By Karl-Chris R. Nsabiyumva
This whole topic was triggered a few weeks ago by my buddy who he accused me of not being a patriot (I thought I’d made it clear I’m not), as I criticised how Burundians tend to get overly emotional when talking about Burundi as a touristic destination; not showing much originality referring to things like “White Sand Beaches” (which aren’t actually white, but yellow-ish – white sand beaches may be found on the Coasts of Tanzania and Kenya); the Mwishanga waterfalls (which are nothing compared to the Victoria Falls of Zimbabwe); the Musée Vivant (one moment of silence *wipes a tear*); the park of the Rusizi (merely a forest next to a river in which hippos can be spotted playing, occasionally); the source of the Nile (really? *wipes another tear* and please fine whoever decided to build a pyramid on top of the tiny stream for ‘lack of originality’); and I don’t know what… I was saying that all these things that we call “beautiful” and “unique” aren’t really worth the expensive plane tickets that tourists would have to pay (and the different inconveniences like poor service, they’d have to bear with) to see them. There are so many cheaper (and better organised) alternatives out there! Like seriously!
But since I’m not a total a*hole that does nothing but criticise Burundi and Burundians (really, I’m not), I had to prove my goodwill by showing that there are other ways we would turn Burundi into a tourist-worthy destination. Therefore, here is my list (in no particular order of “execution” really) of things I would do to promote Burundi, if I were the Minister of Tourism…
One: reorganise the Ministry
The first thing I’d do would be to ask the President of the Republic to give me the Culture Department. I actually don’t understand why Tourism and Culture are not under the same Ministry (unless Tourism is just about the beaches and the rivers and the parks); and what ‘Industry’ is doing with Tourism… anyway…
Two: promote Burundi to Burundians
I think it’s quite funny how we (Burundians) are expected to promote a country we almost know nothing about… for real! Most of the Burundians I’ve met have only visited their parents’ villages, outside their hometowns; many have only heard of (not good stories) the Kibira forest; others do not know about the beautiful lowlands in the East, home to Burundians that speak another amazing variant of Kirundi; and I bet that very few would be able to explain the historical meaning behind the name of the province of Kirundo… I can also bet that this is the first time many of you reading this article, hear this local hit tune…
Burundi (or at least the good side of it) is unknown to Burundians, and I believe that the first thing that needs to be done is cultivate us (a friend told me I shouldn’t be speaking of Burundians in the third person, as I am one) about our “attractions”, our history and our culture; and encourage us to know our country first before asking us to tell foreigners about it!
If I were the Minister of Tourism, I’d flood the TV with documentaries about Burundi; I’d make sure clubs and radio stations play more local than foreign music (well, after investing in the improvement of the quality of local productions); I’d commission the production of local sitcoms and movies, promote Burundian literature, revive our textile industry and encourage local creators… To be brief, I would rub Burundi in Burundians’ faces!
Three: Encourage creativity in the way we promote our attractions
Let’s take Lake Tanganyika as an example… So our beaches aren’t the whitest in the World; but it’s actually quite rare to find inland natural sandy beaches. Second, Tanganyika is the second deepest Lake in the World (the first in Africa), meaning that it could be home to (and it is) to some rather interesting and unique biodiversity. Let’s go ahead and talk about that then. Let us also mention how awesome it is to swim in a fresh water lake; I’m sure we’d find thousands of people who, like me, prefer that to swimming in the salty sea waters (I HATE sea water!). And I’m sure we could find some specialist to claim that fresh water – which also includes all the other lakes, the rivers, the thermal waters of Rutana, Rumonge and I don’t know where – are good to treat some diseases; meaning people could open Spas and specialised professional treatment places.
It isn’t just enough to say that our country and our people are beautiful; to be interesting, they need to be beautiful in a useful manner, if this makes sense. I.e. we need to invest in infrastructures where organisations can hold retreats and meetings; in hiking trails and camping sites (with a Burundian twist?); in aquatic (safe i.e. mind the crocodiles, and the hippos) activities for the lovers of water; ask to host regional and international events (forcing at least some people to come here); make sure beautiful people are all we see on TV, billboards, magazines… advertise all this and people will want to come!
