When thinking about Rwanda, a number of things come to mind. The numerous majestic hills that are present all over the country, the breeze blowing the leaves from the greenery to rustle calmly. A picture of absolute serenity.
Gorillas are the largest living primate. They are spread across most of the equatorial African rainforest in countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rwanda has been known for its mountain gorillas since the 1960s and 1970s when it was brought to international attention by the conservation efforts of Dian Fossey. At the moment, Rwanda and Uganda are the sole two countries within the world where mountain gorillas are often visited safely.
According to Hannah Nielsen and Annah Spenceley (2010), the Virunga mountain gorilla, (Gorilla beringei beringei) is a highly endangered African ape subspecies that exists only in the Virunga Conservation Area encompassing Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. Gorilla tourism is viewed as a valuable conservation tool in Rwanda hence strict rules are enforced pertaining to trekking with gorilla families. At the latest count, there are approximately 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild while 604 are located at the Virunga Mountains according to the United Nations Environment Programme. The revenue generated from gorilla tourism is not only used to finance national parks but also facilitates conservation activities. These efforts have resulted to a slow increase in number of the gorillas.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to the success of gorilla tourism in Rwanda. Due to the small size of Rwanda, the gorillas are easily accessible as tourists can reach them in two hours from the capital city Kigali. On the contrary, it takes 6 hours to reach the gorillas from Kampala in Uganda. Moreover, the fact that the state of infrastructure in Rwanda is relatively good is an added advantage.
The Rwandan community has been involved in gorilla tourism as well. According to Ungweli (2009), the department for community conservation was created to work on local education and social infrastructure projects. Since 2005, ORTPN (Office Rwandais du Tourisme et des Parc Nationaux), which was absorbed into the Rwanda Development Board in 2009, has overseen a revenue-sharing scheme where 5% of the revenues generated from the Volcanoes National Park fees are put into local community projects around the national park to ensure the locals feel a sense of ownership of the parks. Employment opportunities are also offered through the national parks. Locals are employed to work as guides, trackers and antipoaching agents just to mention a few. Some private based tour operators also offer community based tourism activities such as stays with local families, village walks, banana beer production and also volunteer opportunities in local communities.
According to Uwingeli (2009), gorilla tourism has also brought about social benefits. The tourism revenue-sharing scheme initiated in 2005 has brought about the implementation of direct and indirect projects. These projects bring about social benefits to the locals living near Volcano National Park. Ten schools have been constructed reducing the distance travelled by children to the nearest schools. Water tanks have also been set up. These water tanks provide 20 litres of water per person per day and roughly 1,250 people are served by each tank. In addition to this, ten community associations have been directly supported through the revenue-sharing scheme. A number of income-generating activities such as bee keeping, and basket weaving have also been implemented. Partnerships in conservation and community development resulted in the construction of the Sabyinyo community lodge. The lodge is owned by Sabyinyo Community Livelihood Association (SACOLA) but it is however managed by a specialized ecolodge company. SACOLA and the management company have an agreement whereby the company pays SACOLA bed and night fees and a percentage of the monthly income. SACOLA comprises of at least 3,000 households which benefit from this agreement.
Rwanda has been able to attract large numbers of business travelers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighboring countries of the East African Community. This has led to an increase in hotels rooms and restaurants. It has also led to the construction of a convention center, Kigali Convention Centre from 2009-2016 and with this, Rwanda has been able to host a number of international conferences including the African Union Summit and the Youth Connekt Africa Summit both in July 2016 and the Africa Hotel Investment Forum in October 2016.
Rwanda is known worldwide for its mountain gorillas. Despite the difficult situation after the conflict in 1994, the country has been successful in putting in place strategies to maintain conservation as one of its priorities. In addition to the successful revival of gorilla tourism, Rwanda has attracted numerous business travelers. Tourism has also become a tool to eradicate poverty while involving the community. This shows enormous potential to diversify tourism products which are vital in sustaining an economically productive sector.
Content writer at Cue Africa. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org LinkedIn: Selina Liyengwa.