At the foot of the Virunga Volcanic Mountains, Northern Rwanda, thousands of villagers gather to celebrate the birth of 18 mountain gorilla newborns just meters from the bambooforest up in the hills.
Hundreds of tourists and foreign dignitaries attend the annual baby gorilla naming ceremony, locally known as KwitaIzina. Local foods are prepared. Chefs roast fresh goat meat and fish. Beer and soft drinks are in abundance.
Rwandan Intore warriors, dressed in traditional attire, brave the freezing mist, thunderously thumping their feet on the floor, jumping high and rhythmically swaying their neatly weaved toupees.The crown suddenly gets wild, with applause in response. Speeches are said and praises made. Selected individuals are given the advantage to give names to the newborns.
On July 1, 2014, Rwanda held the 10thKwitaIzinafestival. American Ambassador to Rwanda, DonaldKoranwas given the privilege. He enthusiastically stepped on the floor and named one of the babies ‘Twiyubake’,loosely translated as self-reliance.
LeoniCuelenaere, the Netherlands Ambassador to Rwanda named the baby ‘Inzozi’, meaning dreams. Some names are so expressive, the crowd cheers when they are announced.
Normally, after the naming exercise, the real party kicks off. Traditional instruments are played to set the mood right.The national troupe, a selection of beautiful and exemplary women dancers seizes the dance floor; swinging their attractivelycurved bodies to the heart-shattering sounds of drum-beats.International and local pop artists perform too. The crowdgets even wilder.
It is a privilege to name a baby gorilla. The Bill Clintons and Bill Gates have once been given such privileges.In June 2006, Bill Gates visited the Sabyinyo familyfrom which he named their new baby ‘KEZA’ [cute].
Biggest names present
KwitaIzina, launched in 2005, which has grown to become an international event, creates a global buzz. Global media networks, such as National Geographic, Discovery Channel, SABC, Reuters and M-Net Studio 53, Animal Planet, all broadcast the event live to millions of viewers around the world. International celebrities, such as Star Wars heroine Natalie Portman have attended. In 2008, Natalie Portman named a baby ‘Gukina’ [to play].
The late crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, was represented by his former manager John Stainton who named a baby ‘Ingufu’ [strength], in memory of Steve. Renowned American conservationist Jack Hanna, Marjorie Kaplan of Animal Planet and Terry Lundgren,the President of Macys’have attended the festival. Famous actor Don Cheadle was invited to the ceremony in 2010 and named a baby gorilla Zoya, meaning life.
According to Valentine Rugwabiza, theChief Executive Officer of Rwanda Development Board, the eventemphasizes the conservation of the gorillas. Since 2005, KwitaIzina was launched, 163newbornshave been named.
Due to the festival, the mountaingorilla population in Rwanda has increased to over 600from 10 families of the remaining 880 gorillas found in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Eastern DR Congo, owing to collaborative efforts of the government, the local communities neighboring the national park and conservation partners.
“Because of the country’s community-led conservation efforts that led to a 26.3 percent growth in the population of gorillas since 2003,” Rugwabiza said.“That constant growth in the gorilla numbers is a clear sign of good conservation policies by the government of Rwanda.”
More gorillas, more revenue
And for Rwanda, more gorillas meanmore revenues.Gorilla trekking permits count for the large share. In 2010, from 666,000 visitors, Rwanda generated $200m. In 2013, from 1,137,000 visitors, the tourism industry generated about $294m. The industry has grown exponentially, it made only $62m in 2000.
The government allocates 5 percent of the revenues to local communities around the national park. A school of six classrooms was built with funds from the ‘Shared Revenue Scheme’. More than300 projects have been rolled out, including construction of more than 50 primary schools, roads and clean water supply.
Rwanda’s Prime Minister Dr. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, who presided over the ceremony, and named the baby ‘Birashoboka’ [it is possible], said conserving the nature is integral to Rwanda’s development agenda.
Particularly, he said, “local residents are the primary beneficiaries as it has helped set up community businesses and income generating projects that has improved lives and the communities’ economy.”
The Prime Minister strongly advised residents to keep up the conservation practices in order to maintain the current benefits from tourism.
To emphasize the importance of KwitaIzina, cerebrations are organized with themes. This year’s theme for example was; “A Decade: Conserving-Empowering-Growing”, with emphasis on how gorilla tourism empowers communities through revenue sharing programs.
Conservationists and gorilla admirers such as Ambassador Cuelenaere, say Rwanda’sconservation effort for the Mountain Gorillas is remarkable.
Emmanuel Bensah, a Ghanaian who attended the carnival said, “Rwanda should serve as an example that Africa can link conservation and tourism.” “This is a message that Africa should not leave conservation to the [foreigners].”
List of dignitaries who named the newborns and the respective gorilla names
- Rt. Honourable Pierre Damien Habumuremyi- Prime Minister of the Republic of Rwanda named Birashoboka [all is possible]
- H.E LeoniCuelenaere – Ambassador of Netherlands to Rwanda named Inzozi [dreams]
- Mr. Omar Samra –Tour operator representing Egypt and the Middle East named Inkindi [high value]
- General MushyoKamanzi – Army Chief of Staff named Ndengera [protect me]
- Mr. Charles OnyangoObbo – Editor, Mail and Guardian AFRICA named Tebuka [hurry through]
- Amb. TeglaLoroupe – Kenyan Athlete and Peace Ambassador named Nakure [let her grow]
- Mr. IkechiUko – Publisher, ATQ Publisher- Nigeria named Umugeni [bride]
- Ms. Uwamahoro Agnes – Local Community President of COPAV Mararo, Nyangye Sector named Nkurunziza [Goodnews]
- John Sempebwa – Deputy CEO United Tourism Board, Uganda named Imikino [sports]
- H.E Donald W. Koran – Ambassador of the United States of America to Rwanda named Twiyubake [self-relience]
- Mr. John Mirenge – Chief Executive Officer RwandAir named Kwigira [self-reliance]
- Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed – Principal Secretary for Commerce, Tourism and East African Affairs, Kenya named Isange [welcome]
- Ms. Lisa Karanja – Senior Director Business Competitiveness, Trade Mark named Umutaka [Umbrella]
- Hon. BarnabaMarial Benjamin – Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, South Sudan named Masunzu [ a place around the Virunga volcanoes]
- Mr. Bigirimana Francois –Volcanoes National Park Guide, Rwanda Development Board named Nkundurwanda [I Love Rwanda]
- Dr. Adam Woo – Chief Operating Officer, Chinese Business Network gave a Chinese name which translates to Ubukwe [celebration and double prosperity]
- Ms. Keiko Mori – Japanese Friends named Ubukombe [ experience]
- Mr. Fidel Nizeyimana- Tracker, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda Development Board named Ibendera [flag]