Self-reliance is often placed in the context of material self-reliance, i.e. earning a living and providing for the basic physical needs. Nevertheless, I believe that it is often forgotten that it also requires an intellectual and emotional autonomy. In other words: self-confidence, analytical skills and the ability to think and take distance with one’s own reality, development of creative potential, the ability to transform traumatic experiences and release them, an attitude geared towards positive thinking and the creation of its own destiny.
Rebuilding one’s personality and self-esteem is a necessary step to reconciliation with others. To have confidence and trust the others, we must have confidence in ourselves. It is only when this condition is met that the process of forgiveness and consolation can begin.
For example, in Goma, my home town, there are many youth in the street. Many of them have fled the combat zones and the chronic instability of their village of origin, others are orphans (of war, HIV/AIDS, or simply because of the high mortality rate), a third category is abandoned children or children who had to leave the family home because of poverty. Finally some of them are ex-soldiers, forcibly recruited when they were children. If you look at them, you can feel pity. But if you see only the poor kids in them, you won’t understand them.
These young people have developed skills and impressive defensive mechanisms. Despite the hope that they have left behind them, they work and believe in their future. They are determined to move forward and full of inspiration. They want to help to rebuild the future of their communities. They recognize and affirm that the DR Congo has many problems and they can be agents of change. They express criticism of their leaders and actors of society but at the same time, are proud of their community and their culture. Like everyone, these kids are willing to say something for themselves and for others.
That is why I have created a cultural and artistic centre in Goma. You should see these kids, painting, dancing or playing music. They forget their origin, ethny, fear, rivalry and together use their energy in positive actions.
Investing in culture is investing in development. Culture creates dialogue and places of community life where people can meet and talk to each other. It supports and builds common identity and helps people become aware of their power to build their own future. Development can be based on an artistic and cultural awakening, in order to give to the community social self-sufficiency and creativity so that they create by themselves their future. Culture and art bring people together. It can help to express feelings and has the power to heal many injuries.
Art and culture can play a central role in peace promotion too. They open to the difference and the other. They can create debate and reflection on essential social and political issues; they raise awareness and can be the ground where alternative opinions will grow.
For example, we organised each year a film festival in Goma. It meets an increasing success, this year many local politicians where present, we screened one of my movie about police in Goma. It was followed by a debate where the chief of the police faced the attendance and had to answer their question. When you know that one of the biggest problem in town is the impunity with which policemen commit crimes such as armed robberies, rapes or even assassinations… This was a very strong and symbolic moment. But truly believe that there was more understanding and tolerance between these people at the end of the debate.
Concretely what does it mean?
We should link the community to its artists and in this way strengthen the common culture and identity. For this the action of making art available to the public is necessary for the art to have any impact on the society – bringing art to the common people. We must democratise and send the art and culture where they will meet the people that need them. Art will never
create any change in societies if people do not realize and experience it, if they are not given the means to access or understand it.
One should invest in artists and in artistic work to help the community to find its own identity. Investing calls for caution, by this I mean to give the artists and cultural associations the possibility to do what they want and not what other people say that they should do. Too often, donors have a precise picture of what art should say or show and only fund the initiative that matches their expectation.
For example, I have been invited several times to bring my artistic expertise in psychosocial projects lead by INGOs that use art to support child soldiers, victims of violence or refugees. Once I have been asked to run a workshop with child soldiers. The program managers asked me to support and encourage children who had been gathered to paint and draw. At the end of the day, they were given marks. The children who were receiving the best marks were the one who had drawn bombed houses or soldiers with guns because it was what had the more impact among the donors and was the most likely to bring in money.
For me this is not artistic or cultural activities, it is marketing. We should find an alternative to this way of funding cultural and artistic activities. We should also think of another way of writing these projects that would give voice to the artist and not only the program managers and communication advisors. Instead of giving money to managers who will implement artistic activities, it should be the other way around: money is given to artists who will learn to manage their project. This will give the freedom of creativity to the artist and sustain the community. We could indeed build the administrative and financial capacities of these associations or persons so that they meet the regulations of donors of managing money and are able to report efficiently on their activities.
I am fully aware that solution to development issue won’t be found at an individual or even associative level. The solution must be found by putting our strengths in common. For this reason the individual projects and associations should also be supported in creating a network where they can share experience and best practices. They should be supported and encourage to build partnerships with organizations or individuals pursuing the same goals in order to create a network of artists and activists working together to build a better world.
I speak from my experience as an artist and as a human being that had lived through several conflicts.
Art and culture are key elements of the development of a region and its population. Because art and culture are an important tool to democratize and pacify a country or even the world. By bringing people together, by entertaining them sometimes, by raising debates and alternative opinions, art and culture can effectively fight against totalitarianism and teach people dialogue and mutual respect. Art can be the last island of peace in an area torn by violence and if used properly has the power to raise in each individual the awareness that he/she is an actor of his/her life and of the society and has the right and duty to transform it for a better world
Petna Ndaliko Katondolo