Rwanda tourism ‘not affected by DRC conflict’
The ongoing conflict in eastern Congo has not hindered tourism sector as mountain gorillas remain secure in Virunga National Park, their habitat.
The assurance was made by Rica Rwigamba, the head of tourism and conservation in Rwanda Development Board (RDB), reacting to reports that the conflict that has pitted the DRC armed forces against mutineers commonly known as M23 could harm the world’s rare species.
“Gorillas on the Rwandan side are regularly monitored on a daily basis and are all fine. We have put joint patrols on hold and are following up the situation with our counterparts in DRC,” she said.
The Virunga habitat is a trans-boundary park that cuts across Rwanda, DRC and Uganda, and it’s the only home for the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population.
“The tourism sector in Rwanda is doing well; it’s business as usual,”
Dr Jean Felix Kinani, a wildlife veterinary officer in the Virunga observed that tourism had been stopped in neighbouring Congo since M23 militias have moved their bases in the area.
“Tourism has been stopped in Congo; there are no tourists going there…however, on our part of the park, we are safe and gorillas are secure,” Kinani said
But he added: “There are groups of Congolese rangers who visited the areas and they informed us that gorillas are not harmed despite the rebels being in the forests.”
He however added that the Congolese army sometimes uses military helicopters while fighting which he said was scaring the gorillas, sending them in disarray.
Recently, Cai Tjeenk Willink, who is in charge of tourism and development at Virunga on the Congolese part said that the conflict had hampered their operations.
“We cannot do our job in the area until the war has stopped,” he disclosed to international media.
Last year, Rwanda played host to over 908,000 tourists from all over the world and the industry earned $252 million according to statists from Rwanda Development Board.
Gorillas only last year, generated $9.6 million.
Fresh clashes between the DRC’s military and a group of mutineers calling themselves March 23 Movement (M23), erupted in mid May as tens of thousands of residents fled to Rwanda and Uganda.
The mutineers accuse the Kinshasa leadership of failing to adhere to a 2009 peace agreement and decided to breakaway after three years.
Contact email: eric.kabeera[at]newtimes.co.rw