Ethiopia: Refugee music band contributes to African Peace Tour
31 October 2008

Refugees playing music in Addis Ababa. (Angelika Mendes/JRS)
The youth groups they work with comprise young dedicated African professionals and students who value their continent, culture and indigenous ways of life.
Addis Ababa, 31 October 2008 In November 2004 young refugees from DRC, Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi had the idea to establish a music band in Ethiopia which they named BOMPIA. According to Congolese band leader Guilain Soda, the five founding band members that took the initiative came from Sherkole camp to Addis Ababa, with the assistance of the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA). Once they arrived, others who had the talent and the potential joined the group and the number has subsequently grown to fourteen. Now they have five vocalists, one drummer, three guitarists, three dancers, one plays the keyboard and one the tom-tom. However, the band first came into the limelight when Ethiopia celebrated its Millennium in September 2007.                            

When Bompia came up with the idea to play a modest part in the celebrations of the Ethiopian Millennium, JRS-Ethiopia provided the band with some financial assistance to realise their objective. The Band also used and still uses the facilities of JRS Refugee Community Center’s (RCC) music class for rehearsal purposes. As part of the Ethiopian Millennium celebrations, BOMPIA has performed several times both in the capital Addis Ababa and in other towns of the country - Mekele, Axum, Shire and Adwa.

As Jackson Vinansio, a Sudanese refugee, Secretary of the Urban Refugee Committee and member of the band says, the “Inter-Youth Concert” - an event organised by UNICEF at the Addis Ababa Hilton, to which the band was invited - has opened a new perspective for them. Along with BOMPIA, various local bands were invited to stage their performances and on the occasion, a representative of “Peace Journey,” an organisation supporting intercultural youth initiatives, approached the young musicians.

Music is a Peace Journey

According to Hiwot Adane, President of “Peace Journey in Africa 2000 Promotion” and Haileab Meressa, Public Relations Officer, the year 2008 has been designated “The African Youth Year.” They pointed out that they want to use this unique moment to promote Africa in general through an unprecedented African peace and unity land journey across 24 African countries. The youth groups they work with comprise young dedicated African professionals and students who value their continent, culture and indigenous ways of life. The journey is planned to take place before the end of 2008.

At the same time “Peace Journey” is meant to be a symbolic reenactment of Africa’s journey through centuries of trial and tribulations. Organisers believe that the journey contributes to the efforts Africa is making to recover from destructive wars and conflicts, which it inherited from its tragic past. Concerts and conferences on selected themes will be organised in five cities representing the five sub-regions of eastern, western, northern, southern and central Africa. Correspondingly, “Stop Civil War at Mama Africa” was chosen as the general theme for the journey.

According to the organisers BOMPIA will play a pivotal role in the promotion of the planned Peace Journey. Songs played by the band will be recorded on CDs and played throughout the journey. Moreover, the CDs will be distributed in the various countries the groups will pass through. This, they believe, will enhance cultural appreciation and exchange: “Through our symbolic journey, we seek to change the problem of not only how the world sees Africa, but more importantly, how Africans view themselves. We seek to see a peaceful, prosperous and integrated spirit in Africa, which is driven by its own citizens.”

Message is to prevent conflict

Asked to comment on why the whole project was youth focused, the organisers underlined that in the first place, the message of the Journey is not only meant for countries that are already affected by war or conflict but it also serves the prevention of conflicts. Since the youth is in the frontline whenever the issue of war or conflict is raised it only fits the message of the journey to mainly address the youth in Africa.

To ensure the success of the project, the organizers have contacted various government offices as well as the African Union (AU) and were happy that the response from all sides has been positive and encouraging. Moreover, the project has secured the approval of the House of Peoples’ Representatives of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; and the AU has endorsed the project and asked all member states to support the project in every possible way.

Once the event is over, “Peace Journey” plans to produce a documentary film from the material collected in the course of the journey, depicting the cultural values of Africa. There are further plans to establish an African Youth Centre with a focus on African culture, in Addis Ababa where the journey starts and culminates.

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