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Cultural Tourism Can Rake in Millions of Dollars

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Seated under a tree shade, Daphne Umwiza, 35, has her head bent, with eyes narrowed to small black and white beads she is fitting on a piece of thread. What she is trying to put together is a traditional Rwandan necklace.

Just a few meters away is a brick building housing her shop; it is host to hand crafted jewellery—hand bags, mats, and interior design material, all neatly placed in shelves. There are price tags on each of them, which range from Rwf5000 to 100,000.

All her creations manifest cultural craftsmanship yet maintain contemporary touch. Her Kimihurura-based shop on the outskirt of Kigali attracts about 20 clients every day, most of whom are tourists or expatriate workers living in Rwanda. Her works have featured at various international fashion exhibitions.

In a society where almost everyone is obsessed with everything foreign, Umwiza has been able to preserve and sell the country’s culture and heritage through items as small as jewellery.

Her works are evidence that the country’s history, culture can be told not only through mainstream media, but also through things as ordinary as artifacts.

In recent years, government through various mediums has tried to market some of the country’s cultural aspects in a bid to increase its chances of becoming a tourist destination.

For instance, in December last year, authorities in Nyanza District in Southern Province introduced an annual festival aimed at not only preserving but also showcasing the country’s cultural values and heritage.

The annual event, known as Nyanza Twataramye, is a joint initiative by Nyanza District, the Ministry of Sports and Culture (Minispoc), Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the National Institute of Museums of Rwanda.

The one day event involves performances like poetry, playing games, preparation of traditional Rwandan cuisine, among other things all which depict how Rwandan ancestors lived a fulfilling life.

Nyanza is the country’s former capital and is home to the official residence of the country’s last monarch, Umwami.

A lot more has been done, like fielding a representative for Miss Heritage, an annual international beauty pageant that gives women opportunity to showcase some of the most important cultural features their countries have. The initiative launched in 2012, saw Rwanda participate last year, and is expected do so this year too.

Quite similarly, some developments in recent years have also helped increase global exposure to some of the country’s cultural and heritage aspects, improving its chances of becoming a cultural tourism haven.

One of them is the recent decision by the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to add four genocide memorial sites in Rwanda to the list of World Heritage Sites. These, which include the main memorial venue in Kigali and other upcountry ones like Ntarama, Murambi and Bisesero, are not only significant in the remembrance of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, one of the worst in human history, but also to tell the World what really transpired.

However, a lot still needs to be done, much of it on individual basis, if the country will ever become a cultural/heritage tourism harbor.

We need to abandon the usual thinking that traditions are archaic and no longer relevant. It is important to understand that exploring cultural heritage offers a robust variety of benefits like employment, since some people can work as guides, consultants, besides the revenue collected.

The country should go beyond being known as a land of a thousand hills and gorilla haven just. There is need to create other platforms that tell more about the country’s history, mythology, archaeology and tradition generally.

Besides the good job being done by the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (INMR), there is also need to see civil society members take part in research aimed at identifying, protecting and promoting heritage sites like ruins, caves and rocks.

We can also get our culture preserved and marketed through aspects as small as photography, books, art or just the way we dress or eat.

The Government on its part, can sponsor study trips to some countries like Egypt that have successfully managed to sell themselves as cultural tourist centres, so that lessons acquired can be applied locally.

Egypt received 14.7 million tourists in 2010 alone and earned about $12.5 billion in revenue from the visitors. Its main attractions are millennia-old pyramids, temples and mosques.

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