BEYOND WILDLIFE: the Presentation of National Heritage Assets as Tourism Packages in Rwanda

HeritageForAll – Global Collaborations Program (2017)

By Mr. David NKUSI (

Mr. David is from Rwanda. He is working as a heritage site manager at Institute of National Museums of Rwanda/INMR. He has M.A. in Heritage Management as well as holding a bachelor in Philosophy and History. He has an extensive experience about six years in the museums and heritage sites management. Moreover, he has a great experience about four years as an author with New Times Rwanda on culture, history, museums, and heritage sites.

The Traditional Royal Cows “Inyambo” ©INMR


There is this new fleeting experience in tourism industry that demands the past to be packaged for public consumption. Heritage and cultural values to be experienced are very important because they provide a way of looking at the world, people and things. The presentation and management of cultural assets (museums and sites) as destinations worth visiting rests primarily on communicating its significance and need for its conservation to both the host community and visitors. This brings with it a duty of respect for the heritage values, interests and equity of the present-day host community, indigenous custodians or owners of historic property and for the landscapes and cultures from which that heritage evolved. Minus this, there shall be a witnessed real crisis of valuable sites loosing precious attributes that are in essence motivational forces for destination landing.


Located in central/eastern Africa, Rwanda sits few degrees south of the equator, bordered by Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the west, Uganda in the north, Kenya in the east, Tanzania in south-east, and Burundi in the south (Wikipedia, the geography of Rwanda). The country came into the limelight for a dubious reason of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, committed by one section of society (Hutu majority) inspired by government to wipe out the ethnic Tutsi minority. It was unimaginable horror that for some reason that had deep roots from the colonial setting; this came in with new practices of selective administration bound to ethnic tribes. At the time, they imposed a system of identity cards with a labeled individual classification of Tutsi, Hutu or Twa. Further still, the cards prohibited any sort of movement between classes and distinctively put the tribes astray; something that was unheard of, in the past, before the advent of colonial intrusion. The prior classification of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa was traditionally occupational rather than ethnic.

Post-Genocide Era

Undoubtedly, the debris of the1994 genocide against the Tutsi had gruesome effects. The whole country was brought down to ashes and buried with no hopes of rising up again. However, with the stoppage of genocide and final defeat of the genocidal regime, the country was liberated. Many observers thought that the war was over. Yes, the gun battle was, but to those at a close stance or who keenly took interest in what was happening in Rwanda, understood that the war was far from ending, but had only changed phases- the real struggle was rebuilding the vanished nation. This started with the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) 19th/07/1994. The GNU began a difficult task of reconstructing the country from scratch. It was a long process of socio-economic facelift because the entire economy had been totally destroyed or looted by the fleeing genocidal forces. National reconciliation became a necessary evil to restore internal security, strengthening judicial systems, repatriation and resettlement of refugees and displaced persons (IMF, 2000:7).

To the mainstreaming sense, the role of culture became central, vital and basic for human psychological survival in such emergency situations for a post disastrous country like Rwanda at the time. It was therefore necessary and deservedly fitting for it to be treated on a higher plain as it defined who Rwandans are regardless of where one came from. Now, faced with such demanding tasks and in cognizant of the cultural value embedded within intangible and tangible heritage, the government of Rwanda had to step back into the past to draw aspirations that could help solve the socio-economic and political quagmire at the time. This outstandingly received varying degree of attention, protection and management strategically underlined to conserve and disseminate the country’s national treasures.

To this effect, the government underwent a major initiative in establishing museums and developing identified heritage sites. And this, in the end resulted into the creation of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (INMR), purposefully to collect, preserve, and research and outmost present Rwandese past and present cultural and natural national heritage.

As part of national project that places regional museums in different provinces of Rwanda, INMR has taken a mile stone in promoting cultural heritage to increase regional tourism. The institute now boosts of well established museums located in at least each of the five provinces of the country; in Kigali city (As part of national project that places regional museums in different provinces of Rwanda, INMR has taken a mile stone in promoting cultural heritage to increase regional tourism. The institute now boosts of well established museums located in at least each of the five provinces of the country; in Kigali city (Kandt Museum, Presidential Palace Museum, & Campaign Against Genocide Museum), Southern province Southern province (King’s Palace Museum, National Art Gallery & Ethnographic Museum), The National Liberation Park Museum in the Northin the North, and Museum of Environment in the Westin the West. Each museum and heritage site has a unique cultural significance to tourism and the wildlife has long been essential part of traditional culture.

