Cinema Ethiopia


We have made an exclusive interview with director/playwright Abate Mekuria, current EATI chairperson. We talked about the regional institute, the challenge, the optimism and many other related matters in the realm of theatre. Enjoy the reading.


Q: As a theatre practitioner since long, what do you think of the challenges

in being theatre practitioner in eastern Africa, especially in Ethiopia?

"Well, we must understand politics normally is also an expression of contemporary culture and we must also understand that we in the third world are transforming towards the technological future. As we transform to wards that we have to over come our problems. One or the most significant problems that we face is that political regimes that are not democratic, that do not allow the freedom of expressions etc. That is one common problem. Secondly, that we are short of funds because Art and culture sometimes are considered as luxury activities by these regimes and they don't give it worth funding."

"Thirdly, because Art is by its nature is very expressive and it would mobilise and motivate a public to wards their attitude and their ways of thinking. So this is by enlarge a general problem we all face but in spit of that the show has to go on, theatre has to be there."

"Theatre is important and it is part of everybody's life. With this up and down, this is a tag of war of which we all practitioners base and this makes our problem common. What is more also is we must see our culture, traditional as it is, an ideology by itself. It is a way of life for our people because culture is so rooted and so strong. We are bound to think in terms of that reference and it is also always with us. This integration and inherent way of thinking, way of attitude etc whatever is part of us. We always maintain that although what is imposed on us could interfere or harass our way of thinking, but we want to remain as such and also develop and want to use that resource as acknowledge part of our life and expression."

Q: How do you see the eastern African region's potential resources in terms

of theatre/performing arts in general?

"There is a great deal of resources. To start with, the indigenous African theatre, as it is in all Eastern African Countries it exists. Secondly the modern or the world dram as such also exists by enlarge. Thirdly, universities of department of theatre Arts exist in all this regions. So there is a great deal of resource in this region."

"And the out comes of theatre development in each Eastern African countries, have provided a resources for most of us to work together to see possibilities of exchanging ideas, to collaborate to work together and also to see future development in establishing an identity for an African theatre as in contrast to European theatre. It provides this opportunity because we in Africa have different cultural expressions."

"And this cultural expression should be mould; we should shape it up in such a way that it becomes our expression with knowledge and wisdoms acquired in modern theatre. We have to involve our root, identify and develop to extent where it can be contributively for the development of world theatre. In this respect the EATI networking collaboration, Coo productions, festivals and individual exchange programs have been very useful and have become strengthen the original objective and vision of EATI."

Q: What was the main reason to establish the

Eastern African Theatre Institute (EATI)?

"As it were African theatre practises have never in the past the opportunity to meet and exchange experiences. Most of the time opportunities are given in Europe and America. For theatre Arts practitioners in Africa to exchange their ideas even their works, whereas with in the Africa we lack. Also as it were there was this association called pan African theatre association which involves a lot of African countries, all African countries and that was too huge and cumbersome for coordination and networking."

"Therefore, since we have seen that problem since we have seen a short coming and the impossibility of this working, then we though if we think regionally with a small number of African countries would be able to easy our relationships. Further more regional as for example the East African Theatre association we are neighbouring countries, we have a lot of things in common, and we face the same problems so that use possibilities of future achievement by working together. With this view in mind the inception of creation of Eastern African Country was established."

"Theatre practitioners of East African region happened to meet and then out of that first meeting, this was about 6 years ago, this the first meeting was take place in Baher Dar, Ethiopia where legitimate practitioners and responsible individuals met this groups of individuals consist of the late Dr.Opio Mumma from Kenya The late Ross Mbua from Uganda, Mr.Kaduma from Tanzania and My self from Ethiopia."

"In a number of previous theatre event we happened to meet this people and also from South Africa there was waltu Chakila and also from Zimbabwe - we had a representation from theatre centre there. So we met and passed resolution. We create networking b/n theatre practitioners with in eastern African region. We could be able to achieve common experience exchanging programs as well as foresee our problems because most of our problems are common".

