Kwita Izina: Communities aboard, sharing benefits, owning processes

Linking people and conservation By Thomas Kagera It starts with a colorful patter from well-worn drums, sounded by equally well-worn men, in flowing garbs of silky grey sukas across the chest and the underskirts, with gracefully beaded black and white necklaces. Then comes in the tenor drum followed by the tambourine, the fiddle and the flute.  Another clarion smiles to the trumpet made of bamboo, and they both grab the melody with clear shrilling tones. Suddenly the park is bursting with percussive beats of knee-slapping Kinyarwanda traditional music.

Linking people and conservation

By Thomas Kagera

It starts with a colorful patter from well-worn drums, sounded by equally well-worn men, in flowing garbs of silky grey sukas across the chest and the underskirts, with gracefully beaded black and white necklaces. Then comes in the tenor drum followed by the tambourine, the fiddle and the flute.  Another clarion smiles to the trumpet made of bamboo, and they both grab the melody with clear shrilling tones. Suddenly the park is bursting with percussive beats of knee-slapping Kinyarwanda traditional music.

Inganzo Ngari dancers then capture the stage. Men first. Wearing long white puffs of white sisal symbolizing lions’ manes, they hop forward as they twist, jump, twirl, spin and extravagantly, but with an impeccably rehearsed rhythm, throw their hands about with extreme ecstasy. Before long, they are joined by their female counterparts, in brown underskirts and sukas, carrying equally shimmering gourds which they rhythmically play about with to produce a sensual thrilling dance. They rotate, then glide forward, swing this way and sway that way, with the head, chest, waist and arms all participating in harmony and grace. Their beauty and glamorous smiles as they do their thing just whet your appetite to just sit and watch them forever.

But this is not their day. They are just curtain-raisers. The day belongs to superbly fascinating creatures of the wild, the mountain gorillas, that were born in the last one year, given names on 18th June 2011 at the lower flats of Kinigi, in Musanze District of the Northern Province of Rwanda.

Kwita Izina (literally “naming”) is a traditional Rwandan ceremony held when a child is born, welcoming them into the family and community. Neighbors, family and friends gather in a festive ceremony as the parents bring out the child and reveal the name they have chosen for the child. The 7th of its kind, the occasion has come to symbolize the conservation efforts that have so paid off as witnessed on the day of gorilla naming where 22 baby gorillas were named, the biggest number since the inception of Kwita Izina seven years ago.

But the guests of honor, the babies, are not here. Dressed in gorilla outfits, 22 children roll in the grass and on stage, playing the parts of the baby gorillas born since the last festival, including a rare set of twins.

Under the watchful eyes of gorillas, supposedly watching from their habitat in the Virunga, with the pearly grey skies kissing the tips and lips of the mountains,  the Prime Minister, Bernard Makuza named the first baby, IJAMBO, born to Ubuntu, a member of Susa family. He noted that the name was selected “to recognize our actions, our achievements, and our determination to deliver as Rwandans, which constitutes our dignity that gives us a say on the international scene.”

Among other dignitaries that named gorillas were the Dutch ambassador to Rwanda, Frans Makken, who gave the name Urahirwa (prospects), the Director of London  Museums, Jack Lohman, who named Inyamibwa  (Superior) while the Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Ransfold Smith, named a baby gorilla Idamutso (greetings).


Other names given out

Urukuta, Agasozi Ndatwa, Umwari, Tayina, Isangano, Cyusa, Twitabeho, Ibyiza, Urukuta, Isango and Isangano (twins), SACCO, Isibo, Aheza, Sakara, Susuruka and Nikuze.

 Local leaders including representatives of employees from the Volcanoes National Park, also participated in the naming of 5 baby gorillas.

Conservation efforts pay-off

A census that was conducted in the Virunga Massif between March and April 2010, showed a 26.3% increase of the mountain gorillas over the last seven years, with a 3.7% annual growth rate. The population of mountain gorillas in their main central African habitat has increased by a quarter in seven years. The theme of this year’s Kwita Izina, “Community Development for Sustained Conservation” could not have come at a better time.

The government of Rwanda, on a daily basis, has sowed seeds of conservation ideals through different conduits; the media, REMA, RDB—Tourism and Conservation, and, specifically, has taken conservation and protection of these (mountain gorillas) endangered species seriously, to the extent that even local communities neighbouring the Volcanoes Park now look upon gorillas as a national treasure.

The key focus of conservation strategies has been on local communities. The government has put in place projects to ensure active and effective participation of communities in the conservation of wildlife in the Volcanoes National park.

The Virunga National Park currently employs 180 people, working as guides, gorilla groups’ trackers, and anti-poaching teams deployed in 5 protection sectors of the park. In addition, an estimated 800 community members around VNP are involved in day to day VNP management activities. A participatory process began in 2005 to transform the livelihoods of poachers towards farming, and then tourism. Part of the concept was to benefit conservation, by providing alternative livelihood opportunities from tourism compared to illegal hunting of buffalo and other wildlife in the national park. Part of the strategy was to hold meetings with poachers to gain their trust and insights.

