Musanze—Residents living adjacent to Virunga National Park have opened a cultural centre to showcase local practices and artwork.
The centre is part of a larger plan to diffuse the common belief that the area is an eco-tourism destination only.
And here’s another matter of interest; the community developing the centre are former poachers.
For long, people in Kinigi have viewed poaching as the only way to directly profit from their proximity to the rare mountain gorillas living around the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Now they are beginning to give up their ways.
One tamed poacher, Joseph Nzabageregeza, says he had killed over 80 buffalos and “uncountable” antelopes in the park.
“Hunting has been our major economic activity,” Nzabagerageza says. “We have done it since childhood.”
The idea to mobilise all residents surrounding the park was mooted by Edwin Sabuhoro after completing his research on eco-tourism and mountain gorilla conservation.
The local community, he argues, should be engaged in the management of and benefit from the park.
“There is a missing link between the local community, who are a big stakeholder in wildlife conservation, and the benefits of the tourism cycle,” Sabuhoro says.
“Since we had a problem of crop raiding, we resorted to hunting the animals, but we have decided to change this custom for the benefit of all of us,” another former poacher, Angelique Mukamana said.
The cultural centre, constructed from three traditional houses are to showcase traditional dances, arts and crafts, as well as a restaurant serving traditional cuisine.
The park authorities have promised to support the residents in their endeavours.