The pre-dissertation research I undertook this summer in Rwanda focused on the construction of a tourism sector in the country as it continues to recover from the war and genocide of the 1990s, and the uses to which that sector puts Rwanda’s natural and cultural heritage, including the difficult heritage of genocide. As my first period of research in Rwanda, this summer’s fieldwork was intended to identify sites, topics, and actors of interest to that subject which hold promise for future work, to orient myself in the country and begin studying the language, and to obtain the necessary affiliations that are a prerequisite for receiving a research permit in future years.
I focused on participant observation as a method of research. I traveled extensively throughout the country to see and experience the tourism and heritage infrastructure firsthand; I took tours of many sites, spoke with tour guides, tourism professionals, and tourist visitors, and identified which places, people and organizations would be of most interest and relevance to future work. To this end, I visited five of the six national genocide memorials—Gisozi, Murambi, Bisesero, Nyamata, and Ntarama; the sixth, Nyarubuye, I was unable to visit due to inaccessibility and lack of private transportation, but hope to reach it next year. I also visited Nyungwe and Akagera National Parks; the third, Volcanoes, I plan to visit next summer. The INMR also runs several cultural heritage sites—the Presidential Palace Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the King’s Palace Museum, the National Art Gallery, and the National Ethnographic Museum—which I was able to visit.
During the trip, I identified the main tour organizations and government agencies on the ground whose work will be most relevant to my research, established which organizations are associated with which sites and kinds of tourism, and observed the different angles organizations take in their approach to Rwanda’s heritage. I was able to familiarize myself with the range of options presented to tourists in Rwanda, and began to gain an understanding of the tourism infrastructure in the country, how it functions in practice, the types of tourists in the country and how they experience the sites. I also began learning Kinyarwanda, which I hope to continue studying at Stanford this year with the help of the Center for African Studies.