How Rwanda earns hundreds of millions from its gorillas alone

13Sep 2018
By Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
How Rwanda earns hundreds of millions from its gorillas alone

WHEN President Paul Kagame asked me to participate in a ceremony to name 23 baby gorillas a few days ago, I thought it was cool, and it earned some bragging rights for my youngest daughter amongst her animal-loving schoolmates... "My dad went to name a baby gorilla!"

I was grateful for the honour, and fully appreciated its importance from a conservation point of view. I did not realize at the time, however, that it would lead to one of the most profound entrepreneurial discoveries I have ever observed.

As we set off, I was initially a little disappointed to learn that I would not actually get to see any of the baby gorillas. I even wondered if it was such a smart idea to attend a ceremony whilst others discussed serious agriculture issues.

As our helicopter landed near the foothills of Volcano National Park which is home to the Silverback Mountain Gorillas, I realized we were entering a small town with beautiful homes and neat homesteads. I was surprised by the size and relative prosperity of the community and remarked about it to one of my colleagues.

It certainly looked more prosperous than communities around any game reserve I have ever seen in Africa, including Victoria Falls and Livingstone. This really raised my curiosity.

As we disembarked, I realized that the entire community appeared to be walking in one direction by their thousands, waving and singing.
"Where are they going?" we asked.

"To Kwita Izina. That is what we call the gorilla-naming ceremony," one of the hostesses explained. "We expect 60,000 people."

"For the naming of a baby animal?!" I exclaimed, totally shocked.

"Is there nothing else they can be doing?" I asked. "Surely they have seen it before."

It was clear they were excited and happy.

"Sir, the people of this community know every one of the gorillas in that forest. And when a baby is born, they celebrate like it's a human child "

As our vehicles drew through the excited crowds, something else caught my eye. There were also hundreds of foreign tourists of different nationalities and races, including westerners and Chinese.

"What is that the children are singing to the tourists?" I asked.

"Welcome to Rwanda. Thank you for visiting Rwanda!" one hostess explained.

"For these children and their parents, those tourists represent school fees and income for their community," another added.

"These baby gorillas are at the center of the economy of this region. They are the source of income. For these people each of these baby gorillas is worth more than 1000 cows."


Then I added: "Wow! I get it!"

Then another of the many hostesses and guides who joined us on the trip added something which blew my mind:

"The government distributes 10% of the revenue earned from the tourists who come to see the gorillas directly to the communities around the park."

"Do you know how much they got last year?" I asked.

"Between two to 10 million US dollars."

"Wow!" again.

"Yes, they get the money, and it is used to build things like schools, clinics, homes, roads and sanitation. The hotels are also built to service our gorilla industry."


She continued to explain: "These baby gorillas that you're going to help name bring big money into the community!"

"I imagine there is no poaching?" I asked.

"No, sir. This community seriously guards and defends the gorillas and their habitat."

Finally, I whispered: "If I could take my gorilla with me, I wouldn't have to work again."

"But you have more animals than we do, where you come from. Surely you can do the same with your lions and rhinos?" she asked.

By the time the minister responsible for the development of the tourist sector made her speech, it was like attending a Warren Buffett shareholders' meeting. She proudly reported the state of the "gorilla-driven" business, declaring that Rwanda had earned over $400m from tourism.

There was thunderous applause.

And when she said they want to double it to $800m, the "shareholders" of this remarkable venture cheered even louder. These were so-called ordinary people who understood the value that comes from conserving their environment and its wildlife.

#Entrepreneurship is a mindset! We've talked about this time and again.

This is entrepreneurship by a government that implemented an inclusive business model to protect an endangered animal.

As I flew back the capital, Kigali, I thought about my baby gorilla and his family. He is safe because the people will protect him.

"What a wonderful gift from God," I thought to myself. "All we have to do is protect them, and stay out of their way. They are like a beautiful annuity business that gives ever-increasing returns year in and year out."

I tried to think of a better business model, and I could not!

There is no African country which does not have a similar gift, be it a rare animal or even a location.

In 2015, tourism in Africa was worth about US$39.2bn. It could be worth 25x that amount!

All we have to do is protect our animals and our environment. Then tourists will come and spend good money having a great time. If we look after these animals, we can earn more money than we make from almost any other industry just now!
"Visit Africa!"

In 2016, global international tourism revenues were about US$1.34tn! But Africa's share (using 2015 AfDB figure of US$39.2bn) is a miniscule 2.93% of that.

As a point of comparison, France earned US$51.21bn (2017) and Greece US$16.88bn (2017).

It makes me want to cry...

But this is not a time for self-pity or bitter criticism. It's not my way. We need "fast follower" entrepreneurial nations.

What stops other African countries from adopting the Rwanda model?
"Visit Africa!"

Yeah, on this trip I think I discovered the most profitable business in Africa! You can make money from it all year round, for years. But we cannot do it alone.