Q: Who did take the initiative?

"Well this particular ideas or vision when it dealt with, Sida (Swedish international development agency) was attracted by this idea. It took the first initiative to launch and provide funding for this meeting. There we met and tentatively draft a kind of working paper which eventfully grow up to draft a constitution for East African Theatre Institution. From there on the Eastern African theatre institute (EATI) in process was developed and achieved to the point where we stand now."

"After Ethiopia we met in Kenya for the second IDEA (International Drama and Education) Congress at the same time we used that opportunity to conduct the second meeting, there we read the first draft constitution and after that it was hold in Tanzania and after that in Uganda and more in Ethiopia and so forth. At the same time we were conducting activities. So the first theatre fund was granted for four countries-Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. We also elected board members, a secretary and expressed that each country as an extension of the institution establish a national chapter in each country. This has taken a long process. It was also very enduring and challenging process where as the vision or EATI..... Launch theatre project that includes the participation of the community. In other words the theatre in development was the main Vision. That theatre is used to create, as a tool, as language, create awareness amongst the rural community, amongst communities that are not much fevered as in the urban areas. So, with this view EATI formed."

Q: Tell me about 'Pan-African theatre association',

had it been formed?

"It ceased to work. It was there. Don't forget that we had 'All African Art Festival.' It was based more or less in that vision. 'All African Arts Festival' is started during Kuwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyata etc. The pan African theatre is more or less a precipitation of that event. It only happened three times which i was there actually as a pioneer of Ethiopian theatre practitioner. We participated in the first 'All African arts festival' in Dakar, Senegal. Then in Algeria and after that in Lagos, Nigeria which were very huge and ceased to work because it is so expensive to start with. And it involves a lot of networking and coordination where African Countries can not cop up with. That is why it failed. It doesn't exist any more."

Q: Is there any challenge which encountered by the Institute, EATI so far?

"The strong challenge is fund. The institute is now funded by sida, one sole fonder. The vision of our institution should be expressed and promoted to many other potential donors because we need funds to implement a number of programs that the Institute can promote the community and the society. I think this is basically the challenge that we are facing because most of our activities are well tolerated and well appreciated by governments as well as by the community. But since we are limited in funding we can not develop it to greater extent where it can be useful by enlarge to our community."

Q: Given all sorts of social and political problems, what do you say about

the roll of theatre in the region?

"The role of theatre as we are now practice it, it is actually opening a lot of new avenues. For example, the theatre in development where we train young people, we give them a forum to practice theatre and also develop their talent. Also they are working in connection integrating themselves to their legitimate community to create awareness, which is actually supportive to any form of crocked government. It is supporting positively and as the same time theatre arts developing itself with in that pattern of development."

"We are actually complimentary to the transforming society. We are discussing harmful practice and other problems. We discuss our problems with the community. Politically we are also creating awareness for people to understand the democratic process. Theatre is very contributively to this effect because it is creating awareness."

"It is not only the political problem that we have it is not only the regimes, it is also traditional attitudes. The people luck general knowledge and also because of the fact that most of our rural community is not educated. Because of that and luck of awareness they have become victims and alien or easily manipulated by political regimes. So we are heading to wards that end. I think theatre is contributively to this development."

Q: Is there any plan that your Institution has to broaden its base beyond

the periphery of the four member countries that you have now?

"Yes, I think this is the general problem that we all are facing and we must encourage and promote ourselves. Well up till now, the institute is really a child it did not yet developed full establishment. Now we are really getting established. Now we established our constitution, we also have acquired the necessary man power in to it. Now we are ready to launch this institution. It is going to be a very useful institution. It has a very ideal objective and visions. And we need to promote ourselves we have not get promote ourselves. When we do so, it is not those four countries that are going to be involved, it is going to be all regions in Eastern Africa - Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Rwanda. So we are going to promote ourselves to all this regions, and invite a number of sister agencies and supporting international agencies etc."

