Greg Bakunzi, the founder of Rwanda’s Red Rocks Initiative for Sustainable Development and an LT&C board member, celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Red Rocks Cultural Festival and shares plans to launch a new initiative in neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Our annual Red Rocks Cultural Festival was held in Nyakinama village in Rwanda’s Musanze district from 26 August to 2 September. This year, we celebrated our 10th anniversary with the theme ‘Conservation and Cultural Sustainability.’
Festival goers enjoyed traditional music and dance performances, artwork exhibitions by local women and young people, workshops, including banana beer making and basket weaving, and participated in conservation debates and tree planting along the Mukungwa river.
The festival highlights the activities and stewardship of the national park service at Volcanoes National Park, one of the homes of the last surviving mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains.
The week-long celebration is an opportunity for the local community to show their support for and commitment to protecting our natural and cultural resources, and to inspire the next generation of stewards.
As a tourism hub, Red Rocks hosts this event to also deepen the understanding of Rwandan culture and the efforts of locals to protect the endangered mountain gorillas.
Sharing conservation and sustainable development concepts with neighboring countries
Red Rocks Initiative was founded in 2017 on the idea that locally-led ecotourism should benefit the Virunga Mountain communities while conserving the region’s delicate environment.
Following our success in Rwanda, we’re preparing to launch a Virunga Transboundary Initiative this year to share conservation and sustainable development concepts with our neighbors in Uganda and the DRC.
This new initiative will bring together all the communities that share the conservation of the Virunga mountains.
Building long-lasting, scalable, and transformative partnerships is the key to creating shared value, and it excites me to bring organizations together to support each other in sustainable community and conservational initiatives.
Linking the community and environment
Like Red Rocks, the Virunga Transboundary Initiative will support the economic empowerment of women and young people through education and skill development programs.
Art, music, culture, and farming programs have helped individuals create a sustainable trade, which in turn advances employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for local communities.
They have also contributed to environmental conservation by making ecotourism a viable livelihood option.
In Musanze, we’ve seen how developing these initiatives with community members has the power to lift up the disadvantaged from poverty and instill a sense of purpose and pride.
Because the success of the community and environment are inextricably linked, we need to promote them together.
Gorilla naming ceremony
The last day of the cultural festival coincided with Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony, the Kwita Izina, which took place on the slopes of the Virunga mountains.
The Kwita Izina has been held since 2005 and follows a Rwandan tradition of naming newborns in the presence of family and friends.
The ceremony demonstrates respect for mountain gorillas and acknowledges and thanks the communities who protect them.
This year, 20 baby gorillas were named by culture, conservation, sport, and business personalities.
They included Prince Charles, who chose the name Ubwuzuzanye, Harmony, as a call on humanity to come together to protect our environment.
Kaddu Sebunya from the African Wildlife Foundation chose Indatezuka, Resilient, because of the resilience of the Rwandan people to protect our biodiversity.
And the Rwandan international football referee, Salima Mukansanga, chose the name Kwibohora, Liberation, because of its role in conservation as the foundation of sustainable tourism and development.
In 2017, I was honored to be the first Rwandan citizen to name a baby gorilla.
I named her Tembera U Rwanda, which means “visit and explore Rwanda” because I want people to come to Rwanda, stay longer, and experience our unique culture and history.
You can meet the new baby gorillas on Visit Rwanda’s website.
Read more about the role of tourism in protecting mountain gorillas in Greg’s LT&C Examples: