First Lady Jeannette Kagame has emphasised that Rwanda will not choose between economic growth and nature responsibilities, but rather shall continue investing in conservation efforts as it develops. She was speaking at the 19th Gorilla naming ceremony – Kwita Izina – for the new 23 baby gorillas born within the last 12 months, on Friday, September 1. At the foothills of Volcanoes National Park in Kinigi, Musanze District, different dignitaries, sports legends, international creative industry players, industry captains, and conservationists, joined thousands of community members living around the home of the endangered mountain gorillas in the ultimate celebration of nature and conservation. ALSO READ: Elvine Ineza: Youngest namer at Kwita Izina Under the theme “Conservation is Life”, the 23 baby gorillas were named Gakondo, Bigwi, Ingoboka, Intiganda, Aguka, Umutako, Ikirango, Ramba, Inganzo, Urunana, Impundu, Gisubizo, Intarumikwa, Nibagwire, Jijuka, Narame, Inshingano, Mukundwa, Mucungunzi, Turumwe, Mugisha, Uburinganire, and Murare. They are from Agashya, Muhoza, Mutobo, Hirwa, Pablo, Ntambara, Dushishoze, Segasira, Isimbi, Musirikari, Kwitonda, Igisha, and Sabyinyo families. According to the First Lady, for Rwandans, mountain gorillas represent more than a source of tourism or adventurous entertainment, they are custodians of the truly cherished nature. She noted that conservation is the first layer of gratitude to express for Mother Nature which has granted survival, shelter, nourishment, and wonder from the very first day of the human species. “Nature can persist without us, but we cannot persist without it. Let us not interpret its hospitality as a dependency upon us. The sooner we act, the sooner we can reverse the current trend towards an eventual absolute ecosystem collapse,” she said. “For all we may currently believe we lack as nations striving for our development, I can assure you that we have already much more than we sometimes appreciate...the thing about being constantly reminded that you don’t have much is that you learn to value that which you have.” She emphasised that Rwanda’s efforts to protect its biodiversity have been multifaceted and multipurpose from local to international advocacy to the creation and expansion of national parks. “Rwanda will not choose between prosperity and beautiful, healthy environment. Rwanda will not choose between profit and responsibility. We will work, we will push, for it all. For both success and harmony.” The First Lady said the government will commit to every aspect of development with equal determination for its resilient people, the fresh air, the rich green lands and beautiful baby gorillas, and for what the existing energy can do for the future. ALSO READ: Kwita Izina: Conservation remains Rwanda’s priority – Ngirente Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), thanked the communities around the park for their strength in conserving and harnessing a conducive environment for the mountain gorillas. “Today, we gave a name, we gave an identity, and we gave a future to 23 new baby gorillas, who only a few decades ago, would have been threatened by extinction.” She emphasised that investing in nature means investing in people because the environment is the foundation of the economy, the reason why Rwanda invests heavily in building an eco-tourism industry that benefits both the people and the planet. Nature-based tourism has been the cornerstone of recovery since the Covid-19 pandemic, she added, while stating that they expect to exceed pre-pandemic tourism revenue. Akamanzi noted that it is fortunate that 57 per cent of baby gorillas named are female, a cheering symbol that matches Rwanda’s effort in achieving gender equality. Maurice Mugabowagahunde, Northern Province Governor, said that since the revenue-sharing programme, over 5,000 agribusinesses and many others were sponsored by this revenue-sharing scheme, improving the residences’ livelihoods. “There has been significant infrastructure development which plays a critical role in boosting business operations and creating jobs. We shall continuously contribute to the protection of the Virunga National Park, and enhance other touristic areas to continuously boost the industry and benefit the livelihoods of our people.” This year, RDB launched two community projects, including a maternity unit as well as a potato seeds collection and conservation unit for residents to access maternal healthcare and quality seeds in Muganza Sector, Nyaruguru District. The Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony is modelled off a centuries-old tradition in which Rwandans name their children in the presence of family and friends. For three decades before the first official gorilla naming ceremony, park rangers and researchers named Rwanda’s mountain gorilla babies to monitor each gorilla in their family and habitat. In 2005, Rwanda officially began naming mountain gorillas in what has become a global celebration of nature. By giving a name to these ‘majestic’ animals, they are given the value they undoubtedly deserve. What to expect at next year’s Kwita Izina All namers throughout the past 19 years will be invited back at the 20th Kwita Izina ceremony, marking a two-decade journey of protecting Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. Akamanzi announced that the First Lady will be the Patron of the 20th naming ceremony. She named twin baby gorillas at the very first ceremony 19 years ago.