Q: Since long practicing theatre in Ethiopia, what do you think

about the working environment ?

"Well, In Ethiopia there was a lot of problems. There was censorship and don't for get Ethiopia has gone through so many different types of regimes. We had a feudal regime during Haileselasse I time and then a communist regime and now more or less the same thing. I don't understand what kind of ideology that we have now, but the avenue is open now. We are better well of than we were in the past. There is recognition for our roll. We have a number of theatres and number of young people is getting involved into theatre clubs and also theatre schools. So it is encouraging and by enlarge also the community is appreciating theatre. I think the same thing is in Uganda as we see it and the same in Tanzanian. But we are short of playhouses, more opportunities for performing artists. What we need is we have to develop the spring board. We must actually facilitate and encourage promoting theatre culture. I think this is what we faced. This is a Challenge."

"Essentially African governments have a lot of problems. Again it is funding. A government can not get out of its way to provide funds to Theatre/theatre practitioners, play houses etc because they have a lot of problems. There is hanger, there is capacity building programs etc. They face a lot of problems. I think what is left for theatre practitioners is to mobilize the community to mobilize themselves and actually encourage public participation, Individual donors and generate their own income towards its development. I think that is lift. Because there is no other person is going to do it for you. It is a challenge for international practitioners. We have to go through this."

Q: How are EATI's collaborations with governments in the region?

Is there any support from governments in the region?

"In our case we haven't. Because we know there is no resource, but we expect encouragement in the sense things that were restricted to lifted up so that we can have an open avenue for improvement. In this respect we expect governments to encourage and participate in our vision and objectives. This is being grateful as it is. What was a problem in the past they were interfering directly in to you because they know theatre is a mobilizing, and it is indeed. Theatre is an expression of ideas and attitudes. By the very fact that theatre is like that we have been censored. Running an activity of theatre was impossible. They do not give you the opportunities that you need to have but now I believe there is an open, there is the willingness to endorse theatre development."

Q: Any plan to cooperate with the regional political and economic

organisations like African Union (AU) ?

"Precisely that is the main objective not only African union but we also want to introduce and promote ourselves to the UN structures and into a number of international agencies. We want also elaborate our cooperation with university within Africa and abroad as well. This is the challenge we could say that is facing to promote ourselves and to motivate international and individual community originated programs so that we get participation as well as funding from this various agencies because our objective is very noble, relating and our result from what we have been doing extremely profiting. This is what we really want to do."

"Individual chapters with in the regions of their countries would do same thing. There are a number of international agencies, individuals, local agencies etc. So this is by enlarge our future challenge and i think we should invest most of our time and activities to wards this orientation."

Q: How do you see the Future perspectives of EATI?

Well in as much we have said, in as much as we work to wards promoting ourselves and invite participation of other sister agencies, donors and also encourage our own community.This is our future main concern particularly using our secretariat office and also our individual chapter to promote more the EATI objectives to a number of international donors' agencies, local agencies and the community. I am sure it has a very positive future. I think that is the way i see it. "

Q: How do you see the regional practitioners networking?

"I think this beginning of regional cooperation should grow and I think it is growing. I think as the same token we have the South African theater association / institute which are now also created, and it will go on West Africa, North Africa and central Africa. So we need to cooperate with this so that more of African practitioners who do not know each other or who are really burring with energy we could work to make a networking to exchange experience that is very important because that is what is going to develop an African theater as such. "

"And if you want to promote African theater we need to cerate networking between African theater practitioners, communities and African deferent theater so that we can exchange experience and learn a lot. That is one thing. As the same time we want to promote African theater for the rest of the world and I think this is the direction to wards that."

Q: Can you tell me bit more about African theatre?

"I think it has remained so far as it were that the traditional African dances with 'European opinion' is exotic. We don not want that to be our definition. African Theater or traditional theater is an expression; it is an ideology for the Africans and it is their expression."

