3 September 2017

Rwanda: Kwita Izina - Humans Should Learn From Gorillas

Photo: Timothy Kisambira/New Times
Mountain gorillas feed inside Virunga National Park.

There is a human in gorillas just as there is a gorilla in humans. So we are gorillas and gorillas are humans; welcome back from this year's Kwita Izina, a baby naming ceremony for Rwanda's mountain gorillas and among the world's noblest acts by human beings for nature.

Friday's Kwita Izina for gorillas was the 13th edition since the practice was adopted from a centuries' old Rwandan tradition of giving a name to new born babies.

It is a celebration of wildlife which has since grown in prominence, now attracting international celebrities and global influencers who travel to Rwanda every year to participate, witness and support one of the world's most successful conservation efforts we have today.

This celebration has helped direct international attention to the need of conserving the gorillas which were threatened by extinction at the hands of hostile human acts. Thanks to Kwita Izina, humans have since moved from gorilla persecutors to their protectors.

As a result, some 216 baby gorillas had been named in twelve editions; Friday's edition made it 235 after the nineteen babies were named; the turnaround in human attitude towards gorillas has generated positive benefits for both government and communities around the parks.

"In protecting gorillas, we have everything to gain," President Paul Kagame told participants at the 13th Kwita Izina ceremony held Friday in Kinigi sector, Musanze Sistrict.

That's true. Rwanda earned over US$400 million from tourism, last year, of which gorilla trekking is the primary cash cow, helping the nation to balance its payment receipts in international trade, hence shouldering the Rwandan currency from exchange pressure.

Out of US$400million earned by government last year, US$2million (equivalent to 5 percent) was invested in community development oriented projects through revenue sharing schemes.

These sharing schemes have financed over 600 local projects, supporting livelihoods through generating incomes for those involved something which has taught locals that, instead of killing the beasts, they could protect them and earn from doing so.

It was the best strategy government could deploy in recruiting local communities to support conservation efforts; government could have chosen to deploy armed guards to protect wildlife but such an effort is unsustainable.

If Kwita Izina is a success today as many would agree, it is because, it is a conversation on conservation in which local communities have been invited to actively participate hence cultivating a sense of shared ownership and responsibility over the country's nature.

Clare Akamanzi, Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Development Board whose Tourism unit is at the forefront of moderating the conversation on conservation, believes that the shared responsibility with locals will see continued community growth as tourism earnings surge.

As we humans celebrate the life of new born gorillas, we should also learn something from their lifestyle. For instance, gorillas live in groups consisting of about 25 to 35 members; usually, there is one leading male (silverback), accompanied by several females with their young ones.

Compare that to humans of today; family values are at their lowest in many countries as men are afraid of being silverbacks hence the ever growing story of single mothers fending for children in the absence of their fathers who couldn't face the responsibilities of being husbands.

The growing number of abandoned kids, who call the streets home, is in stark contrast to how mountain gorillas look out for their kids and make sure they're protected until such a time when they're old enough to form a family of their own.

At the Kwita Izina ceremony, President Kagame shared an experience of his encounter with mountain gorillas fourteen years ago while trekking into the Virunga national park.

"... There was a baby gorilla, a year or less old. So the baby screamed. I don't know what had happed to it. A bigger gorilla, maybe its father, came charging at us, in protection of its baby," Kagame recollected.

It is the guide that saved Kagame and his friend with whom they were trekking. "Humble yourselves, squat and don't even look in the eye of the charging gorilla." They did and escaped unhurt. Like the protective silverbacks, fathers must be protective of their families and African Presidents must be protective and guard their countries' values from international bullies.

The Kenyan Supreme court on Friday annulled the Presidential election whose result had given President Uhuru Kenyatta victory. As the country prepares for a fresh election in 60-days' time, Kenyans must look at themselves as members of one gorilla family.

Although it is always that there is one silverback in each family, it is a common tendency among mountain gorillas to have several adult males in a family. In this particular Kenyan gorilla family, there are two silverbacks each seeking to lead the pack.

As members of that family, Kenyan voters shall decide which of the two silverbacks (Uhuru vs. Raila) they want to lead them. We, as members of other gorilla families in East Africa, pray that Kenyans stay united and peaceful regardless of which silverback is chosen to lead their family.

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