Where art, sport and development meet

3 Apr

What is the best measure of a country’s progress? Most people will say: GDP, per capita income, or annual economic growth rate. The bigger, the greater the progress.

Others will cite other indices – like life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, literacy, human development index and many more.

All are correct, of course – measurable, tangible and visible, even to the non-expert.

In all these indicators Rwanda has been doing well – very well, in fact, considering the depth to which we had sunk eighteen years ago. But even by any other measure, we are doing very well. And Rwandans can be proud of this feat and justifiably celebrate, not only a resurrection (which it is), but also development that far surpasses that before we died.

There are other indicators that show how far a people have moved, but remain unreported, perhaps because they are not easily statistically measurable. For this reason, and because they remain outside the definition and calculations of such bodies as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and specialised United Nations Agencies, they do not attract the attention of the numbers experts.

Most of the indicators that go unmeasured are of a cultural nature.

As with the economic indicators, Rwanda has registered phenomenal growth in these areas. And like them, they are a measure of the development we have made as a people.

Take music and dance, for example. There have been more compositions in the last ten years than in all the previous forty years of independence. It has not been only in quantity, but quality and variety as well.

The level of creativity is amazing. There is the strictly traditional that helps conserve the original forms and keeps cultural purists happy. Then there are the creative adaptations of dance and music forms from elsewhere that blend with traditional forms and produce a modern variety that remains distinctly Rwandan – as Inganzo Ngari has done.

In music, Rwandan artistes have shown a special ability to adapt foreign instruments and forms to accommodate Rwandan musical traditions and create music that at once speaks to different generations. The expression, too, is significant. It has moved from a plaintive, sorrowful lament to one of optimism, confidence and even assertiveness.

The explosion in artistic creativity in the last decade or so has seen the birth of so many cultural troupes and music groups that it is difficult to keep pace with them. And, crucially, artistes are not doing it just for fun; they are also making money out of it.

This is a significant development. It means that we are at a level of development where the people are beginning to satisfy basic needs and have extra to pay for entertainment. This in turn means that artistes can develop and live off their talents. There is therefore an obvious connection between the creation and enjoyment of art and the material, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of people.

Another area of growth that has largely gone unnoticed, but which is increasingly begging for attention, is sport.

For a long time the only sport most Rwandans knew was football. The last few years, however, have seen the growth of other sports previously unknown in this country.

Many of you will recall media reports two weeks ago that said our rugby team was making heads turn in Hong Kong. A few years ago, not many people had heard of rugby. Fewer still thought it was a suitable sport for Rwandans. They thought it was rough, aggressive and dangerous, and that Rwandans did not have the physique for it. Well, they were wrong. Rugby has caught on in schools, at club and national level. Rwandans are competing in international tournaments as the Sevens Team showed.

Cricket is another sport that is developing fast and is perhaps more suited to the Rwandan character. While it does not require massive physique to play, it takes stamina, patience, endurance and strength of character – traits that we have in plenty. We are now playing cricket at home and taking part in global competitions.

Other previously unknown sports in Rwanda that are making a strong presence include field hockey and netball.

The development of sport tells us something about the state of this country.

It shows that there is a growing number of citizens who have time for leisure and the means to relax and enjoy a beautiful spectacle. They are able to do this because they are no longer simply eking out a living. They are able to gain profit from their work and as a result have higher living standards that enable them to enjoy the finer things of life.

As with art, it will not be long before an increasing number of our citizens begin earning a living from sport.

Sport has another quality that embodies the Rwandan spirit – competitiveness. We want to be the best we can be, and for this we are prepared to push ourselves to the limit so as to be among the best.

In this sense, artistic and sports development are both an expression of intent and reflection of achievement. We are more familiar with the economic growth figures of the last decade. No less impressive is the progress in artistic and athletic expression – both signs of development.

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