Cultural center Yole!Africa has been preparing to launch a celebration of its 10th anniversary in Goma in July, 2012. However, on 24 April, after falling victim to 5 armed robbers – three of whom wore local police uniforms – who stole the majority of the organization’s equipment and bound and severely beat the night watchman, instead of celebrating the organization is faced with some rather troubling questions and reflections. Within the past 12 months, Yole!Africa has been robbed 3 times – 15 laptop computers have been taken, as well as 2 professional cameras, 4 semi-professional cameras, 3 amateur cameras, 2 still cameras, and 3 external hard drives. The total value of the stolen goods exceeds $21,000 in monetary terms; but beyond the money, the fact of continued undermining from the same community this cultural center has served for 10 years is deeply disturbing.
When Yole!Africa was started in Goma it was in circumstances of war and conflict as the country was divided. That the cultural center faced numerous threats, obstacles, and challenges in that period was to be expected. However, after struggling for 10 years to offer youth in the region access to free cultural activities and free artistic training, the systematic sabotage that Yole!Africa continues to experience is taking on a new character.
Currently the center serves the local community by offering workshops, concerts, and ongoing programs. All members of Yole!Africa have access to training in digital arts, music, and dance, access to practice space and equipment free of charge. Yole!Africa also organizes the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (SKIFF) that brings together over 14,000 people in the course of 10 days. In this way, Yole!Africa contributes directly to community cohesion, peace and cultural development in the region. However, in the face of ongoing theft and in the absence of official denunciations, one has to ask, “who benefits if Yole!Africa shuts down? Who stands to gain if the youth lose access to the tools with which to speak out?” These and similar questions are augmented by the fact that the hard drives stolen in the recent incident contained footage shot by youth film students who were documenting the recent controversial presidential and legislative elections.
This is not to say that there is no recognition of Yole!Africa from official channels, the organization have been delighted to see successful members of Yole!Africa receive public accolades and tokens of appreciation for their accomplishments from government representatives. The question at hand is how are these officials channels activated in times of crime and violation? Is one to understand that the organization is to fend for itself in the face of danger? Or is it time, after a history of service to the community, for official recognition of both the triumphs of and the crimes committed against Yole!Africa?
At this point of looking back at the past 10 years and into the future, Yole!Africa is indeed at a crossroads. The organization is looking to the community to see signs of their commitment to the continuation of Yole!Africa and the events it brings to the region. As Yole!Africa beings to try to recover from this most recent theft committed 24 April, 2012, the organization invites participation from the community. Yole!Africa’s primary needs at this time are of financial support to replenish the stolen equipment, and for the community to put pressure on local officials to publically and officially denounce the ongoing crimes committed against this cultural center and to secure the right of artists to speak freely in this nation. For anyone interested in learning more ways to support Yole!Africa, please go the organization’s FaceBook page: http://www.facebook.com/yoleafrica;