All over the rich and vast continent of Africa, various events and festivals are held annually to showcase its rich and diverse culture. These events attracts visitors from all over the world and have become so popular they deserve a shout out. Tolulope Omotunde of AfrikDigest Magazine has selected 10 events and festivals out of the lot that may catch your fancy. Enjoy
Cairo International Book Fair
When: Last week of January
Where: Cairo, Egypt
The Cairo International Book Fair is not only the largest book fair in Africa but the second largest in the world (behind Frankfurt’s humongous event). Drawing more than two million visitors each year, this enormous literary celebration boasts multi-language lectures and readings across its three-week run. Attendees can also peruse aisles and aisles of stands selling titles across every genre imaginable. Far from your average book fair, Cairo International also has spectacular fireworks to keep the masses entertained.
Zanzibar International Film Festival
Where: Zanzibar, Tanzania
The Zanzibar International Film Festival (also known by its more catchy title, ZIFF) is eastern Africa’s largest film and arts fest. The nine-day event, which was founded in 1998, showcases the very best films and documentaries from across the continent through live screenings, workshops and guest speakers. Now the longest-running festival of its kind in the region, it has become a cultural touchstone, with thousands of tourists and locals attending every year. For movie buffs, it’s an absolute must.
Aké Arts and Books Festival
Where: Lagos, Nigeria
The Aké Arts and Books Festival is a four-day literary phenomenon with as much excitement and adventure as you would find in any best-seller. The annual event showcases the very best in contemporary African literature but also poetry, music, art, film, and theater. Each year focuses around a different theme (2018 was Fantastical Futures, for example) with events playing off that idea. The team behind the AABF put on a rich and varied calendar with book chats, concerts, panels, and plays a part of this hugely significant African lit fest.
The Cape Town Festival of Beer
When: Late November to early December
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
The Cape Town Festival of Beer is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest beer fest with more than 200 drinks on offer from 60 different breweries. The three-day festival offers a chance for micro- and macro-breweries to present their creations to the public while celebrating everything to do with the age-old drink. Great brews are mixed with a heady concoction of entertainment such as live music, live rugby, excellent food stalls, and more. Awards are also dished out with categories including best lager, best cider, and best specialty beer.
Umhlanga Reed Dance
When: Last week in August
Where: Eludzidzini, Swaziland
Each year, more than 40,000 Swazi maidens unite for a spectacular dance extravaganza called the Umhlanga Reed Dance, a centuries-old tribute to the Queen Mother. The gorgeous spectacle sees the female participants don vibrant costumes and perform songs and dances as they deliver reed to the Royal Residence. As a highly important event in the Swazi calendar, the Umhlanga Reed Dance is closed to tourists for most of the week. However, the final two days of the ceremony are open to the public. Spectators can dance along (as best they can) or throw money as a sign of respect.
Where: In-Gall, Niger
The Gerewol Festival is an astounding male beauty contest packed with ornate costumes, rhythmic dancing, and elaborate make-up. The annual courtship ritual sees eligible bachelors of the nomadic Wodaabe Fula people compete for the attentions of young women. While the dance (yaake) is the most famous part of the gerewol, the men also take part in hotly contested competitions such as camel racing over the week-long event. Thanks to international media coverage the meeting at In-Gall has become a tourist favourite, but other gerewols take place in Chad and even northern Cameroon and Nigeria.
Fes Festival of World Sacred Music
When: Late May or early June
Where: Fes, Morocco
An enchanting celebration of diversity, the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music plays hosts to musicians from every corner of the planet. One day you might be listening to the haunting medleys of an Irish folk song, the next a lively salsa from Cuba. The 10-day festival takes place across the city with venues including the Dar Batha Museum and its beautiful gardens, the Bab Makina Palace courtyard, and the Roman ruins of Volubilis. Aside from music, there are seminars, art exhibitions, plus some entertainment for children.
Lake of Stars
Where: Lake Malawi, Malawi
Founded by British tourist Will Jameson in 2004, Lake of Stars is a music festival with its roots firmly in the European tradition (but without the need for Wellington boots). The three-day extravaganza, which attracts around 4,000 people a year, hosts big international acts while providing a stage in front of the world’s media for local talent. Perhaps most spectacular of all, however, is its setting. Eschewing the muddied turf of British festivals, the event takes place on the shores of Lake Malawi, a glittering beauty and the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world.
The Great Wildebeest River Crossing
When: Begins in June
Where: Mara River, Tanzania
One of nature’s greatest spectacles, The Great Wildebeest River Crossing of the Mara River is an adrenaline-fuelled display. Thousands of wildebeest and other migrating animals attempt to cross the waterway’s crocodile-rich waters in an attempt to reach the lush land on the other side. It’s thrilling and heartbreaking in equal measures. Many will make it across and survive another year, while some will be dragged under by the apex predators. However, you won’t be able to predict the exact date of the river crossing (the wildebeest are wild after all), but it should begin around late June hitting a peak in July.
Timkat – Feast of Epiphany
Where: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
One of the most important dates in the Ethiopian religious calendar, Timkat celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. Christians from all over the country descend on the capital to witness a re-enactment and take part in winding processions, dance to music, and to pray together. The streets of Addis Ababa are beautifully decorated with green, red, and yellow to represent the Ethiopian flag while priests march along them sheltered by beautifully ornate umbrellas.