Now in it's 9th year since inception in 2005, this year’s Kwita Izina event acquired an extra dimension with the introduction of a Caravan Tour by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). The pre-event Caravan gave journalists and tourists from across the globe a guided tour of key attractions from Kigali all the way to Kinigi, Musanze, where this year’s gala was held yesterday under the theme, Celebrating Nature, Empowering Communities.
The idea was to furnish tourists with a wider experience of the country’s beauty and attractions away from the gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park. “You can do much more than just following gorillas while in Rwanda,” so seemed the input of the message.
At Hotel Muhabura – the oldest hotel in Musanze, an art and craft exhibition brought tourists closer to Rwandan culture and society, with local women’s self-help groups and artisans’ cooperatives displaying their wares for sale.
Also, the people at RDB, the organisers of Kwita Izina, seemed to have posed the question of “what next after the gorilla naming event” this time round. And they answered it quite well.
One of the downsides to going gorilla-naming in the past has been that of having to rush back to Kigali after the event, for lack of recreational options. You either retired to your hotel bar or room in Musanze, or drove back to Kigali.
Enter the Crazy Night, another new innovation unveiled at this year’s gala. The idea here was to give adventure-loving tourists no excuse to rush back to their Kigali hotel rooms after Kwita Izina.
The Volcana Lounge in Musanze was chosen for the task. Known for its pizza and for its mini-discotheque, the bar played host to visiting tourists ahead of the event, giving them a taste of Rwandan food, drink, music and hospitality.
Twelve baby gorillas were named this year, a sign of growth in the critically endangered species. This is good news for a species that not long ago was on the brink of extinction, with less than 1,000 gorillas in the wild today (and all of them in the area around the Virunga Mountains of Northern Rwanda/Southern Uganda/Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo).
Most of the names given to the gorillas depict the tender feelings attached to the baby primates: Zoya (which means “life”), Inshuti (friend), Murakaza Neza (welcome), Ubuhamya (testimony) and Umurage (legacy) have been bestowed upon the gorillas before.
The first gorilla naming ceremony was launched in 2005 by the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Park (ORTPN) as a means of raising awareness of the protection of the mountain gorillas and their habitats both at national and international levels.
In April 2007, Kwita Izina was unveiled as the new brand name for the gorilla naming ceremony.
Over the years, this brand name has attracted big name visitors; celebrities, international dignitaries, conservationists and tourists alike.
But perhaps the most outstanding of them all was the event of 2010, which took on a global perspective on account of its high profile list of attendees.
President Paul Kagame was one of them. Just the prospect of catching the president “baptizing” a gorilla with a name was enough motivation for many locals to attend, where they had always viewed it as a thing exclusive only to tourists.
The 2010 event coincided with celebrations marking World Environment Day that were being held at the same venue. The president went on to scoop the ‘Energy Globe Award’ in recognition of the country’s efforts in nature conservation. The symbolism has not been lost on us since.