Community members also engaged in the design, construction and operation of the cultural village. Local architectural techniques were used, with local materials such as thatching grass and wood. The village generates around US$ 14,000 per year, and community representatives identify projects in the community that they can finance.

In addition to addressing local welfare needs in order to mitigate some poverty-related conservation threats, there have also been sensitization programs on environmental conservation, protection of ecosystems, and anti-poaching. Community-based conservation has been accentuated all the way through.

The SACOLA story

The Sabyinyo Community Livelihood Association (SACOLA) is a telling register of how bringing communities in the conservation loop can go a long way in sustainable conservation. According to Nsengiyumva Pierre Celestin, the SACOLA chairman, the association today has a total membership of slightly above 50,000, spread across Nyange and Kinigi Sectors. “Most of the members were former poachers and honey gatherers from the park. So working with RDB, we came together in 2004 with an objective of conserving the park and improving the welfare of communities,” enthuses Nsengiyumva.

When the Head Tourism and Conservation and also MC of the seventh Kwita Izina, Rica Rwigamba, told celebrants that former poachers, in abject poverty are now donors, some people might have taken it so lightly. But talking to the treasurer of SACOLA, Dusabimana Patience, you get the real picture.

Dusabimana talks about the projects they have so far completed with a fluid sense of satisfaction and purpose; “We have our own high-end Lodge, the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Kinigi Sector, which we have subleased and employs about 70 people. Two SACOLA villages have been built with 20 houses for the poorest among the poor, and we expect to accomplish more next year.”

And according to what they have so far done, the limit only lies in their imagination, as Chairman Nsengiyunva says; “We have been able to give out 50 Friesian cows to the poorest, built 6 schools to support the Nine Year Basic Education in Nyange, Kampanga, Bisate, Kagano and Gasiza. We also pay school fees for 20 children in secondary schools from poor families and we are planning to scale this up to 40 in 2012.”

He says that they have contributed towards extending electricity to the people of Nyange and in March 2011 gave out 2600 iron sheets to fight Nyakatsi. Other projects they are involved in include; counselling of genocide survivors, community development work and planting bamboo plants near the river banks to edge off river silting and flooding.

 The Protected Areas Biodiversity project in the equation

According to Mr Raphael Mpayana, the coordinator, the project deals with the local communities to eradicate hostility between nature and human activities. For the communities surrounding the Volcanoes National Park, 12 water tanks have been given out in Musanze (2), Nyabihu (4) and Rubavu (6) in addition to 240,000 agroforestry plants and 446 modern stoves in Musanze.

Under the project, land for 199 marginalised people was purchased and distributed to them in Musanze (2ha) and Rubavu (8ha). A 200m buffalo wall was also completed, 400 farmers were trained in mushroom growing and the gully valleys (ravines) in Musanze (2) and Nyabihu (1) were stabilized.

In biodiversity conservation, in the Volcanoes NP the registered milestones are; assessment of damage inflicted on vegetation, surveys on status of large birds and mammals,  and assisted Natural Regeneration by removing ferns (igishihe) from a total area of 55764m2.

In some of the projects like building tanks for rain water harvesting, PAB worked with members of SACOLA.

Kwita Izina Community Projects Launched

The annual event, other than symbolizing the conservation efforts of Rwanda, is also a time when communities share the benefits derived from the park. Community projects were therefore launched at different places in the Northern Province.

On the 16th, 2011, as part of events leading to the Kwita Izina ceremony, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) launched 52 small household based water collective tanks and 4 large public water collective tanks constructed at a cost of 62 million Rwandan francs; raised from the past Gorilla conservation efforts.

At the launching ceremony, John Gara, the CEO RDB said, “by celebrating Kwita Izina, we seek to accrue the merits of conservation to the communities around our National Parks. We seek better livelihoods for our people achieved through the growth in tourism revenues which would not be possible without the active protection of our mountain gorillas and conservation of their habitat.”

The launched household based water collective tanks will facilitate the communities adjacent to the Volcanoes National park have access to water harvested from the rain for their daily activities.

The launching of the Community projects was also attended by Local government, heads of security organs (National Army and Police), Dutch Ambassador to Rwanda, Partners in conservation, Park Officials and the local community.

Since 2009, 52 small household based water collective tanks and 4 large water collective tanks with a capacity to hold 4,000 Lt and 80,000L of water respectively have been constructed in the sectors of Rugarama and Gahunga in Burera district, and Shingiro sector in Musanze district.

The water tanks were constructed in partnership with other stakeholders such as IGCP, CARPE and PAB. A highly trained community women’s Cooperative was tasked with the construction of such kinds of water tanks.

Other projects that have been constructed from funds raised from the past Gorilla conservation efforts include Kinigi Community Commercial Complex and a Bamboo Nursery Conservation project.

KwitaIzina National Cycling Tour

Participants in the Kwita Izina National Cycling Tour flagged off at Amahoro Stadium

Daniel Teklehaimanot from Eritrea,  was the prolific winner of the 3rd edition of the KwitaIzina cycling tour in a record time of 9 hours, 12 minutes and 18 seconds.

