Kwita Izina: Growing from a national event to a Global brand

Kwita Izina: Growing from a national event to a Global brand


Babu Emile,

 Musanze a tiny township in Rwanda’s Northern Province stole international limelight when it hosted the president, first lady, government leaders, global celebrities, foreign corps, business community, international media and the general public on the 30th of June to celebrate the annual fete, ‘Kwita Izina’.

Distinctive pageantry and cultural majesty were on show as thousands flocked the dazzlingly decorated Kinigi hill on the fringes of Parc National des Volcans to celebrate the third edition of the Gorilla Naming Ceremony. Refreshing entertainment, corporate brand presence and impressive orderliness are what epitomized this year’s event, now dubbed.

The presence of endangered mountain gorillas is central to the exponential growth of the tourism industry in Rwanda where the sector is playing a pivotal role in socio-economic, growth and development. Last year in tourism receipts alone, the country earned revenue to the tune of 36 million US dollars, exceeding targets by 4 million. This figure represents a 30 percent increase from the previous year and makes tourism the third largest foreign exchange earner after coffee and tea.

The inimitable festival came of age this year showcasing remarkable growth in magnitude and revealing astonishing potential. By adopting and investing in a new brand name, the event now stands out as uniquely Rwandan and makes its mark on the global tourism calendar as a significant conservation celebration.

Kwita Izina created a buzz by attracting international celebrities such as Star Wars heroine Natalie Portman who named a gorilla ‘Gukina’ (Kinyarwanda for ‘to play’). The late Steve Irwin, ‘a.k.a. the crocodile man’ was represented by his former manager John Stainton who named a gorilla ‘Ingufu’ (Kinyarwanda for ‘strength’), in memory of Steve. Reknown conservationist Jack Hanna, Animal Planet’s Marjorie Kaplan and President of supermarket chain Macys’ Terry Lundgren all made their mark by each naming a gorilla while international media was represented by Discovery channel, SABC, Reuters and M-Net Studio 53.

In a country where most of the population still lives below poverty line, the National Office for Tourism and National Parks is sparing no efforts in trying to elevate the livelihoods of those living in the perimeters of national parks. To an economist, the role of tourism in attracting foreign currency seems obvious. But the residents of Musanze are no experts on economics. Governor Boniface Rucagu of Northern Province, used the opportunity to sensitize his people on the benefits of tourism and the foreign currency it generates.

‘This tarmac road never used to be here, it now is! You now have electricity in your households, that was never there before! Hotels, schools and hospitals, are all being constructed right here in your area!’ the politician highlighted, only to be interrupted by applause from the impassioned populace of Musanze.

Indeed the signs of growth and development can be felt as one mingles with the crowd. Bigirimana who lives several kilometers from the park says, ‘It used to take longer than an hour to drive from the Ruhengeri town to Kinigi. The trip has since been reduced to a ten minutes, thanks to the recently constructed tarmac road.’

‘I now have a job and my property has been secured from encroachment by the park’s wild animals,’ he boasts.

‘We have constructed six primary schools, twelve water tanks, a health centre, setup bee keeping and handicrafts projects, constructed 74 kilometre buffer stone wall in Kinigi and dug an animal boundary trench in Akagera.’ The Director of the Office of Tourism and National Parks, Mrs. Rugamba Rosette explains the crucial role her organization is playing in the community.

The most sophisticated project currently being undertaken in Musanze is the Sabinyo Silverback Community Lodge owned by an association of 6,000 households living on the borders of the National Park. According to Mrs. Rugamba, the project worth a million dollars employs 600 people on a daily basis.

‘We believe that protection of the environment is fundamental to sustainable prosperity,’ the President Paul Kagame commented in the day’s keynote address. ‘We live in an era when tourism and conservation have to be pursued with equal vigor,’ he added. The president belittled poor and inefficient service provision that generally dogs Rwanda’s service sector and called upon all key players involved to improve.

‘Travel agencies, tour operations, transport companies, banking services, retail shops, hotels, restaurants, healthcare services, the entire value chain in this important sector requires fundamental change if we are to become contenders in the global tourism industry.’ His comments attracted thunderous applause.

Kwita Izina has further boosted local and international awareness for the need to conserve the endangered mountain gorillas. Through merchandising the event will be used to gunner even more revenues. There is therefore no doubt that baby Rwunguko and all the other gorillas that were celebrated on this day truly deserved the moment.

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