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Harare International Festival of the Arts Under Way

The annual Harare International Festival of the Arts currently under way in the Zimbabwean capital gives the country's citizens a rare opportunity to sample performing and visual arts from all over the world. But while the festival has grown in stature, the country's economy worsens. As a result, fewer Zimbabweans can now attend the event.

The Harare International Festival of the Arts or Hifa is one of the most anticipated cultural events in Harare. Founded in 1999 by Zimbabwean concert pianist Manuel Bagorro the festival has grown each year.

But because of the country's economic problems not too many Zimbabweans can afford to go to the downtown Harare venues to see the events. This year, due to a serious fuel shortage even some of those who normally drive cannot make it. As a result, the audiences are now mostly made up of members of the expatriate community who have access to a special fuel facility. Some Zimbabweans feel that this problem could be solved by spreading the festival into the city's residential areas. Festival chairperson Angeline Kamba says decentralization of the festival is a long term goal.

"We are happening in a developing country and the resources are not easy to come by," Ms. Kamba says. "I really would love to see that kind of decentralization so that the people in Chitungwiza can see what we are all about the people in Mbare can see what we are all about. We do need to decentralize but its still a young infrastructure, give us time."

Ms. Kamba says because of Zimbabwe's much publicized political problems it is not so easy to attract foreign artists. There are cases of some pulling out after committing themselves. But, she adds, those who do come are always pleasantly surprised.

"A number of artists are in the first place a little bit hesitant; Zimbabwe that country we read about where things are not all that good but the wonderful thing is that when they get here they see you and me and we are perfectly normal people not just normal but we are reaching out, we are saying, hey come and do things with us and things change," Ms. Kamba says. "I agree that governments must be held accountable but I don't think you should punish institutions and private initiatives particularly if they are intended for social transformation and for uplifting of people's spirits. I think we must be supported, but it's hard, it is hard, it's tough."

Politics did stop the festival from happening in 2002 because it would have taken place during the campaign for the presidential elections and because of the violence that plagued the 2000 parliamentary campaign, the organizers decided not to take a chance.

The festival does give local artists a chance to showcase their talents. Chiwoniso Maraire is one of Zimbabwe's leading mbira - thumb piano - players. She sees Hifa as an opportunity not just to perform but also to interact with foreign artists.

"I think that what's more important at Hifa for local artists is not to look too much at the performance and look more at being able to meet other artists and to be involved in the workshops and if you are asked to come over and perform yes come over and perform but I think that we should be focusing more as artists [about] watching the artists who have come in from outside of the country and seeing what we learn from them, lighting, sound, presentation on stage. These are the the kind of things I look at when I come to Hifa," Mr. Maraire says.

In addition to local artists, those who can make it to this year's Hifa can choose musical performances, theater, dance and visual arts from places as diverse as Angola, Brazil, England, The Netherlands, Mali, Nigeria and Norway.