15 November 2006

Rwanda: Volcano Park Fronted for World Tourism Site

Kigali — The Volcano Park (Virunga) is being fronted for classification as a world class tourism site. Rwanda and her northern neighbour, Uganda are lobbying the United Nations to nominate their prominent national parks into the category of World Heritage Sites.

Joined by the Democratic Republic of Congo, the two neighbouring states have fronted the protected area comprising the Parc des Volcans (Rwanda) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda to the United Nations Education and Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), for nomination of the transboundary ecosystem among the internationally recognised centres.

The lobbying process started with a consultaive meeting between the Rwanda National Tourism Office (ORTPN), the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the DRC's Office of Tourism (ICCN) on Monday at Kigali Intercontinental Hotel.

Bringing together the Director General of ORTPN, Chantal Rosette Rugamba, UWA Executive Director, Moses Mapesa and and the ICCN boss, Pasteur Cosma Walindula, the meeting also brought to table the issue of transboundary collaboration towards extension of the site to common use.

Speaking to The New Times in an interview, Rugamba said: "We are discussing a common strategy that would enable us to easily integrate our Parc des Volcans and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park to the Virunga on the Congo side into one site."

The line of interest, she said, is to merge the two national parks with DR Congo's Virunga park to form the "Transboundary Virunga Massive"-a tourist site covering the three countries.

"And, we want the Virunga Massive to be governed by international conventions so that in times of conflict, the animals are not threatened because none of the governments will have rights to abuse the national parks under the designated area," Rugamba said. She observed that given the DRC's success in tourism, Rwanda and Uganda were bound to benefit from the joint venture.

While Rwanda and Uganda failed to win international recognition for their respective national parks (Parc de Volcans and Mgahinga) in 2002, the DRC attained a World Heritage Site status for her Virunga Park in 2004.

"By involving Congo (DRC), we are looking at extending our protected area to their Virunga Site, which has international recognition," Rugamba noted.

Under the new arrangement, 160Sqkm of Rwanda's Parc des Volcans and approximately 34SqKm of Uganda's Mgahinga National Park will be added to the Congo's pronounced Virunga Park, which covers about 7900SqKm to form one tourism site managed under world conservation regulations.

The three countries will, after a stretch of the ongoing negotiations, produce a report that contains details of the tourism network for nomination into the World Heritage class by the United Nations World Heritage Committee expected to convene in New Zealand in June 2007.

"When the site is endorsed for this category (World Heritage) we shall be a member to the bracket of benefciary countries that get $3m (about Frw1.3b) annually from UNESCO's World Heritage Fund for conservation and protection of the sites," Rugamba said.

The World has a total of 830 Heritage Sites across 138 countries, with Africa having 65.

"It will simplify the process for the three countries to sell their Virunga Massive as a common site," said Guy Debonet, a representative of the UNESCO Secretariat of World Heritage.

Dubonet, who also doubles as a member on the nomination committee, expressed optimism that the extension of the tourism resource would increase the size as well as ecological viability of the protected area.

He argued that it was the same request UNESCO made to Rwanda and Uganda when they applied in 2002.

"This is going to simplify the nomination process. Rwanda and her partners in this effort should submit all the information about their site in time before the February 2007 deadline," he said, arguing that timely submission of the information will allow the body to scrutninse the trio's presentations ahead of the New Zealand round.

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