Rwanda is hoping to double its tourism earnings with a series of events that market the country as a high-end tourist destination.One of the events is the annual mountain gorilla naming ceremony known as Kwita Izina.
This year’s event was held in Kinigi, at the foothills of the Volcanoes National Park.
Rwanda Development Board (RDB) released the list of star-studded gorilla namers who included American pop star Akon, and humanitarian activist Graca Machel, renowned for her women and children’s advocacy, and who is also a former first lady of South Africa and Mozambique.
Others were former Arsenal football club player Lauren Etamé-Mayer and English celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
The list also included outstanding Rwandan and international conservationists, sports personalities, renowned philanthropists and diplomats.
They named some 23 baby gorillas born in 2017.
The celebrity line up was aimed at increasing Rwanda’s tourism global appeal and creating awareness of conservation efforts for the endangered mountain gorillas.
The event attracts leading conservationists, celebrities and policy makers.
Kwita Izina, now in its 14th edition, has become one of the country’s leading tourism attraction in addition to gorilla trekking.
Zimbabwean billionaire businessman Strive Masiyiwa; South African Adrian Gardiner — the founder and chairman of hotel chain Mantis; Michael O’Brien-Onyeka of Conservation International for Africa; Thomas Krulis, the Loto Investments chief executive; and Chinese celebrity travel couple, Hong Liang and Xinyu Zhang add to the list of namers.
South African award winning music duo of Theo Kgosinkwe and Nhlanhla Nciza, known as Mafikizolo, in addition to naming the gorillas, performed at the exclusive Kwita Izina gala dinner in Rubavu.
From Rwanda, Odette Nyiramongi, the proprietor of Paradis Malahide Resort; Judith Kakuze, a former porter at the Volcanoes National Park; and Jeannette Uwiragiye who graduated top of her class at the polytechnic IPRC-Kitabi’s Department of Forestry Conservation last year, were among the namers.
Kwita Izina will also feature Cameroonian and former Arsenal star Lauren along with retired English footballer Alexandra Virina Scott, who played for Arsenal women’s team.
The duo joins the namers as part of the Arsenal three-year sleeve — Visit Rwanda — deal to promote Rwanda’s tourism.
The former players conducted a children’s football clinic and met Arsenal fans on Wednesday.
“We all know it’s not easy to become a professional player in these top leagues but the most important thing is to give kids a chance to play and improve their technical level,” Lauren said.
According to the RDB chief executive Clare Akamanzi, the country aims to grow its tourism income to $800 million by 2024 which would be achieved by “marketing Rwanda as a tourist destination in innovative ways”.
In 2017, tourism revenues were $438 million.
RDB is investing 5 percent of the proceeds in communities surrounding the parks.
Community projects in Kitabi sector near Nyungwe park in Southern Province, and Ndego and Kayonza sectors near Akagera park in Eastern Province are the beneficiaries this year.
Rwanda is credited for her conservation efforts that has seen the endangered mountain gorilla population rise from 480 in 2010 to about 700, in the Virunga Massif, that strands Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. — The East African.