Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo – Dance battles have replaced gun battles in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, less than one year after the national army defeated headline-grabbing M23 rebels. In its ninth edition, the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (SKIFF) brought together dancers, musicians, fashion designers and traditional poets in celebration of Congolese culture. Their goal? To channel the energy of the youth into arts, not conflict. Their slogan? “Tutajenga ao?” – “Will we build or destroy?” in Kiswahili.
Dieudonne Dunia Kangwindi, an aspiring rap artist who has just returned from a trip to neighbouring Kigali to record an album, sums up this sentiment. “It’s us, the youth, who must construct the new Africa,” he says. “If our ancestors had problems, it’s not for us to continue them,” he adds, talking of current difficulties between DR Congo and Rwanda. “We have to fight for reconciliation. We must think of the future.”
The fires of local traditions were also stoked. After a projection of documentary films, plastic seats were arranged around a crackling bonfire. An ageing Congolese man, who goes by the name “grand-pere”, became the master of ceremonies; not dressed in tails, but in an oversized red anorak, and with a noticeable gap in his teeth. Grand-pere is known for his poetry and storytelling, and this was to be an evening of both. He began by telling stories of elders, and how they used to get together around fires like this. When it was their turn, the younger artists took up his torch and carried the flames.