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Will Rwanda Become the New Hub for Arts and Entertainment in East Africa?

Will Rwanda Become the New Hub for Arts and Entertainment in East Africa?

BK Arena - Rwanda - Afrocritik

In recent times, one of the Rwandan government’s main undertakings has been on the tourism front — trying to generate diversified tourism income for the nation by establishing Rwanda as a potential alternative tourism destination.

By Frank Njugi 

On December 6, 2023,  at the BK arena — a state-of-the-art world-class events venue and multi-purpose indoor arena in Kigali — Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, spoke of how the country was looking forward to hosting global citizens every year in the city. This address came during the opening ceremony of the inaugural edition of Move Afrika, an event conceptualised by Global Citizen — an international advocacy organisation — to pioneer a first-of-its-kind international music tour to be held annually in Rwanda, to tackle the lack of access to economic opportunities in Africa through arts and entertainment. Kagame was alluding to how Kigali was becoming a primary attraction, as this annual event positioned the city as the hub for economic investment, job creation, and entrepreneurship opportunities.

This first edition of Move Afrika – whose highlight had been a live performance by American rapper and songwriter Kendrick Lamar —  was, however, not the only high-end music soiree held in Kigali last year. It was rather the event that capped off a year of events, one that saw Rwanda establish itself as a destination for glitzy affairs and trendsetting gatherings.

Kendrick Lamar at the first edition of Move Afrika

The year had been marked by numerous grandeur music and entertainment events. In 2023, the country finally took heed to the words of Rwanda’s  most famous playwright and cultural entrepreneur, Odile Gakire Katese, who while speaking to UNESCO in 2016 had said ‘’Rwanda doesn’t have gold or natural resources, so we have to be creative and use our talents and the creative industries to create jobs and make progress in our country.’’

Among the events held in Rwanda in 2023 was the first-ever Trace Awards & Festival held on Saturday 21 October, also at the BK Arena. Dubbed an award ceremony meant to honour outstanding achievements in African and Afro-inspired music and culture around the world — a needed platform as the world tries to keep pace with the positive shifts the African music industry has experienced in recent times —  this is a music awards show that was established by Trace Group to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its popular pay-tv music video television channel, Trace TV. The inaugural awards brought to Kigali, personalities popular within the African entertainment and music industry, such as the events hosts, D’Banj and Maria Borges and other performers including Davido, Yemi Alade, Black Sherif, and Kizz Daniel. Some of the winners of this first edition of Trace Awards & Festival included Fally Ipupa who won the Best Live Performer Award, Yemi Alade who won the Best Music Video Award for her single “Baddie”, Davido whose “Unavailable” won the Best Collaboration Award, and Viviane Chidid who won the Best Female artiste Award.

Two months earlier, still at the same venue, the Giants of Africa Festival took place between August 13th and 19th. The festival brought together 250 youths from 16 diverse African nations in a week-long celebration of basketball, entertainment and culture. The festival was graced by performances from some of Afropop’s biggest acts such as South African singer and songwriter, Tyla, Davido, Diamond Platinumz and Tiwa Savage.

TYLA AT GIANTS OF AFRICA in Rwanda - Afrocritik
Tyla performing at the Giants of Africa festival in Rwanda

The inaugural Kigali Triennial Festival is currently ongoing. According to the Rwandan government, this festival aims to celebrate African arts and culture by establishing the Rwandan capital, Kigali, as a global cultural hub. This year’s edition, running between the 16th and  25th of February, has brought together over 200 artists from 25 countries. With the theme of the festival being “Convergence of Arts”, the Kigali Triennial is one of the many events being curated by Rwanda’s Ministry of Culture to position the country as economically competitive within the region through arts.

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In recent times, one of the Rwandan government’s main undertakings has been on the tourism front — trying to generate diversified tourism income for the nation by establishing Rwanda as a potential alternative tourism destination. It is doing so through initiatives such as Visit Rwanda, a campaign initiated to promote the country as a world-class tourism destination, as well as serving as host for annual entertainment events aimed at fashioning the country’s cultural legacy. These efforts are effectively establishing Rwanda as the entertainment hub in East Africa, if not arguably in Africa. 

In 2024, more concerts and festivals are set to take place in Kigali. The second edition of Move Afrika is set to return towards the end of the year, with another internationally renowned pop star expected to grace the stage at the BK Arena. Other upcoming events set to be held in Rwanda this year as well include The Mashariki African Film Festival, which will be held between the 1st and 7th of June, 2024 and will showcase the Afro-futuristic cinematic works of African filmmakers, the Ubumuntu Arts Festival which is held annually and was founded by McNulty Prize Laureate Hope Azeda, and the Diner En Blanc Kigali — Rwanda’s edition as host of the worldwide event which spans over six continents, which ensembles people to dine in public spaces.

For a long time in East Africa, Nairobi (Kenya), has topped as the region’s capital of entertainment, hosting an array of international and regional festivals and concerts that feature some of the best African and international music acts. But it is safe to say that there has been a shift, and with Rwanda’s progressive efforts, Kigali might be positioning itself as the new cultural hub in East Africa and Africa at large. 

Frank Njugi is a Kenyan Writer, Culture journalist and Critic who has written on the Kenyan and East African culture scene for platforms such as Debunk Media, Sinema Focus, Wakilisha Africa, The Moveee, Africa in Dialogue, Afrocritik and many others. He tweets as @franknjugi.

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