Art centre in Goma defies war

February 2009 -

The town of Goma in Eastern Congo seems to have the odds against it. In 2002 it got partly destroyed after the eruption of the Nyaragongo volcano. In the past months it has been surrounded by rebels. In spite of all that, the Katondolo brothers are still running a cultural centre.


Sekombi in front of Yolé Africa. Photo: Arne Doornebal

We pass through a street full of stinking, black volcanic mud. Suddenly, we have reached the place. "Welcome to Yolé Africa", says Sekombi Katondolo (26). Bypassing the stage, we enter the building where some people get introduced briefly. They call themselves the Katondolo brothers: Sekombi, Emma Katya, Petna and Modogo. While the lava was still hot and Goma had started rebuilding, the brothers founded Yolé. "The youth was completely abandoned here, there was nothing to do for them. There are places in town where youth can go and learn a profession, but there was nothing for in case they wanted to become a musician or a film maker", says Sekombi.

Yolé Africa was a bustling place, six months ago. Some days the modern dance group practiced, or there were debates and creative art workshops going on. Films and music were produced. On Sundays, there was the cine club and youths could follow painting workshops in the center that was subsidized by Cordaid. "But now our funding has stopped, and since rebels are surrounding Goma we did not manage to get new funding yet", says Petna. He has become quite a well-known film maker over the years. A project to bring music-sessions to the enormous refugee camps around Goma could not be established.

In October 2008 Goma was nearly invaded by the rebel forces of general Laurent Nkunda. But he stopped short of attacking the city. Although Nkunda was arrested on January 22, 2009 by Rwandan troops, several armed groups are still active around Goma. Petna: "Everything you buy in Goma is expensive, because the rebels raise tax on all imports that pass through their area." Within a few months the Katondolo brothers saw most activities in the centre disappear. "Now we only do activities which hardly cost any money", says Petna. "Debating, playing music, dancing. The beamer is still there, so we continue showing films. But music performances outside seem to be impossible at the moment, just like our painting workshops. We've ran out of paint."