Role of Arts and Culture in Eastern Africa Integration

Published on 26th February 2013

Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like a tree without roots.” East Africa is not simply the sum of its constituent Partner States. Jumuiya ya Afrika Mashariki is not merely an inter-governmental organization. Ours is a Community of peoples with a similar past, a shared present, and a common future.
East Africa is nourished by its rich history, as well as the amazing tapestry of its vibrant culture. We do not sing or dance our East Africanness. We do not write books about it. We do not have too.  Just as a zebra does not shout about its colors, we simply live our various identities.  Between 11-16 February 2013, however, in the beautiful, clean, increasingly cosmopolitan city of Kigali, we chose to celebrate our East Africanness. We are grateful to the Government and people of Rwanda for having given us the opportunity to do so.

Culture is not merely about what we do: it is first and foremost about who we are, where we were and what we hope to become. If nations can be said to have souls, culture is a window into that soul, albeit an imperfect one.

The EAC Arts and Culture Festival we inaugurated on 12 February 2013 came to life following a decision of the 23rd Council of Ministers meeting held in Arusha in September 2011 that required Partner States to host regular arts and culture festivals.

JAMAFEST as we have come to call it today, is an acronym coined from Jumuiya ya Afrika Mashariki Utamaduni Festival.

This Festival aims at promoting our regional socio-cultural integration through arts and culture and also provides a platform to showcase culture as a primary driver of EAC integration and sustainable development.

Over the last 10 years, our creative and crafts industry has been growing in both stature and size. The work of rural women from the Republic of Rwanda and other parts of East Africa whose embroidery now adorns international retail chains and boardrooms of so many corporate organizations is only the tip of the iceberg. And yet - services account for over 45% of our GDP, and the creative industry contributes a significant portion of our sustained growth over the last decade.

This Festival will therefore strive to give local, regional and international visibility to the faceless men and women who tirelessly work to entertain, as well as educate the world on the importance and central role-played by art and crafts towards poverty eradication.

Indeed, the drums, poems, dances,  beads, cloth, needles and cotton we share are not only aimed at social cohesion, although they do that very well. They have the potential to be a key component of our arsenal in the fight against poverty in East Africa.

The UN World Commission on Culture and Development has always called for the relationship between culture and development to be clarified and deepened in constructive and practical ways.

In East Africa we are doing just that, we have recognized the benefits of developing cultural events both socially and economically. Events such as Sauti za Busara held in Zanzibar every year attract over 200 performers and thousands of visitors, providing, in the process, a boon to the tourism and travel sectors and the general economies of our region.
There is a nascent but fast growing film Industry in Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. The music industry in all our countries is becoming more sophisticated and has displaced the traditional dominance by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and West Africa, at least in our region. East Africa's creative genius has been let out of the bottle and the sky is the limit.

I look forward to working more closely with the entertainment industry, as well as the arts and culture fraternity to advance East African integration. As we integrate deeper, as we realize the benefits of integration we will continue to emphasize and strengthen our commonalities as we celebrate our diversity.

Our collective mission should be to work towards a culturally integrated East Africa whose overriding agenda is the improvement of the living conditions of our people, people moving and interacting freely in fulfillment of their dreams and ambitions.

By Amb. Dr Richard Sezibera
Secretary General, East African Community.

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