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Kwita Izina Unlocking opportunities for local communities

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In a nutshell, Kwita izina is a marketing event where the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) showcases the tourist attractions abundant in the country. It is an event that targets to raise awareness of the beauty in the culture, people and nature of Rwanda.

Considering the growth in numbers of guests attending the event for the last nine years, it has indeed succeeded at achieving its goal of marketing Rwanda’s tourism.

According to Rica Rwigamba, the head of tourism and conservation department at RDB every other year has brought new faces and higher profiled personalities.

“This year we have had more high profiled people joining us to celebrate Rwanda’s efforts in conserving mountain gorillas. More so we had a record high number of international celebrities popular not only for their roles in conservation of nature but also for their talents in the entertainment industry.”

The event attracted over 460 guests from 30 countries around the world scattered across six continents of the world.

Alongside the increase in numbers of international figures at the Kwita Izina annual ceremony has been a steady rise in the representation from local communities to the function. This year the number was over 5,000, the highest ever recorded in the past.

The increasing presence of the locals at the function is a sign of the value that they attach to the conservation and protection of the mountain gorillas which are at the verge of extinction.

“The local communities now have a better understanding of the role that the conservation efforts have in their own development,” Uwingeri Prosper the Chief Park Warden of Volcanoes National Park scored.

Benefits of conserving Rwanda’s natural heritage transcend maintaining a healthy habitant for humans to include the role that activities of tourism play in individual and national development.

For instance since 2005, the government through RDB initiated a tourism revenue sharing scheme which provides that 5 percent of total tourism revenue is given back to the communities around national parks.

The revenue sharing scheme has seen more than US$2.5million find its way in communities around the three major tourist attractions of Nyungwe, Volcanoes, and Akagera National Parks.

The funding is given with an aim of supporting local communities to find an alternative means of survival apart from living on the resources of the parks.

For instance, the celebrations of Kwita Izina this year were preceded with the inauguration of a maize milling factory for cooperative Twisungane- Gatare. The cooperative received US$35,000 support under the revenue sharing scheme.

However Twisungane- Gatare is just one of the over 280 projects of cooperatives in the communities that have been supported over the last seven years of the scheme’s existance.

Common to all the community projects, is that they involve a conservational aspect with a basis of offering alternatives for the locals to forego practices like poaching and others that are destructive to nature.

For instance the Twisungane- Gitare project of maize milling which was financed is aimed at fighting deforestation which used to be practiced while locals searched for traditional to grind cereals.

Besides the revenue sharing scheme, RDB invests in supporting local communities to tap directly tourists’ wallets. This is done by encouraging locals to make products like art crafts that are highly demanded for by tourists and positioning them in places where they can be seen and their products bought.

Rwigamba noted that such efforts are aimed at ensuring that the locals get better means to live by than to encroach on the natural resources.

Although RDB has not invested in analyzing how much revenue local communities make from the tourists and the masses that attend the Kwita Izina event, Rwigamba noted that efforts are being made to record it.

She however added that there are already signs that a lot of products are bought from locals but as a result of disorganization and poor quality the benefits of the event are not maximized, something that RDB wishes to address in the near future.

Kwita Izina this year involved the naming of 12 newly born baby gorillas. Added to those that were named in the years before, it brings the number of gorillas named over the last nine years to 161 gorillas.

According to Clare Akamanzi the Acting Chief Executive Officer of RDB, the government and people of Rwanda have made numerous efforts to conserve the Mountain Gorillas besides Kwita Izina and these have paid off by increasing the population of the species that is risking extinction from the planet.

“Rwanda’s community led conservation efforts have resulted into a 26.3% growth in the population of gorillas since 2003 and Kwita Izina has been key to this success,” Clare Akamanzi, the Acting Chief Executive Officer of RDB scored.

Kwita Izina 2013 was graced by the presence of among others the guest of honor Right Honorable Pierre Damien Habumuremyi the prime minister of Rwanda, the Secretary General of the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization Mr. Rifai Taleb, Kenya’s speaker of the Senate Ekwe Ethuro and American renown economist and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, Jeffrey David Sachs.

Also celebrities like Ramsey Tokunbo Nouah Jr. Nigerian award winning actor and Isaiah Washington IV an American actor were present.

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