It is five years of Cultural Tourism Week
Each year for the past five years, Red Rocks has been organizing a series of events under the umbrella of Cultural Tourism Week, which act as curtain raiser to baby gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita Izina.
These events bring together tourism industry players, safari tourists, and local community who converge at the Musanze based establishment to not only network but also debate ways through which each person should be responsible or conserving the environment among other salient social, cultural and environmental issues.
Now in its fifth edition, the unique Cultural Tourism Week has brought about positive gains to Musanze communities by using tourism as a tool for conflict resolution, organisers say. This is done by bringing together tourism, conservation and the local community to take part in activities that promote sustainable development.
Perhaps, this explains why the tourism department at the Rwanda Development Board has endorsed this annual event as a curtain raiser for Kwita Izina, the annual baby gorilla naming and conservation ceremony.
“The Cultural Tourism Week is an ideal networking opportunity for civil society organizations, tourism industry players, policy makers and government officials, considering that the event attracts a sophisticated audience that appreciates our commitment to realizing sustainable community development through cultural tourism and conservation,” says Greg Bakunzi, founder of Red Rocks Rwanda Intercultural Centre.
When visiting the centre last year in November, the Minister of Sports and Culture Minister Julienne Uwacu said Red Rock’s initiatives such as the Cultural Tourism Week needs to be fully supported and improved to increase the country’s level of tourism and environmental conservation development.
“We really appreciate all that has been done so far, especially the spirit of working together with the local community… But as we discussed with the owner of this business, there’s a lot to improve. The conception of this village and the exhibits should be improved, and the information they give out to different visitors needs to be
written and also well-explained,” she told the media.
From its inception, Cultural Tourism Week has scored incredible success in creating awareness not only in promoting cultural values but also in environmental conservation, values that Red Rocks strongly advocate for, according to Bakunzi.
He adds that it’s because of its significance in these areas that Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has become to recognize the week-long event as a curtain raiser to Kwita Izina.
The Cultural Tourism Week has progressively grown big since its establishment, and organizers have been looking for ways through which they can adapt to this changing complexion. For instance, they have been looking for like-minded partners to partner with so that this event becomes even bigger in magnitude.
“The Tourism Cultural Week was established in line with Red Rock’s goal of contributing to tourism development, cultural heritage preservation and environmental conservation. And so far, we’re happy with the progress it has made to achieve our objectives and goals,” says Baakunzi
He adds that another major factor that largely contributed to the idea of starting the event was that Kwita Izina, a big event in Rwanda tourism calendar, had no other activities that would help to promote it.
It is for this reason, Bakunzi says, that Red Rocks grabbed the chance to take advantage of the prominence of Kwita Izina to help in marketing its cultural, tourism and conservation efforts, the key pillars that he says eventually trickle down to community development.
“This is our strategy to promote what we have, what we intend to do and what Red Rocks stands for in terms of intercultural exchange, sustainable community development and environmental conservation,” he says.
During this event, they always invite professionals and conservationists and other tourism industry players and local community to come to the center and engage in healthy debates on cultural tourism preservation and “how we can preserve our culture and benefit from it.”
For instance, some of the activities lined up for this year’s event include conservation and community tourism development debates, the “gorilla marathon”, “gorilla nights”, visits to cultural centres and markets around Musanze, as well as exhibition of locally-made art pieces, among others.
These events are created to raise awareness about Rwanda’s rich cultural heritage, and act as forum through which the community can interact in order to set agenda for its development.
Hassan Nkurunziza has worked at Red Rocks Rwanda almost since its inception, and has actively taken part in Cultural Tourism Week.
He says from its infancy, he has seen this event grow to become a big event it is now, which is not only recognized within the local community but also the country at large, and internationally.
“When it started, even the locals themselves were hesitant to participate because they were little bit cagey about what it was all about. But through sensitization, we have now a big event that draws people from all over the country, and visitors from all corners of the world,” he says.
Nkurunziza adds the most important thing Rwanda Cultural Week has managed to achieve is promotion of Rwandan culture through cultural activities and debates that are normally carried out during the week-long event.
“A person can’t run away from his past. It’s our unique culture that binds us, but when we don’t preserve it, then it means we are going to be a divided community with no sense of direction. I’m happy that Rwanda Cultural Week has helped many people to reflect on the beauty of their culture, and discuss ways through which it can be preserved,
despite the fact that modern society is going through radical social and cultural changes, some of which are destructive in nature to our esteemed heritage,” he adds.
Flozi Abdul, one of the youths employed by Red Rocks to fulfill its different goals, and has been part of this event for four years now, says at first there were few people attending it but now the number has tremendously increased.
“It’s like the story of the Cinderella who didn’t know the extent of her beauty, and was just waiting for a Prince Charming to come rescue her. The local community has now been empowered to know each one of them has particular skill he or she can use to climb above his or her current station in life,” says Abdul.
However, despite the gains achieved since its inception, Bakunzi admits that there are challenges they faced, and still face to make the whole idea a total success.
“During the initial stages, the local community couldn’t see the whole benefit, which has changed now, and that’s why their participation has increased. But we have a big challenge of access to market, where we can help them sell their cultural products not only locally but internationally.
He says getting partners to participate in the programmes has also been a major challenge, but he hastens to add that the future is promising for Rwandan Cultural Week, for they are determined to initiate more programs, liaise with like-minded individuals and engage more with the local community to ma