What is Kwita Izina?
During the first week of September every year, celebrities from around the world touch down in Kinigi, Volcanoes National Park, to name the baby gorillas born in the last year in Rwanda. There is nothing like this anywhere else.
From early morning, thousands of young Rwandese throng to the event site. They wait excitedly for their favourite musicians to perform for them live, free of charge. It’s said over 60,000 people attended Kwita Izina ceremony!
The Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony is an opportunity to publicly thank the conservationists closest to protecting these great apes. It’s also a global showcase for the country’s tourism industry. Gorilla namers include Rwandan and international conservationists, sports personalities, renown philanthropists and diplomats. Read my blog from a previous Kwita Izina, in which I explain the derivation of the term and the history of its creation.
According to East African tourism expert Carmen Nibigira, this year’s event was “the best event ever!”
How Kwita Izina is an important event for Rwanda and Africa?
Thanks to conservation initiatives like Kwita Izina, the Mountain Gorilla population in the Virunga Massif has increased from 480 in 2010 to to 604 in 2016 (results of last census). The Virunga Massif covers Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 1981, Mountain Gorilla numbers had dropped to just 242 individuals, according to the Rwanda Development Board. (Results of the latest gorilla census are expected to show a further increase in gorilla numbers. However the species is still classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List).
Now in its 14th year, Kwita Izina has gone from being a one day gorilla naming event to a whole week of conservation and tourism related events. Tourism can be a powerful tool for lifting people out of poverty and Rwanda is pushing it at every level. One of the week’s events is the two-day Conversation on Conservation (CoC) forum in Kigali which takes a strategic look at conservation in the country
3 Practical Things about Rwanda’s Gorilla Naming Ceremony
1. You are not going to see any real gorillas at Kwita Izina
It’s better we deal with this major misconception first. No, the Rwanda Development Board is not going to torture gorilla babies by bringing them to the event. Instead you will get a photo list of little gorillas born that year. There will be dashes for names, and you can entertain yourself by making them up, however, the real thing is going to be done from the stage, by important personalities from around the globe.
2. It always happens at the same place at (almost) the same time & Free
You can plan for this. The setting is Kinigi, the headquarters of Volcanoes National Park not far from Musanze Town, and it happens the first Friday of September, beginning in the morning. You will have to apply for your free ticket to Kwita Izina online.
3. Gorilla names are not a gimmick
Finally, gorilla names are actually a practical thing. After decades of conservation efforts, the number of mountain gorillas on this planet is bigger than 1,000 at last — but that still calls for extreme attention to each and every individual! For example, there are specialised gorilla doctors taking care of their health… Professionals who work with gorillas use noseprints (peculiar wrinkles above nostrils) to know who is who.