We need an inclusive partnership with the communities that live near these animals and in these spectacular locations. Let's give them at least a 10% share and show them the benefits.

As I wrote in Part 1, bringing innovative ideas to rural areas is one of the key frontiers of African entrepreneurship. Do you see what I see?
Rwanda ( listen) in Kinyarwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda is a sovereign state in Central and East Africa and one of the smallest countries on the African mainland. Located a few degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwanda is in the African Great Lakes region and is highly elevated; its geography is dominated by mountains in the west and savanna to the east, with numerous lakes throughout the country. The climate is temperate to subtropical, with two rainy seasons and two dry seasons each year.

The population is young and predominantly rural, with a density among the highest in Africa. Rwandans are drawn from just one cultural and linguistic group, the Banyarwanda, although within this group there are three subgroups: the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa.

The Twa are a forest-dwelling pygmy people descended from Rwanda's earliest inhabitants. Scholars disagree on the origins of and differences between the Hutu and Tutsi; some believe differences are derived from former social castes within a single people, while others believe the Hutu and Tutsi arrived in the country separately, and from different locations. Christianity is the largest religion in the country; the principal language is Kinyarwanda, spoken by most Rwandans, with English and French serving as official languages.

Rwanda has a presidential system of government. The president is Paul Kagame of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), who took office in 2000. Rwanda today has low corruption compared with neighbouring countries.

The country has been governed by a strict administrative hierarchy since precolonial times; there are five provinces delineated by borders drawn in 2006. Rwanda is one of only two countries with a female majority in the national parliament.

Hunter gatherers settled the territory in the stone and iron ages, followed later by Bantu peoples. The population coalesced first into clans and then into kingdoms.

The Kingdom of Rwanda dominated from the mid-eighteenth century, with the Tutsi kings conquering others militarily, centralising power and later enacting anti-Hutu policies. Germany colonised Rwanda in 1884 as part of German East Africa, followed by Belgium, which invaded in 1916 during World War I. Both European nations ruled through the kings and perpetuated a pro-Tutsi policy. The Hutu population revolted in 1959.

They massacred numerous Tutsi and ultimately established an independent, Hutu-dominated state in 1962. Following a military coup, President Juvénal Habyarimana established a one-party in Rwanda and ruled for the next 21 years.

The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front launched a civil war in 1990. Social tensions erupted in the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists (Hutu power) killed an estimated 500,000 to 1.3 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The RPF ended the genocide with a military victory.

Rwanda's economy suffered heavily in wake of the 1994 genocide, but has since strengthened. The economy is based mostly on subsistence agriculture. Coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Tourism is a fast-growing sector and is now the country's leading foreign exchange earner.

Rwanda is one of only two countries in which mountain gorillas can be visited safely, and visitors pay high prices for gorilla tracking permits. Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan culture, particularly drums and the highly choreographed intore dance. Traditional arts and crafts are produced throughout the country, including imigongo, a unique cow dung art.

Modern human settlement of what is now Rwanda dates from, at the latest, the last glacial period, either in the Neolithic period around 8000 BC, or in the long humid period which followed, up to around 3000 BC.

Archaeological excavations have revealed evidence of sparse settlement by hunter gatherers in the late stone age, followed by a larger population of early Iron Age settlers, who produced dimpled pottery and iron tools.

These early inhabitants were the ancestors of the Twa, aboriginal pygmy hunter-gatherers who remain in Rwanda today. Between 700 BC and 1500 AD, a number of Bantu groups migrated into Rwanda, clearing forest land for agriculture.

The forest-dwelling Twa lost much of their habitat and moved to the mountain slopes. Historians have several theories regarding the nature of the Bantu migrations; one theory is that the first settlers were Hutu, while the

Tutsi migrated later to form a distinct racial group, possibly of Nilo-hamitic origin. An alternative theory is that the migration was slow and steady, with incoming groups integrating into rather than conquering the existing society. Under this theory, the Hutu and Tutsi distinction arose later and was a class distinction rather than a racial one.

The earliest form of social organisation in the area was the clan (ubwoko). The clans were not limited to genealogical lineages or geographical area, and most included Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. From the 15th century, the clans began to coalesce into kingdoms; by 1700 around eight kingdoms existed in present-day Rwanda.

One of these, the Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by the Tutsi Nyiginya clan, became increasingly dominant from the mid-eighteenth century. The kingdom reached its greatest extent during the nineteenth century under the reign of King Kigeli Rwabugiri.

Rwabugiri conquered several smaller states, expanded the kingdom west and north, and initiated administrative reforms; these included ubuhake, in which Tutsi patrons ceded cattle, and therefore privileged status, to Hutu or Tutsi clients in exchange for economic and personal service, and uburetwa, a corvée system in which Hutu were forced to work for Tutsi chiefs.

Rwabugiri's changes caused a rift to grow between the Hutu and Tutsi populations. The Twa were better off than in pre-Kingdom days, with some becoming dancers in the royal court, but their numbers continued to decline.

Top Stories