By Our Reporter
Rwanda is famous for its iconic mountain gorillas – an endangered species that can only be found in the Virunga massif, a chain of eight volcanic mountains in the border areas between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Tourism is currently Rwanda’s top foreign exchange earner, raking in more than $300 per year. Gorilla tourism alone accounts for over 90 per cent of the total revenues generated from the country’s three national parks.
As a policy, tourism revenues are shared with local communities in the areas surrounding parks such the Volcanoes National Park, home to the unique mountain gorillas. According to the Rwanda Development Board, the government remits five per cent of park entry fees every year to fund various community projects.
The main reason for this revenue sharing scheme is simple: it is envisaged that shared revenues not only contribute to poverty eradication but also act as an incentive for communities around national parks to support conservation efforts.
But how transparent is the scheme?
The extent to which gorilla permit fees and their use in the management of the parks and support of the surrounding communities are made transparent took centre stage when conservationists from South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, Norway and France converged for a workshop at the Red Rocks Intercultural Centre in Musanze district on June 9.
The conservationists noted that in its lifetime, one gorilla generates an estimated $4 million in tourism revenues, but it’s unclear how this money trickles down to local communities around national parks.
In Rwanda, the revenue generated from gorilla permits is remitted directly to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), which then allocates five per cent to community projects ranging from roads, schools, bridges, health centres, etc.
Over the past decade, Rwanda’s revenue sharing scheme has raised Rwf1.83 million, which has been used to build 57 primary schools in 13 districts and funded up to 360 other community projects such as hospitals and cultural centres, according to RDB.
Because gorilla tourism contributes more revenues, communities around the Volcanoes National Park in Musanze are allocated 40 per cent of the revenue sharing scheme, RDB says.
But do local communities get their fair share (revenues allocated to them in comparison with what the government keeps)? That was the big question during the workshop.
“Uganda also has a tourism revenue sharing scheme whereby 20 per cent of the total revenues generated from gorilla tourism goes to community projects,” said Raymond Katebaka, the general secretary of the Kampala-based African Union of Conservationists.
However, Katebaka said that people never appreciate that; they prefer to be given cash because they think authorities there are not transparent.
Poor information flow, the many stakeholders with different interests and priorities, exclusive representation, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability as well as the fact that conservation benefits are not direct are some of the challenges facing such revenue sharing schemes, Katebaka said.
Conservationists argued that communities around national parks are entitled to a fair share of revenues generated from the parks because, in the first place, they are the traditional owners of the land.
“Entrance fees should strictly go into management of the park but local communities should also be involved. They should be informed about the value of the park,” said Dr Peter Prokosch, the founder and board chairman of the Norway-based non-profit, Linking Tourism and Conservation, which prides itself on facilitating “the sharing of knowledge, experience and effective practices that mutually benefit tourism and nature conservation in protected areas.”