Four: specialise in something
So we have beautiful people; but Rwanda has those too (and they have Gorillas; and a “super-IT-city” *sigh*)… Hence we have to specialise in something… What are we good at? The first thing that comes to my mind is our drumming…
I’d have a proper sanctuary built in Gishora with a whole Museum dedicated to the History of the drum – not just the Burundian drum, but the African drum (why not all the drums of the World?). Right next to it I’d commission the construction of an African music academy and bring music and dance specialists from all over the World to teach, well, African music and art. Plus this blends so well with the laid-back-fun-loving attitude often attributed to Burundians! Oh, and Gitega is considered Burundi’s reggae and Rasta-movement capital! I already see this working so well!
We could also specialise in food! I’ve heard our food (cooked or non-cooked) tastes great; plus we also serve dishes (of fish) that cannot be found anywhere else in the World (well, except in DRC, west-coast Tanzania and North Zambia) like the Mukeke; so let’s put those forward! Let’s start a chain of Burundian (and African) cuisine restaurants, a bit like Rwanda has Bourbon – wait, I almost forgot we have awesome coffee that we can market too!
Five: Build museums… of everything, everywhere!
I would start by renovating the Palais des Arts et de la Culture (first thing I would do is get rid of the ugly barbed wire fence, argh). That building itself is a piece of art! I would turn it into the main venue of the Burundian culture scene by turning the main room into a proper theatre – with comfy chairs, a proper stage with proper light and sound systems – or maybe it’d be better not to fix permanent chairs in it; so that it can still be turned say, into an art gallery? (but no more “Egyptian products” exhibitions please! They can find other places for those) I don’t know; we’ll go with the best option. I’d also have a few more theatres built all over the country…
I’d have the former royal palace that is the Palais du 1er Novembre renovated and turned into a “Political History Museum”. I know this sounds unusual, but when you think about it, everything that has happened in our country has been influenced by how messed up (or not?) our politics have been. I feel like it wouldn’t be a bad idea to share a few facts and stories about where we’ve been (from the time of Kings – and how the kingdom political system worked) to where we are. A friend told me once that, despite the problems, Burundi is one of the very few African countries whose former Heads of State (and opposition leaders) are not in exile somewhere in the World but are actually sitting in the Senate (speaking of the Presidents), ALIVE – maybe this could be one of the highlights of the museum? Wait, we could make it the “Democracy Museum” talking about how Democracy has evolved through time and all over the World; then we’d have a special room for Burundi… Hmm
I’d turn the former Royal Palace of Gitega into an extension of the National history museum which would expose visitors to so many facts about Burundi, like how it’s one of the very few countries in the WORLD where all the people share one (rather rich and complex) language and one culture; how our society was so well organised it impressed the coloniser that he decided not to merge us with other countries (Rwanda is basically another Burundi); how our Kings fought and defeated other powerful monarchs (Shaka Zulu, I heard) and enslavers; how Burundians already believed in and worshipped one invisible God – Imana (somebody tell the people in the “Hidden Colours” documentary that we DO have an “African” word for “God”) – even before the advent of Christianity… I’d make sure that all these facts and stories (and many more) are put in books and on websites for the entire World to see!
There are SO MANY UNIQUE THINGS that this country has to offer, many of which I’m not even aware of and many of which can be created, if they can attract tourists (like do you really think traditional Rwandans used to hold ceremonies to name Gorillas? Seriously?); all we need is creative minds that can initiate and run these projects (and work on things like improvement of service delivery); it’s really not that hard, I think…
Oh well, let me step out of dreamland and get back to real life… I am not the Minister of Tourism; please bear with me. In fact I’d like to congratulate the current Minister of Tourism and her collaborators for the excellent job they have already done. They’ve done a lot of work to put good things about Burundi out there big time! God bless them!