Community-Based Tourism To Spur The Protection Of Rwanda’s Mountain Gorillas - 2012 Edition of the Kwita Izina Ceremony
Musanze, Akarabo, Iwacu, Amatwara, Tabaza, Duhirwe, and Kataza are some of the names given to the 19 baby gorillas named today. The name giving ceremony, known as Kwita Izina,
took place for the 8th consecutive year and gathered thousands of people of all ages, cultures, and social
backgrounds, to name newly born baby gorillas “as a way of giving value and protecting these endangered animals from extinction” explained the Governor of the Northern Province, Hon. Aimé Bosenibamwe.
In the Rwandan culture, on the seventh day after a baby is born, Kwita Izina celebrations are organized, for family and friends to celebrate the new baby’s life through giving him/her a name. The former Rwanda Tourism Agency, which is now under the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), launched the Kwita Izina ceremony in 2005 as a way of protecting Rwanda’s mountain gorillas, increasing tourism and inciting the local population to protect the mammals. “In recent times it has been clear that they are part of our national heritage, it has been clear that they have economic benefit in the light of conservation and our co-existence with them” said the Rt. Hon. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Rwanda.
Since the launch of Kwita Izina in 2005, the One UN in Rwanda supported the Kwita Izina events in various ways and was given the honor to name a baby gorilla in 2009. The baby which was 2 months old was named Komeza, lit. “Go ahead”, a wish for Komeza’s group and family to increase.
Komeza comes from the Umubano group. His mother, Inyongera is one of the 1st gorillas who have been named during the first edition of Kwita Izina ceremony in 2005. The group used to have a small number of individuals, because it was created after Charles the leading silverback of the group fought with the leading silverback of his former group, Amahoro, for months. After the long fight, he snatched a few female gorillas from Amahoro Group in order to start his own group, which still is among the smallest groups. This is the reason why Charles continuously moves around busy looking for new female members to increase the size of his group. Inyongera joined Umubano group from an unknown group and quickly gave birth to a female infant, Byiringiro.
Today Komeza is a playful healthy 3-year old male gorilla. Umubano group has increased to more than 10 members as it welcomed a new member in June 2011, which has been named this year as Icyago, meaning the terrible one, as he almost died at birth, as he was born with a wounded leg. Today, he is healthy and enjoys playing with his sibling Komeza.
The 2012 edition of Kwita Izina was celebrated under the theme “Sustainable Tourism for a Green Economy” and was set in motion by 3 other events: the Kwita Izina Cycling Tour, the Kwita Izina Conservation Exhibition, and a community project launch. During the Kwita Izina Conservation Exhibition local and international organizations showcased projects which create green jobs, some of which gave work to local communities living at close proximity from the Volcano National Park. Among these were two UNDP GEF/SGP funded projects, Safer Rwanda, a project which empowered semi-illiterate grandmothers from Musanze, who were taught to become solar panel engineers and bring solar energy to their village; and Association Rwanda Spiruline, a local association which promotes the culture and use of a medicinal algae called Spiruline, which fights malnutrition and is a good source of calcium, protein, iron, potassium, beta-carotene, vitamin E and B12, and Gamma-linoleic acid. These two projects promote poverty reduction through sustainable protection of the environment.
“It is important to note the steady growth of the population of endangered mountain gorillas” said the Prime Minister. He also mentioned that the joint collaboration with neighboring Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, and the common commitment to secure the natural habitat and environment of the volcano National to protect the mountain gorillas.
“Kwita Izina is always an opportunity for us to emphasize the importance of protecting the natural habitat of the mountain gorillas, and the rich biodiversity in our national parks” said John Gara, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board. Hon. Aimé Bosenibamwe explained how the local citizens who live at close proximity of the park used it to gain money through hunting gorillas, cutting trees to build houses, cultivating inside the park, and cutting the bamboos (gorilla’s food). Today the local population are involved in protecting the park and former gorilla hunters have become gorilla trackers to support tourism. Many Rwandans who used to cultivate inside the park have now become wealthy enough to set up cooperatives which grants work to their fellow citizens who still live in poverty. As stated Hon. Aimé Bosenibamwe, “this is Rwanda’s success story”.
Mr. Gara said that “the joint collaboration between the communities around the national parks and the government has significantly contributed to an increase in tourism revenues, and it is in recognition of this that RDB keeps implementing the Tourism Revenue Sharing Program, where we give 5% of the total tourism revenues to the communities around the national parks: 40% goes to the National Volcanoes park, 30% goes to Nyungwe National Park and the other 30% goes to Akagera National Park”. He also added that an approximate 910,000 tourists visited Rwanda in 2011, which generated more than US$250,000,000, a tenfold increase from the US$ 26,000,000 revenue in 2005.
Mr. John Gara and the Rt. Hon. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi both accentuated the importance of community based tourism as a means of involving local population in the development of the tourism sector and as a way of improving the living standards.