"This is a very resourceful resource. We want to use that- use the music, use the dance, use the dramatic literature, use the Folklore and then adopt it in to what we call modern Theater. In other words, it means to develop it. To make it not only stand for one aspect of expression but for the whole, for the general from of expression of African profile."

"Because when you talk of African music it is not only that exotic dance, music but there is a lot of musical resources in it. So a musician as a technician will use its own resources as an African and then develop that resource that musical aspect or that theater or that dance in to contemporary expression to make it more universal, to make it more thoughtful, to use the theater concept and ideas and aspects of theater to our and then to give it a full length expression. That is what really going to make it dressing it up with an African Identity and this is what i mean by the African theater and particularly to use our indigenous language as a form of expression and don’t forget to day by the virtue of colonial powers some of African countries are Anglophone, francophone and portages speaking . That imposition actually suppresses the indigenous language, the indigenous forms of expression in Africa."

"What we want really, what we need to do as far as I am concerned as a practitioner, is that is really to create awareness about ourselves, about our resources. That resource will help us to express in a more artistic manner because there is a great deal of artistic resources in to our traditional forms. This is what left for us to do as modern Africa theatre practitioners."

Q: How do you see the so called Globalization vis-à-vis practitioners

in developing nations?

"What our effort is at the moment, our challenges in terms of expression and forms of art is to make our artistic resources palatable to the rest of the world. This is our immediate challenge. Globalization has its own advantage and disadvantages. And I think we have to be able well aware where the advantages and disadvantages loop hols that we can get to be able to endorse or introduce our objectives. I think this is a challenge that we are facing. And obviously we can not isolate us from this. We have to be part of and parcels of global development obviously. We need to share that. We have to be well aware of that and be able to be protective and also we have to create strategies in which we can be part of the global infrastructure as well as develop our own capacity and our own resources of developments."

Q: What do you say about the roll of amateur theatre practitioners

in developing and widening the theatre service?

"When i was in Europe and America i have noticed that amateurs are really very resourceful because these are individuals who are actually have talent and interested to invest their time to learn and as the same time to enjoy themselves. I even seen a lot of productions, a lot of good works and we should not underestimate it. I mean any art form could be a hobby for some individuals although they are engaged into other works."

"But in our case, when we are deal with young people, we are exploring, giving the opportunity to develop their mind, their curiosity in to fine arts, into literature, into drama, into dance and into music. This is also developing an audience and we appreciate this very much because most of the young people recognise themselves that they have the talent also although, the opportunities are so limited for a lot of people. So working with amateurs is very essential and actually working with amateur as it is now, that we will be able to reach out theatre in development."

"Because we can not have a formal school for formal students and it takes so long time but it is a short way of immediately achieving, acquiring man power resources to artistic activities. It is very useful. It provides young people in school to organise their own theatre club in a community, in their Keble's and urban areas to form and organize their own amateur clubs. So that it gives an opportunity to educate their selves. It gives them a platform. Therefore we need to support it and they are doing a wonderful Job."

Q: You and your colleagues are working to establish

'practical theatre centre'. What sort of centre it is going to be?

"The idea of establishing a training centre for practical theatre came out of the fact that as we were working more with regional (rural) clubs. As it is now there is no formal school. So for those young aspirants, for those young people who really want continue in the theatre this centre which we are gong to establish is going to provide a very good opportunity for them to come in and train themselves and so they can go back to their own community and they become trainees of trainers and develop their community, their club and contributively for their schools or clubs."

"As it is now in Ethiopia, we have university theatre department but they have different criteria to accept students. And most of the young people could not reach that opportunity and very few people do. It is more for academicians. But what we want is to train young people in practicing theatre, in ding theatre whereas they can get the theoretical as well as the practical. It provides them with their capability and aptitude. So this school is more or less a school that is established for those young people who are talented but could not have an opportunity else where to develop their talent. For this reason we have a number of young people who are helpless and there is no other school in Ethiopia for this nature. We have only one department of theatre in one university. So this centre will satisfy immediate need of young aspired of theatre or music or dance enthusiast."




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