Tourism in Rwanda

Travelling has always been about discovery, learning and enjoyment. Moving from a native country to other specific destinations of choice is majorly as a result of having an impetus of bringing the world closer through meeting different cultures and the people. Getting to know what people think and what people do will always enchant a particular traveler into not a memorable but total experience. Currently, as a tourist destination, Rwanda is positioned largely around “safari-type” experiences and scenic natural environs which undisputedly constitute an integral part of the biodiversity of heritage resources. Much as the tourism industry is at a turning point with tremendous opportunities emerging, greater is being placed on the development wild life/nature. Tourism, as many people think stipulate what nature has to offer; namely, landscape, wild animals, flora and fauna and to some extent products not aligned to human creation. Yes, these are key tourist attractions one can vividly find. However, the role of culture and heritage has been the focus of much debate in the last two decades.

Rwanda has much more to offer as a cultural landscape endowed with a diverse wealth of exuberant heritage and cultural products in the form of the arts, crafts, festivals, oral history, storytelling and folklore, heritage sites, places of historical and cultural significance, archeological remains, paleontological evidence and geological formations. These are the very products highly desired by tourists. The culture in terms of lifestyles, the history, the art, architecture, and other elements, that make Rwanda what it is, ought to be fully developed and tapped well to bring a particular destination to life.

Umuganura Festive Week & Hands-on Experience ©INMR
Umuganura Festive Week & Hands-on Experience ©INMR

Cultural Heritage Tourism in Rwanda

The emergence of cultural heritage tourism world over is linked to a number of fundamental changes affirming today as not only the most treasured but also the most valuable possession. World over, heritage tourism is constantly changing in perception, policy and practice. Time and again, heritage assets have got a long tradition of attracting visitors, and they continue to be a powerful motivator in tourism journeys as they add character to a destination. As a matter of fact, studies show that a considerable number of heritage travelers stay longer and spend more money than other kinds of travelers. The presentations, therefore, of this global wealth of cultural traditions and history are among the principal motivations for travel and adventure. Majorly a number of tourists come seeking to engage with new cultures and experience a variety of performing arts, handicrafts, rituals and cuisines. And this cultural interaction spurred by such encounters prompts dialogue with total travel experiences.

Rwanda is a hidden gem in Africa with an amazing culture. The country has got rich culture, history and heritage. A trip to Rwanda is more than wildlife and the scenic view. The real face of the country is enshrined in the national heritage and culture. At present, in Rwanda, cultural affairs- with reference to home grown solutions (borrowed past traditions) have become part and parcel of the strategic development policies. The role of history, culture and heritage is indisputably strong imparting tool for teaching the values and beautifying (in terms of development) the land of a thousand hills, that was once (24) years ago brought to ashes. The country today has become a benchmark for sister countries in Africa and the entire globe. The brand image is changed, and Rwanda is becoming a destination of choice to many travelers.

The field of heritage education in Rwanda has progressively evolved and grown in importance. Credit is to the tune of a number of initiatives and events being carried out by the institute of National Museums of Rwanda in over the past ten years or so. Cultural interests continue to take form and stride through travel and adventure with an expression in the perception and experience of a given destination of choice.

Rwanda museums and in-situ sites that are worth visiting create and reproduce particular histories of a nation and mark occasions that constitute cultural heritage consciousness. These memories, if packaged well for visitors to come see, touch and feel, are of paramount importance to Rwandans in restoring normality and progress in boosting a broad based tourism industry.

The recognition of culture in creating and reinforcing people’s identity has, and is still playing a significant role in the growing interest of diverse aspects of heritage tourism. The global wave of travelling to meet and appreciate a main stream of cultures is the main “pull factor” that influences visitor’s initial decision to travel to destinations of choice in different parts of the world. And as for Rwanda and other countries globally, cultural heritage is important as our main source of self-expression and in the end self realization.

