Change has come to Kwita Izina


(Posted 21st June 2013)

Those who came to Rwanda to help celebrate the annual Festival of the Gorillas, the now in its 9th year Kwita Izina and expected to sing from the same hymn sheet as in past years, were in for a major surprise when they received the programme of this year’s edition. Where up to last year visitors came to expect interaction with the local communities in Igitaramo near the main naming venue in Kinigi on the night prior to the naming ceremony, the new look Kwita Izina has expanded on the aspect of culture, besides opening a whole new range of tourism attractions in the wider Musanze area for tourists, and in our case for the accompanying media trail, who can suddenly do a lot more than ‘just tracking gorillas’.

The Rwanda Development Board, organizer of Kwita Izina since 2005, has for this year created a dedicated tour, aptly named the Kwita Izina Caravan which covers either three or four nights and brings the record number of foreign attendees, who have traveled to the Land of a Thousand Hills closer to Rwanda’s nature and culture.

Rwanda’s traditional dances will always be at the centre of things and wherever the caravan passed, from Kigali along the winding road and its many scenic stops, including the Nyirangarama famous roadside eatery, drummers and dancers were in evidence. They were in attendance too at the famous Hotel Muhabura in Musanze – expect a separate story about this historical landmark soon – were an art and craft exhibition is taking place this week and where artists and mainly women’s groups were showcasing their creations. It is here that the late Dian Fossey spent much of her time when she periodically came down from the mountains for some R&R and meetings, and her favourite cottage number 12 has been meticulously maintained in the state it was in back in those days to honour her life’s work towards gorilla conservation and her patronage of the hotel.

The ‘Crazy Night’ concept will undoubtedly appeal greatly to an entirely new range of tourists, in particular the growing number of overland travelers and back packers, who come to Musanze to see the famous mountain gorillas and in the past were often left wondering, what else there was to do, especially at night. The Volcana Lounge, Musanze’s most popular nightspot and not far from some of the main hotels like the Ishema, the Muhabura and the La Palme, will host local, regional and international visitors for two nights, and give them a taste what nightlife otherwise is like across the year and outside the festival period. Here it will be the wagenis doing the dancing and shake their things, making a display of themselves in reverse order for the locals to watch but not before having attended the Igitaramo event, this year held at the Musanze Regional Stadium, where at the end of the traditional performances top music groups from across East Africa will perform to give locals and wagenis alike the chance to listen to the top rated regional earworms.

But RDB has gone beyond these jazzed up changes of the social side of the Kwita Izina programme and is now also showcasing additional options to sightsee, like a trip to the so called Twin Lakes of Burera and Ruhondo.

For too long did visitors to Musanze wonder, what else there is to do when coming to track the gorillas, undoubtedly THE key to this areas fame around the world, and an afternoon excursion to the lakes is helping now to fill the gaps and voids. Additionally has RDB opened up the Musanze Caves for visits. Extending underground for some 2 kilometres, the caves are home to large bat colonies and host some incredible variety of plants, shrubs and trees at the entrance, something I am for sure looking forward to explore tomorrow.

The main event, the naming of young born gorillas, this year it will be a dozen, remains the highlight of the weeklong festival and all and sundry will do pilgrimage from Musanze to Kinigi, where a stone throw from the park headquarters the festival site will be the place to be to celebrate Rwanda’s amazing accomplishments in gorilla conservation. Over the past 9 years 160 gorilla babies and one ‘migrant’ from the wild, named Umutungo by this correspondent last year, were given names. Umutungo’s newborn gorilla baby girl will be named this year too, a source of pride for myself who has been part of Kwita Izina for many years and who now has a family up on Mt. Sabinyo.

In none of the other mountain gorilla range countries along the Virunga mountains has the effort to highlight and publicize conservation efforts been taken to such lengths as is the case here in Rwanda. After a slow start in 2005 has Kwita Izina established itself as a prime event to celebrate conservation efforts, and giving a 5 percent share of the revenues made from tourism to communities living around the national parks in Rwanda, has made a huge impact on the change of mindset, turning erstwhile poachers into custodians and protectors of not just the gorillas but wildlife and birdlife in general. The standing of namers, this year will UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai be among those selected, is testament to Kwita Izina now being a global event, when the world comes to Rwanda, to witness, to cherish and to celebrate. Watch this space for more reports in coming days as Kwita Izina 2013 is racing towards its climax.

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