President Paul Kagame has attributed Rwanda’s tremendous gains in tourism and conservation to effective cooperation between the citizens who live around the parks, the government and partners who work together to ensure that parks are well conserved and protected.
Speaking at the 15th edition of Kwita Izina in Kinigi, at the foothills of Volcanoes National Park, President Kagame said that the successes stories earlier mentioned by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) CEO Clare Akamanzi could not have not been possible if it wasn’t for cooperation with the citizens.
In her speech earlier, Akamanzi said that Rwanda’s tourism strategy is focussed on protecting the environment and the diverse species with an understanding that the natural heritage is one of Rwanda’s greatest assets which attract visitors who in turn bring in revenues.
“The success stories we have heard could not have happened without the cooperation, the understanding and the support of the local communities whom I have had the opportunity to express our thanks to, and also made sure that they benefit from this good cooperation they have showed over many years,” he said.
President Kagame said that the government made a deliberate effort to invest 10 per cent of the revenues generated from tourism back in the communities surrounding the national parks and it has paid off.
He said that the cooperation has not only benefited the mountain gorillas but also the country and the many visitors and all the tourists who have enjoyed being in Rwanda as well as the security they are offered.
The Head of State emphasised the importance of conservation and the environment, saying that it has greatly contributed to the country’s development, thanks to the revenues accrued from these efforts.
He recognised the personalities who christened the 25 baby gorillas as well as other partners and conservationists, commending them for supporting Rwanda’s tourism and conservation efforts.
“It is in the same spirit that we also work with other countries, our neighbouring countries, mainly DRC and Uganda because there is a lot we share around this area and what lives in this area. We can only ask out citizens to continue to play a very good role in making sure that we see more developments, not only in their own community areas but also in the park where the gorillas live,” President Kagame said.
President Kagame also recalled how 15 years ago, he had an opportunity to name twin baby gorillas in the very first edition of the ceremony and today they have all grown, with one giving birth while the other, Byishimo, has since matured into a silverback –a leader of a gorilla family.
The Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Amina Muhammad, who was among the namers, commended Rwanda for her efforts in conservation, mentioning that where there is political will, environmental conservation can be achieved and sustained.
The UN Deputy SG, who is also a former Nigerian Federal Minister of Environment named her baby ‘Ingoga’ while other global celebrities, political figures, selected investors, conservationists and local individuals with extraordinary deeds were also able to name their baby gorillas.
The highlight of the day was Emmanuel Niringiyimana, a young man from Karongi district who in July made headlines for singlehandedly building a 7km road in his community.
The 23-year old said that he made a decision to build the road after he noticed the road was not conducive for patients and school children who used the footpath which was in a bad condition.
“A patient was being moved from Mwendo Health Centre to Kirinda Hospital and they were facing difficulties with the bushes and rocks which made it impassable. I decided to do something to change the situation,” Nirinyimana said.
All the namers, from renowned UK-based Rwandan choreographer Sherrie Silver to Israel Ambassador to Rwanda Ron Adams praised Rwanda’s efforts not only to conserve the mountain gorillas but also the environment in a more sustainable manner and integrating in local communities.
According to the RDB CEO Akamanzi, Rwanda is targeting to double tourism revenues to $800 million in the next five years, an ambitious plan she said is backed by different initiatives.
“Achieving the vision we have set for ourselves requires thinking big and even acting bolder. That is why we are investing heavily in a range of foundational drivers of conservation and community development –from research and partnerships to training, promotion, quality assurance and infrastructure development,” Akamanzi said.
RDB’s Chief Tourism officer, Belise Kariza says, since Rwanda began to officially name baby gorillas in 2005, a total of 281 baby mountain gorillas have been named.
“As we give names to 25 baby gorillas today, we celebrate our conservation successes and thank the community, partners and friends from around the world for their invaluable support to protect these remarkable animals,”
“And while mountain gorillas remain an endangered species and more work is needed to ensure their long-term survival, the most recent census tells us that the mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Massif has grown by 23% since 2010 to 604 individuals,” Kariza said.
She also noted that through a revenue sharing scheme, where the government invests 10 per cent of tourism receipts into the communities surrounding the parks, so far more than $5.8 million has been invested in 647 projects in communities adjacent to Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe national parks.
“The scheme has built school classrooms, water harvesting facilities, provided homes for vulnerable families, developed modern markets and community health centres as well as small dairies,” she said.
“In the last year alone, the program supported investments of 1.7 million dollars in 37 projects – an increase of 51 percent on the previous year. We are confident this trend will only continue as we welcome more and more visitors every year,” she added.
Kariza said that when combined with the community investment programs of the many conservation and community partners, the total investment since 2005 increases to 13 million dollars, more than doubling the investments made by the Government of Rwanda alone.
The Governor of Northern Province Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi said that the province has greatly benefited from tourism and conservation projects, with Musanze town developing into a secondary city with 5-star and 4-star hotels as well as other facilities that can host at least 3, 000 people at a given time.
He noted that community members who were once dependent on hunting and logging in the national parks have since been turned into conservationists.