On the foothills of Volcanoes National Park in Kinigi, Musanze District, Rwanda prepares to celebrate its commitment to nature and conservation with the 19th Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming Ceremony. Slated for Friday, 1 September 2023, this event is a testament to Rwanda’s dedication to its unique wildlife and environment.
Drawing inspiration from a long-standing Rwandan tradition of naming newborn children in the presence of family and friends, Kwita Izina, since its inception in 2005, has been an ode to naming baby mountain gorillas. This symbolic act extends the vital recognition each gorilla deserves, emphasizing their intrinsic value to the nation and the world. This year, the ceremony will bestow names upon 23 baby gorillas born over the past year, elevating the tally to 374 named gorillas since the commencement of this illustrious event.
A diverse ensemble of renowned conservationists, influential global and local personalities, Rwandan dignitaries, and esteemed partners are set to take on the role of names. Although their identities remain under wraps for now, the anticipation and speculation add to the overall excitement.
Beyond the celebration of naming, Kwita Izina is a window into Rwanda’s unwavering commitment to conservation. The nation’s “low volume, high value” approach to gorilla tourism has reaped dividends, fostering growth in the gorilla population and enhancing the overall visitor experience. This dedication has not gone unnoticed in the economic realm, with Rwanda’s tourism revenue soaring by 56% in the first half of 2023, accumulating a staggering US$ 247 million.
Reflecting on the upcoming event, RDB Chief Executive Officer, Clare Akamanzi, expressed her enthusiasm: “As we return to Kinigi this year, we don’t just commemorate the ceremony but celebrate the considerable strides taken in tourism and conservation, especially concerning our iconic mountain gorillas. The ongoing success story signals our collaborative conservation initiatives are not just aiding the gorillas but also creating enhanced experiences for tourists and bolstering support for local communities.”
Widening the horizon beyond gorillas, Akamanzi highlighted Rwanda’s holistic vision for its tourism sector. Efforts are underway to diversify the attractions, with a keen emphasis on promoting the MICE and sports tourism industries, ensuring visitors get a taste of all Rwanda has to offer.
Another focal point of the Kwita Izina celebrations is the interweaving of community welfare with wildlife conservation. The Rwandan government, through the Tourism Revenue Share Programme, initiated in 2005, has diligently reinvested 10% of park revenues into initiatives aimed at community upliftment. A commendable Rwf 10 billion (about US$ 9 million) has already been directed towards more than 1,000 community projects near national parks. The year 2023 also marks the inauguration of two innovative community projects, further strengthening the bond between conservation and community.
The festivities surrounding Kwita Izina are not limited to the naming ceremony. The 2023 calendar boasts events such as the Business of Conversation Conference from 29-31 August, the adrenaline-pumping Rhino Velo Race in Akagera National Park, explorative countrywide tours for international tour operators, media sessions, and a captivating Kwita Izina concert.
In essence, Kwita Izina is more than a ceremony; it’s a movement, a celebration, and a commitment. It signifies Rwanda’s strategic vision to protect its natural heritage and recognize the role of tourism in shaping its future. The growth in the mountain gorilla population, from 480 in 2010 to 604 by 2016, stands as a shining beacon of Rwanda’s conservation efforts, propelling the nation to the forefront of sustainable tourism in Africa.