The 21-year-old who also won last year’s African cycling tour and Tour of Rwanda won all three stages of the 321km race.

Compatriot Debesai Frekaisi came in second place after clocking nine hours, 13 minutes and 31 seconds while 2009 Tour of Rwanda winner AdilJelloul claimed the final podium slot in a time of 9:16:53.

Homeboy AdrienNiyonshuti finished 6th after using 9 hours, 19 minutes and 54 seconds. “I fell short but still think I put in a good effort,” the South African based rider said. The two-day race attracted cyclists from Kenya, Eritrea, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Algeria, Morocco and the DRC

The Conservation Conference 2011

The Conference brought together key individuals from different institutions, in Government, Private Sector, NGOs, donors and international agencies to exchange views  and learn about programmes, challenges, and constraints of community participation in forest conservation. It provided a forum for presentation, discussion and reflection on different approaches, and practices in community participation and contribution to sustainable forest management and  compare experiences and results from different countries and contexts.

These Rwanda’s “home-made events” under an international theme have helped to create showcase international events. Planning them under a recognized international theme also contributes to the strengthening of their international linkages and appeal.

 Forest Stewardship by Communities: Contributions, Benefits and Future Prospects”   was the theme selected for this year’s Conservation Conference.

The theme and goals of the IYF provided the context of this year’s Kwita Izina Conservation Conference.   The conference   thus complemented regional and international efforts of enhancing   public awareness of the importance of conserving forests and the understanding of the underlying threats and causes of forest degradation and loss.


The Conference also provided a forum for dialogue between stakeholders for the steps to be taken in 2011 and beyond, in promoting innovative solutions to address the threats and reduce forest losses and in encouraging, promoting and supporting active community participation in these efforts.

The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Stanislas Kamanzi, at the opening of Conference noted that the Government will remain committed to the protection, conservation, restoration and extension of forests in the country,  though communities have a bigger role to play in conserving the nation’s forests and ecosystems.


The Kwita Izina Night


The Kwita Izina Night at Shooters Lounge and bar took place Wednesday 15th, June and was attended by a people of walks of life. The event featured a live band and a performance from DJ Pius and Focus who almost brought the roof down with the latest ballads that got the crowd down on the dance floor.

The Kwita Izina Night is collaboration between Shooters and RDB as a series of events in the build-up to the annual Kwita Izina Ceremonies in Kinigi on 18th, June 2011 during which 22 baby gorillas were named including a set of Twins!

The event was graced by the Head of Tourism and Conservation in RDB, Rica Rwigamba and other conservationists, party revelers such as Rwandan music icon Faycal of the “Impeta” fame.

The party started at 7p.m with a promotional first drink on the house for everyone that arrived before 9p.m. The main sponsor of the event was SKOL beer.


Great novelty and appeal—President Kagame


In his message on the 7th Kwita Izina that was delivered by the Prime Minister Bernard Makuza, President Kagame noted that since its inception seven years ago, the Kwita Izina ceremony continues to exhibit great novelty and appeal, and remains a very important event on the national calendar.

“Kwita Izina has gone beyond focus on gorillas and has become an important symbol for our efforts to conserve the country’s biodiversity, and our tourism industry has been boosted. We can all be pleased with our achievements in protecting our mountain gorillas and their habitat and seeing their population grow from 308 in 2003 to 480 in 2010.”

The President added that this year’s event is significant because it acknowledges that partnerships with communities are crucial for the survival of the country’s ecosystems, including their resources and ecological service.

In line with the day’s theme” Community development for sustained conservation”, Kagame said that communities living around the parks can play an important and integral role in the conservation of the parks and management of the natural resources.

He noted that to date the tourism industry remains one of the country’s success stories because a decade and a half ago, there was no tourism sector to speak of, but today, Rwanda’s unique tourism aspects and products are known globally.

“Our tourism industry is strongly anchored on natural assets such as landscapes, parks, forests, rare animals and bird species. We must continue to protect and sustain this valuable resource base,” the president’s message read in part.

He noted that as a result, Rwanda’s tourism revenues have risen from US$ 131 million in 2006 to US$ 200 million in 2010 adding that as the industry grows, the challenge remains to set up world class accommodation facilities and improved customer care and services.


We have come a long way, but some challenges ahead—Gara


The CEO of Rwanda Development Board, John Gara, saw the event as a strong testament of the government’s commitment to ensure that tourism flourishes in a secure and enabling environment.

“This year, we seek to accrue the merits of conservation to the communities around our National Parks. We seek better livelihoods for our people achieved through the growth in tourism revenues. This would not be possible without the active protection of our mountain gorillas and conservation of their habitat. We have come a very long way but we still have far to go, thus this year, it is “Community development for sustained conservation.”

He noted that every name given to a baby gorilla has a story and every birth is an important step towards achieving Rwanda’s vision to see that mountain gorillas move from being one of the world endangered species to being one of the best protected animals in natural surroundings.

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