Food for Thought

Today, we are witnessing a sharp increase of public interest in the creative industries, globally. And this defiantly comes with an increasing demand of heritage assets to level and suit the desired experience to visitors. The question to this trend is how these assets are packaged in bid to provide quality services in a particular destination of choice.

  1. There is a timely need to facilitate and encourage those involved with heritage conservation and management (cultural institutions) to enable them make the significance of national heritage and make it accessible to the host communities and visitors.
  2. Facilitate and encourage the tourism industry and pertinent bodies to promote and manage tourism in ways that respect and enhance national heritage and living cultures whilst marketing.
  3. Facilitate and encourage dialogues between conservation interest groups and the tourism industry about the importance and fragile nature of heritage places, collections and living cultures including the need to achieve sustainability.
  4. Last but not the least, encourage those formulating plans and policies to develop detailed, measurable goals and strategies relating to the presentation and interpretation of heritage places and cultural activities, in the context of their preservation and conservation. It is only through a built and genuine appreciation for the aspirations and values of all parties that cultural heritage tourism can be assured of survival by fostering the responsibility in the use of this living heritage for tourism.

Broadly speaking, Rwanda’s tourism industry is expanding day and night. It’s no surprise that this is happening; it’s all about resilience, hard work and determination envisioned by the leaders in respected capacities championed by H.E Paul Kagame.

Throughout the country, better promotional efforts are required to bring cultural destinations to life. Through this, Rwanda as a country will be able to make sense of its identity and the world around.

Clearly today, there are many more pressing concerns to tackle. However, cultural heritage is not in essence outside the government agenda in promoting Rwandan culture and values. But the placement the psychological and physical aspects of culture into a broad based tourism industry can have a great impact in conserving and protecting of the national treasures. Total destination experiences can never be without meeting and interacting with native cultures (or local people); be it in Africa or elsewhere in the world. The definite experience is either to both mingle and interact with local communities physically or visit Museum collections exhibited or objects, in-situ heritage sites and the wildlife as well. Cultural assets like museums and sites are stewards of natural and cultural heritage in preserving the continuity of objects of importance to mankind nationally and at the global level.

By and large, just as other service sectors, Rwanda being a developing country, ought not to sit back at a time when cultural heritage tourism is the best avenue to market the country to the outside world. There should be an outmost need to continuously unveil her most hidden treasures that will enchant the discerning traveler. Unlike many other East African countries, Rwanda has got a unique history that the traveler can share in serenity. The country offers a robust array of natural and historic attractions that go beyond the beaten path of traditional East-Africa safari travel. The rich natural and cultural heritage need to be tapped and marketed well to the tune of attracting more travelers, and where meeting the people is as important as the scenery. As we witness this paradigm shift- a shift from museums that are object centered to visitor centered, it is amidst our reach and indeed urgent for museums to reach out their missions, strategic goals, and functions, to reflect the expectations of a changing tourism industry servic. Rwanda museums and other pertinent cultural bodies ought to continuously adapt the shifting conscience of society tending towards a broad based tourism industry. There would be no trip to Rwanda that would be complete with just visits to scenic beauty and wildlife. One of the most rewarding tourism experiences is taking people in and out to museums and sites; depicting a true representation of local communities for themselves to see what Rwanda was and is today. Visitors come because of the pristine nature of protected heritage assets like dances, museums, and heritage sites positioned in the country. Therefore, in order to ensure the huge and continuous flow of visitors, the integrity of these areas should be maintained and sustained with quality that levels with international standards.. And as a service industry, there is need for a service quality management model to build a culture of service quality and ensure total tourism experiences.

Looking at the historic buildings, monuments, archaeological and natural/cultural heritage sites, we have witnessed how cultural richness classified and diversified into crafts and dance, strong traditions does offer unique opportunities identified and exhibited in various museums across the country as valuable heritage assets. The culture in terms of lifestyles, the history, the art, architecture, religions and other elements need to be tapped and not sidelined as backup boost for the heritage and cultural tourism through activities exhibited in museums, and sites.

