rwanda pavilion expo 2020
From an in-depth journey into the country's past to a futuristic trek with mountain gorillas, the Rwanda Pavilion is the epitome of 'Remarkable Rwanda'. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: “People call us a small country, but we are not small people,” Emmanuel Hategeka, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the UAE, told Gulf News in an interview. Occupying an area of 26,338 square kilometres, the East-Central African country, fondly known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, is the second-most densely populated on the continent.

At Expo 2020 Dubai, the Rwanda Pavilion is participating under the thematic banner of ‘Remarkable Rwanda’; and though on the surface this may seem to beckon visitors to delight in its endless green rolling hills, on a deeper level, the theme hopes to show how far the country has come from its turbulent past.

Emmanuel Hategeka
Emmanuel Hategeka, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the UAE Image Credit: Sahar Ejaz/Gulf News

“Some people call it rising from the ashes,” said Hategeka. “[The theme] showcases the exceptional journey of Rwanda’s development over the last 27 years while projecting the future into Vision 2050.”

The ambassador sees the Opportunity District that the pavilion is based in as the “springboard” out of the pandemic. Another reason being that future-ready Rwanda is a country of opportunities: an emerging hub for information and communications technology (ICT), tourism and innovation.

Rwanda’s theme 'Remarkable Rwanda' showcases the exceptional journey of Rwanda’s development over the last 27 years while projecting the future into Vision 2050.

- Emmanuel Hategeka, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the UAE

“It is a district that really connects minds, opportunities and people to think about the future. Rwanda’s past, present and future are all full of opportunities that will attract Expo goers to connect with Rwanda, visit Rwanda, invest in Rwanda and live in Rwanda,” he added.

Live through Rwanda’s history in a day

The Expo-leased country pavilion is split into four zones mimicking the period between sunrise and sunset – think stepping into a space at twilight and walking till morning. This emotive journey kicks-off at a time in Rwanda’s history when the monarchy reigned and ends in the present with a timeline that looks towards to the next 30 years.

“We want you to experience the whole of Rwanda as if you are there,” said Hategeka.

Four zones of the Rwanda Pavilion journey:

1. Dusk: Here, visitors will walk into pre-colonial Rwanda, when the kings or ‘mwami’ ruled until 1961. All around, the zone has been carefully modelled to look like the interior of a King’s Palace. These royal dwellings were flat conical huts shaped like beehives, and at Expo they tell the story of “how people lived in pre-colonial history” and their traditions as they were then.

“In this zone, visitors will experience Rwanda’s culture and traditions exhibited mainly through cultural entertainment and dance. From time to time, traditional dramas will be present to welcome special guests,” said Hategeka.

king's palace rwanda
A space inspired by the King's Palace (pictured) will welcome visitors to explore Rwanda's pre-colonial past. Image Credit: Shutterstock

2. Night: “The space will take visitors through the events of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, the darkest part of our history,” said the Ambassador. In this post-colonial era, visitors will learn of the country’s struggles in ambient poetry being recited around them under a blanket of stars. The idea the zone serves to reiterate is that even the darkest times have not been forgotten, communicated by motifs such as the barren trees and the absence of light, plus sombre audio-narrated stories.

3. Dawn: In an instant the scene changes and visitors will be surrounded with lush greenery, an apt symbol for recuperation and reinvention. “[They will see] a country that is emerging from its dark past,” added Hategeka. Rwanda will showcase its homegrown solutions to the challenges then such as poverty and injustice. For the latter a traditional court was established called the Gacaca (pronounced ga-cha-cha).

rwanda pavilion expo 2020
Dawn zone of the Rwanda Pavilion shows the country emerging from its dark history. Image Credit: Supplied

4. Day: The fourth and final zone is a technology hub through and through – a testament to new Rwanda on the path to Vision 2050, thirty years into the future. ”You will see some of the technological innovations and the best sustainability stories that the country has had,” said Hategeka. Any hiking enthusiasts should keep an eye out for an adventurous virtual reality (VR) experience.

See gorillas on your trek

One of the most opted for tourist activities in Rwanda is trekking with some of its 600-plus mountain gorillas. The endangered species, about 1,000 of them on the entire planet, can be seen on the Virunga Massif range of volcanic mountains running through Rwanda, Congo and Uganda.

Hategeka said: “In the Day Zone, you are able to trek with gorillas using virtual reality, as if you are in their natural habitat in the Volcanoes National Park.”

mountain gorillas rwanda
Visitors can experience trekking with mountain gorillas in virtual reality at the pavilion. Image Credit: Flickr/youngrobv

VR goggles available to visitors will set them on a journey of a lifetime among these rare mammals, all without flying to Rwanda. Other tech-focused exhibits include scale models of in-progress projects such as the Kigali Innovation City (KIC), which is a technology cluster planned for the capital, and Green Leisure Park, a conservation project near the Volcanoes National Park.

The park, especially, represents Rwanda’s solutions on sustainable gorilla trekking and preserving natural habitats.

Sip freshly brewed Rwandan coffee

And if you’re looking forward to sipping on freshly brewed Rwanda-grown coffee, then also make a mental note to stop by for a cup at Café & Retail in the Day Zone. A number of Arabica varieties grown on Rwandan farms are known for their rich flavour and notes of caramel and orange blossom in the aftertaste. The Ambassador attests to the crop’s high quality, as well.

“Actually [a popular coffeehouse] imports our coffees and blends them with other [varieties],” he said. “We have the opportunity for every visitor to have a taste of Rwanda through not only coffee but also tea.”

At Café & Retail in the Day light zone, Expo visitors will be able to enjoy a cup of Rwandan coffee and tea and purchase made-in-Rwanda products. We can’t wait to serve you all the natural taste of Rwanda.

- Emmanuel Hategeka, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the UAE

Additional good news for coffeeholics and tea sippers is that they can take away some of the actual product from a small kiosk within the pavilion. Additionally, visitors can also take home crafts produced by private sectors.

Cultural troupe, national ballet and cow dung art

Government and business delegations from Rwanda will be touching down to participate in Expo’s Thematic Weeks. The Rwanda Pavilion is also co-curating events with fellow country participants such as Peru and Estonia.

The Ambassador highlighted February 1, 2022, when the pavilion will celebrate its Expo-allotted national day: “Our cultural troupe and national ballet will be there to entertain guests,” he added, including Rwandan artists who will be bringing in their works.

imigongo rwanda
Popular cow dung art pieces called 'imigongo' will be found inside the Rwanda Pavilion. Picture used for illustrative purposes only Image Credit: Flickr/Rachel Strohm

One such traditional artwork that visitors will see adorning the pavilion is the ‘imigongo’, a popular art form made from air-dried cow dung. Painted in natural dyes of black, red and white, ‘imigongo’ pieces are decorated with geometrical patterns and ridges, and are ubiquitous in Rwanadan homes.

Though the progress of the pavilion was hindered by the global pandemic, its resultant travel restrictions on national and international levels, the pavilion is on the track to completion with the support of the Expo organisers.

“I would like to [show my appreciation for] the support provided by the host country UAE [and] Expo organisers,” Hategeka said.

- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.