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Kwita Izina

Jamila’s reflections of Gorilla Naming Kwita Izina 2019

Here are Jamila’s reflections of Gorilla Naming Kwita Izina 2019. After a week of conservation-related activities, Rwanda’s 15th Gorilla-naming ceremony marked the climax with a public function on Sept. 6th 2019, where baby names were finally released by their respective namers or “guardian parents”, 25 got their identity.

These are baby gorillas born in the past year since September 2018. This annual event, organized by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), follows Rwandan culture of naming human infants called “Kwita Izina” where close family members and friends come together in a ceremony that often results into naming an infant or child, a big milestone to one’s identity.

The 15th Kwita Izina, comprised of a week-long-chain of conservation activities that included community projects, educational programs, the Business of Conservation conference, gala dinner, to mention but a few. These gorilla names were picked by a diverse group purposely selected from key icons across the world.

They included celebrities, film actors, ambassadors, influential football managers/players, musicians, fashion icons, other influential conservationists domestic and beyond. The theme for 2019 Kwita Izina was “Conservation is Life.”

Among the gorilla namers – was one Rwandan, Emmanuel Niringiyimana, a 23-year old resident of Murambi Sector, Karongi District, who made headlines in July this year after his noble act of digging up a 7km road in his community all by himself, hence earning him the celebrity status.

Nirinyigiyimana’s act earned him praise and recognition beyond his community, hence earning him 5-star accommodation top hotels such as the Marriott, a seat next to people he would never have otherwise dreamt of meeting; ambassadors, princesses, global models, top football club manager, and a handshake from the Rwandan president.

Global namers that Niringiyimana shared a stage with, include Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemarian Desalegn, Supermodel Naomi Campbell, Arsenal legend Tony Adams and American RnB star Ne-Yo, former Manchester United and Barcelona coach Louis Van Gaal, UK-based Rwandan born choreographer Sherrie Silver, US-based Rwandan singer Meddy Ngabo and Dame Louise Martin, DBE, the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, princess HRH Princess Basma Bint Ali, a conservation icon from Jordan, and the National Geographic Photographer and filmmaker Ronan Donovan.

My personal takeaways from the 15th Kwita Izina:

Dressed for the occasion

Together with Heritage Safaris managing partner – Sifa Uwera, and I styled up for the occasion with a white Heritage Safaris T-shirt, perhaps I should have chosen an intimidating blazer in order to gain access to the VVIP tent that was mostly worn by the officials in the VVIP tent, although the president’s conservation themed shirt and jacket as it later turned out, was somewhat reassuring of my own choice of dressing. Did I choose wisely or not? I will leave that for next year. I know what to wear next time!

Eco friendly décor

Kwita Izina 2019 décor was a killer! Right from the gate entrance to a 200m distance to my seat lay beautifully designed pieces of art, crafted out of plants commonly found in the volcanoes. The mighty gorilla with its baby, the sun rays at the entrance gate, the gorilla namers stage were skillfully constructed using bamboo, papyrus. The Rwandan cultural attire “mishanana” worn by the Baby Gorilla namers reflected a similar theme. Perhaps I should start ordering for this kind of mushanana for next year’s ceremony – oops I might be giving you hints to my attire next year!

Free snack tokens, no consumption

Talk about hospitality and I’ll give Rwanda Development Board an A+ for treating us like VIPs! All locals and international residents who had pre-registered for the event (online by the way!), were given a free drink & snack token. The funny thing is that majority of the participants did not seize this opportunity to taste Rwanda’s signature coffee provided free of charge! They literally starved through the 5-hour event, with no idea what and where to present their tokens. For some, it was shear nervousness, or perhaps they were too shy to roam with a coffee cup in front of high profile people – Really? Don’t shoot me but hey, it takes lots of guts get up from your seat to look for food in a highly protocoled event – Is this Rwandan? I’ll leave it to my readers to answer. Perhaps to others, it could have been that they simply never read – well this says a lot about a great reading culture (wink wink), as some threw the tokens away. My confession? I was one of these people who went hungry not realizing we were sitting on a snack Gold mine!

Dancing Mountain Gorillas

The well-known Mashirika troupe performed a play that suited the conservation theme. Their dance contained a skit, singing and a traditional dance with awareness messages in various languages. Wait, I saw a dancing gorilla family that left me speechless! Oh oooo!! Were they humans in costumes or they were wondering gorillas! They flew in from the gorilla-mum-and-daughter structure that roofed the main stage!

Embarrassing names

In my community tent where I sat and hey!, don’t discard me yet, I had a roof and am still thankful I never sat in the open field!. Unfortunately, I never got closer to the man I desire to shake hands with for once in my life-time, H.E Paul Kagame. Anyways, back to my tent, I watched some of the Rwandan namers tease our brides, “the gorilla guardians/names” – and I can’t blame them either – Kinyarwanda is tough and I often fail to read some sign-posts myself. Anyways, we witnessed some of baby Gorillas names muffled in pronunciation. Some of the pronounced names sounded Alien names such as “Ibirori”, “Biracyaza”,“Byishimo” turned out as Japanese – don’t ask if I’ve been to Japan – I might sweep their streets very soon!.


The President H.E Paul Kagame’s humorous speech sent everyone into stiches with laughter. His responsibility as an adoptive parent to one of the mothers and now a grandparent to twin babies born to one of the babies he named 15 years ago, caught us by surprise! His role as a parent, paying tuition fees (wink wink) and making sure he was in constant communication with his baby was another joke that killed me. Literally, his communication with his baby gorilla has been simplified through the strong internet connectivity that now proudly sits on top of the tallest volcano Karisimbi (4507M above sea level). Across the densely forested volcanoes, you will be surprised at how strong your connectivity is and how easy it is to remain connected to family and friends across the world whilst trekking or hiking.  I imagine the usually playful baby gorilla or its mother sending daily selfies to the president!

Music, dance and dinner

Who can forget the music and joyful crowd in Kinigi? The Gorilla naming ceremony stretched to Saturday, September 7th 2019 with a glamorous Gala dinner headlined with great food, music and a Made in Rwanda fashion show. The next stop was Kwita Izina concert which attracted a crowd of more than 6000 people in the majestic recently launched Kigali Arena. Artists who performed included American based Rwandan artiste Meddy and global icon Ne-yo. As a matter of fact, I ended up showing my dance alias catwalk moves on stage for the joy and happiness of Kwita izina 2019. (I might have been Beyonce in my other life! Hehehe). We danced the night away in the company of our very own president Paul Kagame. And various government and international officials.

It was absolutely amazing and an experience I will not forget for a very long time!

Jamila’s reflections of Gorilla Naming Kwita Izina 2019 are an indication of what happens at the Kwita Izina Gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda.

Written by: Jamila Uwimana – Tour Consultant at Heritage Safaris Ltd

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