Well, it is evident that Rwanda lacks large industrial and other manufacturing experiences with a slow but certainly improving heritage education, it does not whatsoever negate the presence of this rich and diversified cultural heritage that is most probable an important resource available even though it has hardly been seen as a potential tourism resource in the past years.

Cultural heritage tourism products have the potential in contributing towards Rwanda’s economy. According to the INMR strategy document, government together with civil society has a responsibility to conserve and protect our culture and heritage for current and future generations. Simultaneously, government and civil society also have a responsibility to transmit and present our culture and heritage for social and economic development.

Different cultures and traditions are well traveled and experienced by visitors when mingled into tourism industry. The diversity of Rwanda’s cultural heritage in terms of language, customs and rituals, food and other traditions gives a fist hand experience to a visiting tourist. The wonders of Rwanda’s unique culture have flourished through her ability to face adversity, survive, adapt, prosper and excel. Surely, without hesitation, Rwanda is not short of the above but rather limited by unequal distribution of cultural and heritage resources. There is always a story to tell and a history to explore in every locality and this is what we need to look into if we are to boost tourism industry. Developing a strong link between tourism and culture is paramount to making different regions more attractive to pull in more various investors.

Cultural attractions that stir movements of persons from their normal place of residence, bringing in experiences that satisfy their cultural needs ought to be fully tapped for the development of tourism at local, regional and international levels. This is a critical moment in time to draw Rwanda’s attention to this forgotten resource; that with its continued absence, Rwanda will fail to grow to its full potential. The potential for tourism growth in Rwanda is significant. The country is well endowed with good weather, extensive cultural and natural attractions, wildlife and adventurous opportunities. The inclusion of the above elements all together will manifest a historic protest against tourism policies and stereotypes that sideline culture. We need to recognize this unique silent feature and if managed sustainably, Rwanda’s tourism industry can become world’s success story. At the national level, the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda- INMR on cultural preservation have, in particular, advocated the need to raise awareness of profound cultural heritage that lead to a reconstructed history, creativity, and identity to boost tourism sector in the country.


There is need for an integrated planning that gives equal weight to all stake holders. Besides this effort, tourism industry today in Rwanda will remain on the rocks because of lack of recognition of this vital element-culture. Promoting local cultures and traditions as well as preserving our heritage is paramount in protecting the various traditions and attributes from vanishing. Regardless to this, we shall be disseminating wrong signal of not living a shared past and cultural memory to coming generations. Cultural heritage is now attracting travelers where meeting the people is as important as the scenery. The best way to understand another culture is through firsthand experience, and this is the true value of tourist trade.


Books & Articles

  • Akama, J. & P. Sterry (ed.) (2000), Cultural Tourism in Africa: Strategies for New the New Millennium, Proceedings of the ATLAS Africa International Conference, Mombasa, Kenya.
  • Ardouin, D.C. & Arinze, E. (ed.) (1995), Museums and the Community in West Africa, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.
  • Ardouin, D.C (ed) (1995), Museums and Archaeology in West Africa, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.
  • Callegari, F. (2003), Sustainable Development Prospects for Italian Coastal Cultural Heritage: a Ligurian Case Study, Journal of Cultural Heritage 4, pp. 49-56
  • Pearce, D. G. & Tan, R. (2004), Distribution Channels for Heritage and Cultural Tourism in New Zealand, Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 9(3), pp.225-237
  • Halewood, C. & Kevin, H. (2001), Viking Heritage Tourism, Annals of Tourism Research, 28 (3), pp. 565-580,
  • Laws, E. (1998), Conceptualizing Visitor Satisfaction Management in Heritage Settings: an Exploratory Blue Printing Analysis of Leeds Castle, Kent, Annals of Tourism Research, 19 (6), pp. 545-554.
  • Poria, Y., Butler, R. & David, A. (2003), The Core of Heritage Tourism, Annals of Tourism Research, 30(1), pp 238-254.
  • Poria, Y., Reichel, A. & Avital, B. (2006), Heritage Site Management, Annals of Tourism Research, 33 (1), pp 162-178
  • Republic of Rwanda, Ministry of Culture and Sports (2008), Policy on Cultural Heritage.

Online Sources

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