ROYAL TOUR: Selling Rwanda on bare feet

Saturday May 5 2018

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (right), jet

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (right), jet skiing with award-winning American investigative reporter and producer Peter Greenberg in Lake Kivu. PHOTO | RWANDA PRESIDENCY 

By EDMUND KAGIRE
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The new documentary film Rwanda: The Royal Tour, is the talk of the town.

The one-hour film features President Paul Kagame showcasing key attractions, and tour operators are optimistic his efforts to promote Rwanda will go a long way in making the country a destination of choice for high-end tourists from Western countries.

President Kagame, known for his tough persona and no nonsense character, lets his guard down and engages in a candid discussion with the award-winning American investigative reporter and producer Peter Greenberg — who produced the documentary.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (right) cycling

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (right) cycling with American investigative reporter and producer Peter Greenberg during the filming of "Rwanda: The Royal Tour" documentary. PHOTO | RWANDA PRESIDENCY

It is the fourth in his Royal Tour television travel series, which features heads of state giving viewers a personal tour of their country.

President Kagame and Greenberg visit Rwanda’s tourist attractions — from Mountain Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park in the north of the country, to the lush green savannahs of Akagera National Park in Eastern Province.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame with American

Rwandan President Paul Kagame with American investigative reporter and producer Peter Greenberg during the filming of "Rwanda: The Royal Tour" documentary. PHOTO | RWANDA PRESIDENCY

In one scene, a barefooted Kagame is seen leading Greenberg to board jet skis on the shores of Lake Kivu before the duo head onto a thrilling water-splashing ride in the lake which straddles the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo border, to check out a methane gas extraction project and local fishing activities.

At one point Greenberg asks what would happen if they accidentally crossed the maritime border into DRC, and President Kagame jokes that they would both have a few explanations to make.

The film was released on April 26 on Public Broadcasting Service in the US, with screenings in Chicago and New York. It was then screened in Kigali — on Rwanda Television and at a public broadcast organised by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

Rwandan President Paul Kagame with American

Rwandan President Paul Kagame with American investigative reporter and producer Peter Greenberg during the filming of "Rwanda: The Royal Tour" documentary. PHOTO | RWANDA PRESIDENCY

Rwandans took to social media after the two screenings to express their appreciation to the president.

“It is not so often that we see President Kagame as relaxed as he was in the documentary. It showed us a side of his we did not know much about,” said Nicole Umulinga, who watched the documentary during the RTV broadcast on Friday and the Saturday public screening.

Indeed, for many, the ease with which President Kagame took Greenberg, who is known by the moniker “The Travel Detective,” around the country, could prove vital for the country’s tourism sector.

Tourism sector

Rwanda has been trying to break the tourism sector’s over-dependency on mountain gorilla trekking, by introducing new attractions, such as the Congo Nile Trail which stretches along the shores of Lake Kivu, Nyungwe Forest, cultural tourism and the Big Five in Akagera National Park.

The president on the Canopy Walk in Nyungwe

The president on the Canopy Walk in Nyungwe Forest. PHOTO | RWANDA PRESIDENCY

Rwanda is hoping to eat into the revenue share of its more strategically located East African Community neighbours Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.
Davidson Mugisha, the proprietor of Wild Life Tours, said the documentary offers the country great publicity, and will demystify perceptions such as Mountain gorilla trekking being the only tourist activity.

“The documentary showcases the peace and stability Rwanda enjoys as well as its conservation efforts, which should boost the country’s image. It will appeal to the type of tourists Rwanda is targeting, especially high-end tourists from the US,” said Mr Mugisha.

“A friend who lives in the US sent me a lengthy e-mail after watching the documentary, saying the film will have a great impact on the tourism sector.”

The documentary continues to be screened in the US with plans to show it in Europe and beyond.

The premiere of

The premiere of "Rwanda: The Royal Tour" in Chicago, on April 23, 2018. PHOTO | RWANDA PRESIDENCY

In a sit-down interview with Greenberg at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, President Kagame talked about Rwanda’s tourism and conservation efforts.

The government is not only looking at increasing the number of tourists but also making sure that the revenues generated reach the people he told journalists.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame with American

Rwandan President Paul Kagame with American investigative reporter and producer Peter Greenberg during the filming of "Rwanda: The Royal Tour" documentary. PHOTO | RWANDA PRESIDENCY

Rwanda has seen an exponential growth in its tourism revenues, doubling its earnings from $200 million in 2010 to $404 million in 2016. RDB is yet to release 2017 figures but revenues are projected to increase to $440 million.