As you drive through the mountainous corners of the tarmac road leading to Kinigi, the immediate impressive change is felt in the temperature.
As one approaches the town, there is a distinctive and clear view of the Volcanoes National Park.
As we drove on a Wednesday morning towards Kinigi, located right at the foot of Virunga Mountains, one is able to spot locals attending to farming activities, small and big businesses all in full operation.
A number of Safari vehicles are seen driving towards the same direction.
Soon we realise that they are all heading to Kinigi, home to the rare mountain gorillas.
At the Volcanoes National Park offices, tourists chat as they take breakfast, while others are already gathering into groups to get the final instruction before they start their trekking experience.
Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), has joined the tourists.
“Perhaps some of you have heard the incident that happened here last week. A group of thugs tried to destabilise our security,” she tells the different tourists. “But I want to assure you that stability has been restored.”
The tourists trekking this morning are 127 from France, United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and South Africa, among others.
Last week on Friday, a group of assailants dressed in civilian attire and equipped with crude weapons, including knives, pangs and guns, attacked Musanze District and killed 15 locals, leaving 18 injured.
The security forces immediately intervened and successfully repulsed the attackers before they could do more harm.
Nineteen attackers were killed while five were captured. They belong to RUD Urunana, a faction of FDLR that has allied with Rwanda National Congress (RNC) to form an outfit called ‘P5’.
FDLR is a terrorist group composed of members responsible for killings in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. It operates in the Eastern DR Congo.
Since the attacks, 600 tourists have come to visit the mountain gorillas, according to RDB.
Park officials say following the incident on Saturday, gorilla trekking activities were conducted peacefully. A total of 238 tourists visited the gorillas on Saturday and Sunday.
Ann McGillion, a tourist from the England, says she is looking forward to the new experience of trekking.
“Gorillas are something I’ve heard about and to see this animals is going to be a lifetime experience. I’m happy to know that these majestic animals are growing in numbers because the whole system is so well looked after,” she says before embarking on her trekking.
It is McGillion’s first time to visit Rwanda and the mountain gorillas. However, she notes, from the airport, she was stunned by how “beautiful and green” the country is.
“We’ve heard the country is safe and we haven’t experienced any problems indeed,” she says.
Later in the day, after meeting the tourists, Akamanzi and members of Security Council in the Northern Province held stakeholders meeting with hotel managers around the Volcanoes National Park.
“Because of that incident, we wanted to have a conversation to hear your feedback and chart a way forward. One of the key economic pillars of this country has been security. It remains a priority and we take it seriously,” she noted.
The chief executive highlighted that the idea was to make sure that what happened never happens again, and that this could be achieved through information sharing between all stakeholders.
Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi, the Governor of the Northern Province, told The New Times that: “The role of local leaders is to mobilise citizens not to participate in these activities, but to make sure that our youth have the right opportunities.”
Keith Vincent, the Chief Executive Officer of Wilderness Safaris and Owner of Bisate Lodge, said the reaction from government was remarkable and gives them confidence.
“All aspects of this society have been incredibly open and honest with us and given us all the information we required to ensure the safety of our staff and tourists,” he said.
Vincent said the response of the tourists who were with us on that night of the “attack said, thank you for keeping us safe.”
On the other hand, Micheal Hughes, a manager at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, indicated that their clients were not affected in any way by the attack.
“We’ve had a few questions and inquiries from curious clients, but I don’t get the impression that there are panics,” he said.
“The response from security organs and officials assured our clients that there is no problem,” he added.
Rwanda’s side of Virunga Mountains has a reputation for being one of the safe places for tourists. Until Saturday’s incident, no attack had been launched on locals or tourists in or outside the park for nearly 20 years.
Perhaps that’s why the park has flourished.
Rwanda sold 15,132 mountain gorilla permits worth 19.2 million U.S. dollars to tourists in 2018, statistics from Rwanda Development Board showed.
Last month, about 50,000 people from Rwanda and abroad including citizens, officials and world-famous celebrities attended the annual mountain gorillas naming ceremony Kwita Izina in Kinigi.
There are over 1,000 mountain gorillas living in the world, more than half of which live in the Virunga Mountains, where Volcanoes National Park lies, according to World Wildlife Fund.
Addressing the stakeholders, Brig. General Vincent Gatama, the Second Division Commander of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), said; “We have dealt with them precisely. There is no remnant in this area.”
What happened wasn’t a protracted attack but a terror attack, he added, meaning that it is something that they are able to deal with, he said.
“I am assuring you that the property, the security of people and your businesses are all protected,” he noted.
Following the attacks, the assailants were pursued by security forces, during which 19 of them were killed in the operation. Others were captured alive, including five who were on Sunday paraded to the media and many of them said they had been recruited into the terror group from Uganda.
Two of the attackers namely Second Lieutenant Selemani Kabayija and Private Fidel Nzabonimpa who survived, escaped to Uganda where they were received on October 8, 2019 by the UPDF in the Ugandan border town of Kisoro.
The duo escaped into Uganda with one rifle, a Semi-Machine Gun with its 77 rounds of ammunition.
Available information indicates that Kabayija – who reportedly led the terror group that attacked Musanze – is in possession of a Ugandan ID with number 009601810 issued in Butumbiizi Village, Namutamba Parish in Mityana District.