04 October 2020 – In a significant move the Rwandan government has approved a draft for a new law that will enable private companies to venture into wildlife conservation for commercial gain. At the same time, the law seeks to conserve and govern biological diversity and wildlife in Rwanda.
Such a law will enable more companies to throw their weight behind the conservation fraternity to ensure a more sustainable future. After Covid-19 most governments in Africa are cash-strapped and conservation is not high on the development agenda. The private sector can provide much needed capital. At the same time, conservation can become one of the focus areas for extractive industries like mining, for example, to offset their impact on the environment.
According to an article that appeared in the Rwandan newspaper the New Times (authored by Julius Bizimungu) Rwandan officials believe that the new legislation will enable the country to achieve its conservation goals and go a long way to provide more opportunities for local communities to do business beyond ecology.
Over the last few years Rwanda has prioritised wildlife conservation to improve its tourism package, and the country has been promoting its outstanding national parks and nature-based tourism. The country now houses most African mammal species and has restored close to two million hectares of deforested land.
“The law is completely flexibilities and will enable the people of Rwanda to do business in the conservation and wildlife sectors,” Eugene Mutangana, the head of conservation at the Rwanda Development Board told The New Times.
The law will allow conservancies, community land and privately-owned land to set aside large areas for conservation to conserve wildlife whether for commercial interests or not. “Let’s say if one wanted to do crocodile farming, or if you wanted to acquire 1000 hectares along Akagera National Park to let wildlife wander in your farm, you would be allowed to do so. That was not possible before,” Mutangana noted.
The law allows businesses such as game ranching, sport hunting, and wildlife-based tourism, among others, provided they meet all the requirements. Experts believe national legislation that grants rights over wildlife ownership will encourage communal and private landowners to establish ventures on their land which will benefit both conservation and the private sector.
For tourism-based ventures like eco-lodges, conservancy entrance fees, bed night charges, and other services direct benefits the owners in the form of revenues, jobs, and economic empowerment.
Conservancies, on the other hand, deliver even more, by providing equitable and inclusive governance over resources so that the ecological systems underpinning human wellbeing remain healthy.
Already, people like Olivier Nsengimana, a renowned conservationist, have revamped a popular wetland formerly called Bambino Supercity along the Kigali-Rwamagana road, into a nature reserve for wild crowned cranes. Umusambi Village is a new sanctuary for Crowned Cranes that can no longer fly after the birds have been confiscated from private gardens around Kigali and other parts of Rwanda. The village is a 21-hectare nature reserve, the first of its kind in Kigali that will allow visitors to enjoy walking trails while learning about the importance of protecting natural environments (The New Times). According to the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association, it is currently home to more than 70 endangered Grey Crowned Cranes.
Mutangana told the New Times, that the law will also enable Rwanda to protect some of the endangered wildlife animals including the Big Five – lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and African buffalos.
“In Rwanda, we have acquired species that need high levels of protection, namely the African elephants, eastern black rhinos, lions, and leopards, among others,” he said. “These are species that are in category one of protection, which means that some of them are critically endangered and they need high level protection,” he added.
Rwanda is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the International Convention on Biological Diversity and its Habitat whose common aim is to prohibit international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants.
The law comes along with modalities, penalties and punishments that are well spelt out in the law that authorities think will help them protect the endangered wildlife species. The law also allows the country to align with regional and international standards. “Illegal activities like poaching goes beyond one nation. At times it crosses borders, and therefore, aligning laws allows us to jointly fight these illicit activities.”
According to the draft law, a person who poaches, injures, takes, harasses, or breeds a wild animal commits an offence. Upon conviction, he or she is liable to a term of imprisonment not less than one year and not more than three years and a fine of not less than Rwf5-million and not more than Rwf1-million (The New Times).
If the offence referred to above is committed in a protected area, the penalty is a term of imprisonment of not less than three years and not more than five years and a fine of not less than Rwf1-million and not more than Rwf5-million.
Following approval by cabinet, the draft law will now head to parliament before it can be enacted.