Construction of Ellen DeGeneres campus commences in Kinigi

The Ellen DeGeneres campus is expected to boost mountain gorilla conservation efforts and promoting Rwanda’s tourism among other benefits.
Northern Province Governor Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi (left), Portia de Rossi, the director of Ellen Fund (2nd left) and other conservationists observe the artistic impression of the launched campus. Régis Umurengezi.

Scores of conservationists from across the world, government officials as well as Musanze District residents yesterday turned up to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of Ellen DeGeneres Campus.

Located in rural area of Kampanga Cell in Kinigi Sector, the Campus is expected to boost mountain gorilla conservation efforts and promoting Rwanda’s tourism among other benefits, according to officials.

Construction of the campus was spearheaded by Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in partnership with the Ellen Fund and will cost an estimated $10 million.

Governor Gatabazi chats with the US ambassador to Rwanda, Peter Vrooman during the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of Ellen DeGeneres Campus in Musanze

Explaining the campus genesis, the Director of Ellen Fund who is also the partner of Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, revealed that it all begun while Ellen, a globally renowned TV personality, was celebrating her 60th birthday whereby she gifted her with the campus.

“This whole thing came about because I thought what on earth do you give the woman who has everything? So I thought the best gift that I could give her was a way to connect her past to her future; I wanted her to look forward to doing something after her talk show was over,” said Portia.

A cross section of some diplomats who attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of Ellen DeGeneres Campus in Musanze

“I remember the story she told me many years ago, she told me that as a little girl growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, she came across the National Geographic with Dian Fossey on the cover, you are seeing that brave American women, a scientist who left a comfortable life to set up a tent in the Rwandan forest to save a species on extinction – was transformative for real, it made her see the world differently,” she added.

Ellen DeGeneres is a renowned American television talk show host and comedian.

Chief Tourism Officer at Rwanda Development Board, Belise Kariza revealed  that last year (2018) Rwanda registered over 2 Billion US dollars in investment

The construction of the campus is expected to take two years and will create an estimated 1,500 jobs and $2million will be spent on local labour, according to officials. In addition, an estimated $2.5m will be spent on locally sourced materials.

The campus will be a permanent home to the Dian Fossey Fund which has been operating in Rwanda for more than 50 years through its Karisoke Centre which has premises in Musanze City Centre.

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Currently, the Fossey Fund operates its programmes from rented premises which does not have adequate and appropriate space for all its activities and it is located about 30 kilometers from Volcanoes National Park, where the organisation’s work takes place.

However, the new campus will be adjacent to the park and include state-of-the-art laboratories, a computer lab and library, flexible office and meeting space, classrooms for educational programming, a dynamic public exhibit to showcase the legacy of Dian Fossey and guest housing to host visiting researchers.

Official plant trees as a sign to groundbreak construction of Ellen DeGeneres Campus

Residents from Musanze District welcomed construction of the campus stressing that it would boost their welfare as they will be given jobs.

“We are very happy to have this campus in our locality as we are benefitting a lot from its construction given that we have been given jobs, therefore livelihood will change thanks to the wages we will be given,” Said Vincent Munyazibonye, one of the residents.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony, the Chief Tourism Officer at Rwanda Development Board, Belise Kariza, reiterated the fact that gorilla conservation is the backbone of Rwanda’s eco-tourism strategy.

“The success of this strategy has been proved by the fact that both gorilla numbers and gorilla tourism receipts have increased. The 2016 gorilla census in the Virunga Massif revealed a 26 per cent increase in the number of individual gorillas from 480 to 604 in a span of five years,” She said

“In 2017, Volcanoes National Park received more than 35,000 visitors who directly generated $16.75 million. Gorilla conservation and tourism has not only benefited hoteliers, tour operators, guides as well as the entire economy overall; but it has played a significant role in bettering the lives of the communities living adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park,” added Kaliza.

Portia de Rossi (L) said she gift Ellen DeGeneres with the campus when Ellen turned 60

She underscored that last year (2018) Rwanda registered over $2 billion in investments as the country facilitates doing business.

“After all, we are the 11th safest country in the world and the 29th easiest place to do business in the world; the only low income country in the world to be ranked in the top 50,” noted Kaliza.

“This multi-million-dollar campus is not only evidence of Rwanda’s conservation credentials; it is also proof that this country is a great investment destination”.