Located in the Northern district of Musanze, Kinigi Sector is the comfy gateway to the majestic beauty of the volcanic mountain range; the natural habitat tourism of the rare mountain gorillas, Rwanda’s current leading foreign exchange earner.
About 11km from the heart of Musanze town lays Mount Sabyinyo, roaming large over much of Volcanoes National Park.
The cool breeze from the teeth-shaped massif provides a welcome relief from the hot equatorial sun rays beating down to Ngejoro village near the park’s main entrance.
Residents here have vowed and continue to recommit to soldier on to prevent anything that can cause insecurity, give the gorillas peace and ensure safety of tourists as well as reaping big economic benefits.
This is judged against the colossal losses incurred to both people and material during the turbulent times of insecurity due to insurgency and consequences of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, which wracked all regions.
Francois Ndungutse, 48, who formerly belonged to a family of vicious poachers, says “poaching was my way of life killing elephants, buffaloes and any other wild game I came across.”
“The current benefits hugely outweigh what we used to gain from poaching; we remained poor and the family lacking basic necessities,” says Ndungutse.
Ndungutse since decided to go legit.
Today, he is a respectable trader in the area.
“I even transact in dollars at my shop, we can’t entertain any tendencies that would threaten safety. I was wrong and it’s my time to correct the wrongs and to make our community and country safer,” says a smiling Ndungutse.
The former poacher-turned-businessman, is today an opinion leader in his community, who also plays a role in the proper functioning of Irondo – community night patrols.
“Tourism becomes effective in a safer country. The gorillas and their habitat are protected by the economic lifeline they create for remote communities from the tourist dollars they generate, providing a key incentive for humans to protect them.”
Poaching is today history in Kinigi and other neighboring game reserves. Former poachers are today game rangers, porters facilitating tourists to carry their loads as they trek the wild to see the mountain gorillas, while others are Irondo personnel.
According to Supt. Aphrodise Gashumba, the District Police Commander of Musanze, the impact and involvement of residents like Ndungutse and the community in general is rewarding.
“Kinigi, like other areas, has registered commendable strides in crime reduction over the years; even the few cases we rarely receive are minor related to family conflicts sometimes resulting from excessive drinking and polygamous practices,” Supt. Gashumba observes.
According to police statistics, 26 cases majority related to physical assault were recorded in Kinigi since the beginning of the year. This is about 40 percent reduction compared to incidents recorded in the same period last year.
“Police conducts and promote community mobilization and awareness to actively engage the population to be egents of change, exercise vigilance and alertness and share information in real time about anything illegal. This is what community policing stands for… everyone to be an eye for the neighbor,” says the DPC
Evidence that security has boosted tourism in the area is also evidenced by luxurious hotels, souvenir shops and jobs in the park.
“Farming communities are the principal supplier of food and other products to the hotels, and this in turn creates a multiplier effect down the supplier chain hence creating direct economic benefits,” says Benjamin Mugabukomeye, the country director of International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP).
“Where there is security, communities reap big. It’s always impressive to see former wrongdoers being the custodians of the law, running income generating activities and this also influences stakeholders like IGCP to give back to the people,” notes Mugabukomeye.
Through Rwanda development Board (RDB), the Government has since 2005 been committing 5 per cent of the proceeds from the national parks toward projects aimed at empowering communities around the game reserves.
This has since been increased to 10% entry fees to the park as part of the revenue sharing scheme introduced by government.
The returns are invested into health centres, construction of roads, schools and of houses for the needy families, among others.
The funds also help to support local agriculture and handcraft cooperatives.
Previously a remote location, the road to the park is now tarmac, beams with electricity and clean tape water constructed from revenues of tourism.
In order to sustain security, community members (households) organized themselves on a duty roster to guard the village and the park by way of night patrols.
Jean Baptiste Semahoro, who’s in charge of social affair for Kinigi Sector, says they are now working with the police and the people to address the issue of domestic conflicts, which sometimes resulted into death.
“Previously, polygamy and property related conflicts were common practices; we have worked together with faith-based organizations and the police to sensitize communities including those affected,” Semahoro says.
Asiyeri Ndibabage, 65, from Kapanga Cell is one of the polygamous couples in Kinigi.
With two wives, Ndibabage regrets because of the hassles he has to go through to feed his two separate families.
“A husband with more than one wife is likely to be the father to many children, and a big challenge to give them basic necessities,” says Ndibabage.
He advices men to heed the government call and produce children they are in position to give basic needs.
“Fighting criminality is being a responsible parent, take children to school, ensure they’re in good health and feel loved. That prevents them from indulging in criminal activities like abusing drugs, sexual acts and early parenthood,” Ndibabage says.