WHEN FESPAD TURNED INTO A WETPAD
The combined opinion yesterday at the Amahoro National Stadium was that ‘Someone Somewhere’ was responsible for the complete washout, in fact blowout of the opening ceremony as it was just about to start, when a hailstorm of biblical proportions unloaded its icy cargo and unleashed nature’s full wrath on the city of Kigali.
The VIP section and the stands at the stadium had started to fill up, the bands and choirs were rehearsing and the performers did their warm ups on the pitch or near the stands, with everyone enjoying a music filled funfair atmosphere and getting into gear with clapping and chanting along when popular local songs were aired.
The decorations reflected the heritage and traditions of Rwanda, The Land of a Thousand Hills and even the normally stern and reserved presidential security detail on site and ready for President Kagame’s arrival were seen tapping their feet to the sounds of music or in some cases even making, albeit carefully concealed, moves with their bodies, clearly also enjoying this assignment of keeping their principal safe.
And then mother nature struck, and struck hard, as the approaching dark clouds suddenly seemed to accelerate as if rushing to reach the stadium, then staying put above and starting to unleash a cargo of heavy rain and hail alongside gale force winds. Everyone who could from the stands scrambled to safety of indoors, others hid under the stages on the pitch while others yet rushed up the VIP stand hoping for a dry spot but were still soaked when the storm blew the rain horizontally around the stadium ring, lashing all and sundry still out with rain drops and small fingertip sized hailcorns.
The covers of the main stage were literally shredded away if not ripped and blown off altogether, exposing the equipment to the elements and Cobra Productions will probably count their losses as by the estimate of many not much of the amplifiers, speakers and conduit cabinets could have survived this storm and be used another day again.
(From left to right a sequence of the storm, at first onset, then at almost full strength and then, with hailcorns flying and gale force winds the view across the stadium was totally obscured)
Performers as well as spectators were united in expressing their regrets for the hard work put in by the staff of the Rwanda Development Board and their colleagues from the Ministry of Culture, who had spent countless days, and the last few nights working nonstop to get everything right for the opening salvo of FESPAD 2013. One cannot be sure, considering the rain and the soaked hair, but at least almost certain that some of the RDB staff in fact shed tears when the destruction became fully evident after the storm had moved on, with decorations annihilated, costumes wrecked, the stages seriously damaged and who knows what equipment was still serviceable for future occasions.
(A view of the centre stage, canopy blown off and equipment covers torn and shredded)
But such is the indefatigable spirit of Rwanda, that in the face of adversity those responsible for FESPAD promptly stood together and announced that a smaller and revised version of the opening ceremony would be held on Sunday afternoon, in lieu if the planned city tour of Kigali for participants, invited guests and the media, in the Petit Stade under roof, serving notice to the elements that they may have been temporarily down but never out, and up again within a day as one put it ‘…the show must go on. This is a terrible set back but inspite of losing decorations our spirit is high, we are Rwandan, we do not give up, we take the challenge and FESPAD will shine for the rest of the week. It was force majeure but we will meet that challenge and tomorrow a ceremony will still take place, a bit different, maybe a bit smaller because the main stadium could take up to 30.000 people and the indoor stadium has less seats, but we will prevail. We worked very hard to bring FESPAD here and make the continent of Africa proud of us and we will not disappoint our participants, our Rwandan compatriots and you from the media’.
Indeed, within hours of the aborted opening ceremony it was known that Sunday afternoon would see a fresh effort go underway by 15.00 hrs, and this time for sure it will unfold and another story be told another day of how the Rwandan spirit, shown earlier in the day during ‘Umuganda’ has once again prevailed and triumphed. Watch this space.