called for escalated efforts to develop this emerging sector. Dr. James Vuningoma of Rwanda Academy for Languages and Culture (RALC), an implementation partner of the project, vows to continue this initiative. “The cultural and creative industries in this country are still young. How to build on this pilot project is the crucial question. It is just a starting point of the journey.”

Carole Karemera, today the Executive Director of the Centre, has an immense hope for Rwanda’s young artists. “Today’s young generation, they are fully African and proud. They make courageous art that faces our difficult past instead of turning away. They are fragile and solid at the same time.” Weya, who was born two years after the genocide, agrees. “Back then, music was used to spread the hate - I want to heal damages done by music with music. Last year I released a song about forgiveness in Rwanda about the duty of our generation to heal the wounds. Because one day, we are going to be the older generation.”