Rwandan women who give industry an ‘art attack’

Friday March 20 2015

Clockwise from left: Agnes Ukundamaliya, director, Edition Bakame; Elianne Umuhire, actress; Hope Azeda, director, Mashirika Performing Arts; and Assumpta Mugiraneza, director, Iriba Centre for Multimedia Heritage. PHOTOS | ANDREW I KAZIBWE |

Rwandan women have joined their colleagues across the world to give men a run for their money in arts industry, shaking off beliefs that have stuck with the country for decades.

Rwanda Today took stock of contributions that some women have made in the industry.

Agnes Ukundamaliya, director, Edition Bakame

Edition Bakame is a familiar name to majority of Rwandans because it has published children books for close to 20 years now.

Born in Kigali 59 years ago, Ukundamaliya is the founder of the first publishing house in the country in 1995.

She partly spent her life in in Burundi before relocating to Switzerland where she studied literature.


Ukundamaliya’s return to Rwandan was inspired by her ambition of “seeing children read books.”

She discovered how reading had an impact on children growth as a mother.

“I could read for and with my children, who were young then, and I discovered how they grew to love reading,” she said.

Her vision was to start a publishing company to churn out books for children.

“As organisation and individuals joined in rebuilding the torn nation, Edition Bakame’s initiative entailed society’s sensitisation and the role of reading and finding market,” she said.

With a team of three workers, a computer and a fax machine, the publishing company kicked off its operations.

The company has a staff of over 10 employees and has the capacity to publish between 40,000 and 100,000 copies of books per day.

Elianne Umuhire, an actress

Born in Nyarugenge, Kigali in 1986, her inspiration to what she does this day started way back in 2002, when she was still at APE Rugunga Secondary School.

Due to divergent opinions from most relatives who insisted that she shouldn’t pursue arts course, she settled for Accounts at National University of Rwanda in 2004. While there, she never buried her passion for theatre. She could make time for both her studies and theatre practice with other colleagues.

“I found theatre amazing that I enjoyed it and made friends too,” she said.

After completing education, through workshops and practices, she was introduced to Hope Azeda and Carole Karemera who mentored her to become who she is today.

Umuhire has been acted in various plays, among them Umutego Speciale, La ravizor, African Hope in 2012.

She has also starred in films, among them Behind the World by Clemantine Dusabijambo and The things of the Aimless wondered, which were both premiered at the Sundance Film festival recently.

“Am glad that the public understands the role of women in society, unlike before, am surprised how some of my relatives acknowledge what I do today,” Umuhire said.

Hope Azeda, director, Mashirika Performing Arts

She is the founder of Mashirika Performing Arts, the first theatre company in Rwanda, which was initiated in 1999.

Azeda said the day she joined Makerere University to pursue a course in Music, Dance and Drama as the day her career began.

“It wasn’t that easy since few girls pursued the course then, but this was a serious course,” she said.

She was mentored by Alex Mukulu, a play director of Impact International Arts company where she was a cast in plays like Thirty years of Bananas, Excuse me Muzungu, Mambo Bado and Mkosi.

Returning to Rwanda in 1999, before forming Mashirika Performing Arts in Rwanda, she directed Amashyiga ya Seshutsitwa, a play on Radio Rwanda.

Through Mashirika, actors such as Kenny Mazimpaka, a 60-year-old artist, Angel Uwamahoro, a poet who performed at last year’s Rwanda Day celebration, Arthur Nkusi, a renowned comedian, most of the actors behind Urunana, a famous BBC Radio play, Simon Iyarwema, Elianne Umuhire, musician Peace Jolis, among others have been natured.

Hope has also worked with professionals and big names on the international scene, among them Matt Deley, Penny Jonnes, an accomplished mass Choreographer and stadium theatre producer, Kim Nakon, a costume designer and various government.

Assumpta Mugiraneza, director, Iriba Centre for Multimedia Heritage

When she completed her studies in political science and psychology at Université de Paris 8 in France she returned and founded Iriba Centre for Multimedia Heritage in 2011.

“I was so inspired by how the western world treasures archives and their storage, that is what we lacked here, yet many of us were in search of who we are and our ancestry,” she said.

The organisation serves as a place where the country’s historical archives are stored.

The centre has since concentrated on keeping audio and visual archives, which date way back to post-colonial rule, since Rwanda had hardly any written historical information for reference. Most materials have over time been acquired from scholars abroad according to Assumpta.

The centre’s roles also involve holding trainings on culture and historical activities. The centre partners with education institutions, Ministry of Sports and Culture, Ministry of Youth and ICT, most embassies, museums among institutions, “These services are offered freely and many scholars, researchers and any ordinary person are who we deliver services to,” she explains.

The 47-year-old has over time worked with both local and international film makers and researchers who include Anne Aghion, Anne Laine among others institutions.

“I was born here in Rwanda and according to what I grew witnessing, women were treasured for their vital role in society, that has instilled confidence in me over time, and am here today,” she explained.