Belfast Telegraph

Conflict 'could help boost tourism'

Northern Ireland should use its conflict history to create a tourism pathway for the future, a businesswoman in post-genocide Rwanda said.

Rosette Chantal Rugamba manages a tour company in a country in the heart of Africa which recently marked 20 years since the slaughter of almost a million Tutsis in around three months.

She was in Belfast as part of a conference aimed at empowering women and said carefully designed tours of trouble spots did not mean Belfast would be defined by its past.

"We must encourage it in order to create a pathway for the future."

She is managing director at Songa Africa tourism company.

Sights in Rwanda include the capital Kigali's memorial centre, which documents the slaughter.

Typical visitors to the memorial are tourists who have travelled to Rwanda to see the wildlife and the mountains. Aegis Trust attendance figures state that more than 40,000 foreigners visited Kigali's memorial in 2011.

Parties of people come and pray quietly as they remember those killed in 1994 when planned mass killing came to Rwanda.

At the museum photographs and personal effects of the dead are exhibited with films and displays that tell how both international diplomacy and UN soldiers failed to stop the massacres.

Dr James Smith is the founder of the Rwandan memorial centre.

He said when he first established it he worried that displaying skulls recently dug up from mass graves could have threatened the dignity of the deceased.

But he decided that it was important to create something where there could be no denying what happened.

As a compromise he used low lighting to make the display cabinets look like burial chambers.

While tours of Northern Ireland's political wall murals proliferate, politicians have been unable to agree on a reconciliation centre on the site of the former Maze prison where the hunger strikers died.

Some have said a development could include a museum but critics fear that could be turned into a shrine to terrorism.

Ms Rugamba was in Belfast as part of the Global Ambassadors' Programme, which brings together women executives to mentor female business leaders from post-conflict regions.

While in Belfast, senior female executives met women leaders from Croatia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Libya, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Rwanda and Somalia to discuss strategies and tactics to help meet their goals.

The mentoring forum was held in context of the 16th anniversary of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, recognising how countries can successfully return to relative stability and rebuild their economies.

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