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Kwita Izina

5 September, 2017

Kwita Izina is Rwanda’s annual gorilla baby naming event, where gorilla babies born later in the previous year and up to a few months before to the event are bestowed with a name. This year was the 13th edition of this national event, with 19 gorilla babies being named.

gorilla baby

Photo courtesy of Oliver Nicklin

Myself and Charlie Mason, one half of the superb Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge management team, attended this year on behalf of Governors’ Camp. Shamefully, I must admit to arriving at the event with little knowledge of what to expect. In fact, I attended with trepidation of being subjected to a long and arduous affair of protracted speeches, tedious ceremony and lots of forced applause (I had brought a stock of caffeine supplies in anticipation of this!) Oh how wrong I was!

gorilla naming ceremony

Photo courtesy of Chloe Flatt

We arrived early, while the setup was still happening, but already the electric atmosphere infused us with energized anticipation. Streaming into the area were tens of thousands of Rwandans from the region, eager to watch the show – they had obviously done the homework that I had not! What we were rewarded with was an event suffused with music, energy and positivity - a true celebration of what conservation can mean to everyone.

gorilla naming ceremony

Photo courtesy of Chloe Flatt

Beginning in the early morning, numerous Rwandan artists serenaded the frenetic crowds with the rhythmic African beats. It was impossible not to wiggle along in your chair!

The musical festivities continued until the arrival of the man behind one of Africa’s most remarkable conservation drives, President Paul Kagame. With the arrival of the “Big Man”, the naming ceremony was underway.

Nineteen national and international guests were invited to name gorillas. Among the prestigious names were Dr Tara Stoinsky, CEO of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International; Nollywood actress Patience Ozokwor; Professor Eberhard Fischer, preeminent botanist who has published books detailing the flora in Volcanoes National Park; Laurent Lamo, former Prime Minister of Haiti; Veronica Varekova, supermodel and AWF Global Ambassador; and Howard Buffet, who’s Howard Buffet Foundation is instrumental in so many of Rwanda’s great conservation successes.  

gorilla naming ceremony

Photo courtesy of Chloe Flatt

The crowd was no less prestigious, with Rwandan Ministers rubbing shoulders with Rwanda’s societal elite, as well as some of the biggest names in Africa’s tourism trade, and perhaps most notably Hollywood actor Sean Penn!

The names chosen are always Kinyarwandan, the national local language, and are words symbolizing the bright and prosperous future for both the gorilla babies and Rwanda – Uruyange meaning “shining”, Iriba meaning “source of income”, Tembera y Rwanda meaning “travel Rwanda” and Ikoranabuhanga meaning “ICT” – a dedication to Rwanda blossoming ICT sector!

Underlying the excitement and ambiance is a beautiful and simple message – everyone can win in conservation. Earlier this year, the Rwandan Government announced that communities surrounding national park will see an increase the tourism revenue sharing from 5% to 10%. These revenues are used to fund community projects, such as schools and medical centers. From 2005 to 2016, Rwanda has spent RWF531 million (US$630’000) on community activities.

gorilla naming ceremony

Photo courtesy of Chloe Flatt 

Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, outlined some of the achievements of Rwanda gorilla tourism and conservation. Since the first naming ceremony 13 years ago, the number of gorilla family groups has risen from 8 to 20! Today, tourism is Rwanda’s largest foreign exchange earner, constitutes 30% of exports, and contributes 3% of the country’s GDP.

Paul Kagame spoke as the guest of honour, regaling the amused Kinyarwanda and English-speaking crowds with a story of an encounter with a Silverback. On a gorilla trek some years ago with a friend from Europe, during their encounter the silverback of the family became agitated and began displaying threatening behaviour. The guide advised them to be humble and hold their heads down, showing respect and not looking the silverback in the eye. While humbling themselves, Kagame’s friend whispered to him, “Can’t you just tell the gorillas that you are president of this country??”, to which Kagame replied, “No I don’t want a fight with a gorilla.”

President Kagame

Photo courtesy of Chloe Flatt 

As affirmed by Howard Buffet during his naming speech, we have Mr Kagame to thank as the driving force behind Rwanda’s gorilla conservation program. Without his foresight and dedication to uplifting communities through tourism, we may not have the now increasing population of Mountain Gorilla.

gorilla naming ceremony

Photo courtesy of Chloe Flatt

On leaving the grounds at the end of the ceremony, what was palpable was the sense of positivity and optimism for a future where our children’s children’s children will be able to enjoy the humbling and emotional experience that is an encounter with a Mountain Gorilla.

Chloe Flatt - Marketing Manager, Governors Camp Collection. 

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge

Opened in 2007 by President Paul Kagame, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge and will be celebrating its 10th anniversary next year. Unique in Rwanda, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is entirely community-owned. The brainchild of Aris Grammaticus, founder of Governors’ Camps, Sabyinyo was conceived with the input of dedicated conservationist Annette Lanjouw, then working for the International Gorilla Conservation Program. For the Rwandan gorillas to truly be protected, those living closest to the gorillas must hold a stake in their conservation. This concept underpinned the business model of the lodge, and the community-owned Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge was born. The Sacola Trust was developed as the owning body, and comprises of a board of representatives who determine the use of funds for community projects servicing the community of 60’000 people. A true success story of collaborative conservation, to date the Sacola community has received $2.5 Million - partly from the lodge in rental payments and partly directly from clients in the form of a Community Development Levy (analogous to a Park Fee), which the community trust has used for development projects in the local region. Here is a link to more information on Sacola's projects and achievements

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