A tripartite meeting was held in Kigali recently where Rwanda development Board (RDB)’s Tourism and Conservation Department hosted their counterparts from the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Congo’s ICCN, to discuss closer cooperation and gorilla management and conservation in the Virunga Mountains. Rica Rwigamba welcomed her counterparts from Uganda, Dr. Andrew
The Virunga Mountains
Seguya and Dr. Wilungula from Congo to complete what technical teams of the three organizations had prepared in the recent past, namely the drafting of a new 5 year strategic plan to protect the prized mountain gorillas and their habitat across the national borders, work together in tourism related activities and by promoting the Virunga mountains as a tourist destination with gorilla trekking and viewing as its main attraction and generate more revenues and equitably share benefits.
Gorilla tourism in Uganda and Rwanda are amongst the highest grossing tourism activities and remain the highest profile attraction the countries are known for, in spite of efforts to diversify the products and promote visits to other national parks and game reserves too. Congo in contrast, as a result of conflict over the past decades in the East of the country, has not been able to develop the full potential of gorilla tracking tourism and related activities and therefore is keen to eventually reap a peace dividend when full order is eventually restored.
Rica Rwigamba reportedly focused in her statement on the need to improve the livelihoods of people living in the vicinity of the respective national parks while Dr. Seguya welcomed the positive changes in the new document compared to past cooperation as a number of loopholes in the trans-boundary management of gorillas was now addressed. It was noted by tourism sources from Kigali however that the former commonality of using the same tariffs across the three countries had not been brought back, leaving each country for now to set their charges. Rwanda presently charges non-resident foreign tourists US Dollars 1500 per person and has no off or low season tariffs, something the Uganda Wildlife Authority has successfully introduced over the past two years, allowing them to attract more visitors during the time of year when permit sales are off peak and every additional tourist attracted to Uganda will bring that crucial extra income for UWA and the tourism sector. So unlike Rwanda, Uganda does make some money from Gorilla Safari expeditions even in the off peak season. Uganda charges US Dollars 500 per person, which lowers in the off peak season.
However the meeting was full of good news overall for the future cooperation between the three countries under the Greater Virunga Transboundary Cooperation, which has its secretariat based in Kigali.