In years back the Great Lakes region of central Africa, geographically comprised of Rwanda, DR Congo and Burundi has been in the world news for wrong reasons.
It started with 1994 Genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda and its aftermath, wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and civil wars in Burundi. As a result of related conflict, there has been mistrust among the people in the region.
Now the region is largely stable, but Amani Festival organizers hope to change a preconceived image of a troubled region by using an annual music and arts festival in Goma, the provincial city of North Kivu in Eastern DR Congo.
The gig attracts tens of thousands of music lovers and tourists in highly populated Goma – a border town, neighboring Rwanda’s Ruvavu town in the western province.
Last Friday and the weekend during the third edition, world famous artists such as Ismael Lo (Senegal), Zao (Congo Brazaville), Nneka (Nigeria-German), Werasson (DRC) entertained thousands of music lovers in the vibrant town of Goma.
Musician Faical Ngeruka a.k.a Kode,a Rwandan national who grew up in Goma entertained revelers with his live performance. He could easily connect with the audience as he could speak in their Swahili accent and cites many estates of Goma.
“I want to show image of love, we are all united as human beings and this most important thing! I think this is the festival’s value, intercultural exchange as someone who has lived here in Goma,” Kode said after his performance.
“I have always had contacts and friends here in Goma. This is important because even though one travels, if you forget your roots, its bizarre. What will you sell abroad, or what will you give as message?” Kode now lives in Belgium.
Two borders towns depend on each other as traders and various professionals cross borders near Lake Kivu on daily basis.
Amani (“Peace” in Swahili) is not only music. On the sidelines there is an exhibition for various organizations involved in peace building and businesses from Eastern Congo and other parts of Great Lakes.
Bienvenue Bisimwa, a member of Sauti ya Congo (Voice of Congo) an organization that promotes human rights in Eastern Congo said the festival is an opportunity to educate people about human rights and peace.
The eastern Congo town was briefly seized by rebels in 2012. According to Bisimwa, peace building requires constant efforts.
“We have to fight for peace even when there is peace, because if you relax you may lose it. We use the festival to talk about peace and human rights violation,” he said in an interview during the festival.
Some people traveled from as far as Kigali to enjoy the music, and according to organizers tourists from Europe use the event to have fun and visit other attractions in the region.
“We wanted to give people the opportunity to meet not around problems, but around something positive and I think living something positive together might create the link to later create other projects together that are positive,” said Anne-Laure, communications manager for the Festival.
Ms.Laure said when the first artist from Rwanda was invited, he was afraid to come, but he came and people appreciated his music.
“Step by step we have more and more Rwandese who have the faith to go to Goma for this kind of event, and they are not afraid anymore,” she adds. “It was the same for people from Western Congo like Kinshasa; they didn’t want to come, and now they come [in search of] positivity.”
Pierre Ndayisaba, a Burundi national who has also been in the previous edition brings art and crafts to the Festival’s exhibition. He says most of his clients are tourists and, when there is no peace, they don’t come to buy.
“In my country, politicians should choose dialogue to bring back peace, but other countries that are stable should do their best to prevent conflicts and preserve their peace,” said Ndayisaba.
Burundian drummers entertained festival goers with their amazing drum skills. There were also traditional dancers from Rwanda and other parts of Congo.
Performers included musicians with politically charged message. Rapper Black Man Bausi from Goma stole the show on Saturday, questioning the leadership in DR Congo. The audience – mainly the youth – sang along with him.
On the final day Zao, a veteran stars from Congo Brazaville, electrified the stage with his famous songs such as “Former combatant” the old school song about World War. The musician performed the song wearing army jacket and helmet.