As chaos in the Congo has been happening - since its only protector, Nkunda was arrested four-and-a-half months ago - my mind often wanders to Rwanda, wondering what effect the massacres by genocidal Hutus - on the neighbour next-door - is having on the psyche of the people and also on the tourist industry. Specifically, I've been wondering how Mutware's been doing - a picture of whom I have in a frame in my office:

Mutware & Huts

I snapped the photo the time I went to visit him in July 2006. See MUTWARE & THE BABOONS

Now, in the news today, there's a story about Rwanda still being a big draw for tourists, and - godcidently - it's accompanied by a photo of Mutware:

Mutware & Boy

The caption below the photo says it was taken in March 2006 - so it's not him today - but still, it's symbolically an answer to my wondering about Mutware. It was four months later, in July 2006, that we went to see him, he having been made internationally famous for stomping on tourist vehicles and wallowing in Lake Ihema - unless lured out by cassava leaves.

I still have the wooden paddle I retrieved from Lake Ihema that day. It leans on the corner of a bookcase in the living room, an ever-present reminder.

I hope to return to peaceful Rwanda and Congo one day. And when I do, I'll be looking again for Mutware. I wonder if he - being an elephant - will remember me? ~ Jackie Jura

Rwanda Q1 tourism receipts up 11 pct despite crisis, by Hereward Holland, Reuters, Jun 4, 2009
Kigali - Rwanda said on Wednesday tourism revenues rose 11 percent for the first quarter of 2009 to $24 million against the same period last year despite fears of a downturn from the global financial crisis. Tourism receipts in the central African country, famous for its highland gorillas and hilly landscapes, were propped up by business conferences and high-end eco-tourists who were not as sensitive to the global slump, said Rosette Rugambwa, head of tourism at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). Rugambwa told journalists, however, that the global conditions would impact the overall annual performance, with Rwanda expecting one million tourists to generate $204 million in 2009, compared to 980,000 tourists and $214 million in 2008. "We had a very good first quarter, and we can say that in terms of immediate impact of the global financial crisis we were not hit," she said. "The projection for this year is (about) the same as last year. We've tried not to be over-ambitious. Nobody in the world is growing in tourism numbers, they are actually reducing." George Mulamula, RDB principal deputy CEO, said the global financial crisis had taken its toll on foreign direct investment in the sector. Dubai World's planned $230 million investment, which includes two luxury hotels, could be at risk, he said. "We're in the current process of re-evaluating to what extent they can proceed, taking into account how the global crisis has effected them," Mulamula said. With the lure of a temperate climate, plus clean and safe streets, Kigali is trying to position itself as a regional conference hub. To that end, Rugambwa said 900 more hotel rooms will be built before the end of the year across the country, bringing the total to around 4,400. "We were voted one of the top ten destinations by The Lonely Planet of 2009, we must live up to that," she said.

Smuggled elephant tusks from Tanzania (ivory being transported to China). This Day, Jun 1, 2009
Dar es Salaam - Six officials of the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in a multi-million dollar organised crime network smuggling large numbers of elephant tusks through the Dar es Salaam port to foreign lands. Informed sources say the arrested officials from the customs department are believed to have abused their positions and accepted bribes from the smugglers. The six were arrested specifically in connection with the smuggling of elephant tusks worth a whopping $29.41m (approx. 40bn/-) from Tanzania to Vietnam in March this year. It is understood that this was the single biggest heist of elephant tusks smuggled from the country. The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ms Shamsa Mwangunga, confirmed the arrest of the customs officials in an exclusive interview with THISDAY in Dar es Salaam at the weekend. They were allegedly involved in approving the export documents for the illegal consignment. Ms Mwangunga said the arrested officials are being held by police to assist in an ongoing investigation aimed at identifying the actual smugglers. "We have arrested these officials so they can name the person or persons behind this consignment", the minister said. She warned that authorities are determined to send a strong warning to public officials that smuggling of government trophies will not be tolerated. She acknowledged the existence of some dishonest customs officials who conspire with corrupt exporters in the racket. Ms Mwangunga called on members of the public to volunteer any information they may have on officials from the ministry who could also be involved in the racket. "Itís possible that some of my own officers could be involved in the smuggling of government trophies. However, port and TRA inspectors must also be held accountable for this crime", the minister remarked. She said the elephant tusks seized by customs officials in Vietnam will be returned to Tanzania for verification purposes. "A DNA test will be conducted on the tusks once they are brought back from Vietnam, the purpose being to verify their true origin", she explained. Vietnamese officials initially announced that the tusks were to be auctioned. Customs officials at Vietnamís Hai Phong port announced in March the discovery of a total of 6,232 kilogrammes of elephant tusks hidden in hundreds of boxes of plastic waste inside a container which had been transported from Tanzania through Malaysia. Reports had it that more than 200 pairs of tusks were found in the haul. Vietnamese officials are said to have been notified about the consignment when it was initially loaded onto a ship in Dar es Salaam in January, and had been waiting for the consignee to turn up at the Hai Phong port. The consignee of the shipment was identified through the ship's waybill as a local (Vietnamese) company called Phuc Thien Ngan. Hai Phong police have since been looking for the company's director Vu Ngoc Tuan, but reportedly to no avail. Early investigations indicated that after loading in Dar es Salaam, the shipment was transported to a port in Malaysia, before arriving at Hai Phong aboard a Malaysian-flagged vessel. Vietnamese authorities believe the tusks would have then been transported to China, either by sea or road. Early last month, authorities in the Philippines also confiscated a consignment of elephant tusks smuggled from Tanzania weighing 3.5 tonnes. The authorities ordered the suspension of licence and blacklisting of the consignee and broker in the Philippines who facilitated the $2m (approx. 3bn/-) illegal shipment. The consignment arrived in Manila in March, and immediately drew suspicion because it was said to contain plastic. Officials said some of the tusks in the consignment weighed as much as 25 kilogrammes each. They have since valued the consignment at over $2m (2.8bn/-), although that appears to be a conservative estimate given that in some countries prices are at or above $1,500 per kg. Trade in ivory was banned under a 1989 UN Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species that has helped in the recovery of the elephant population in several African countries. The Philippines Bureau of Customs said the consignee, identified as 210 Enterprises, along with customs broker Marilyn Pacheco, are both liable for the two separate shipments of elephant tusks from Tanzania that arrived at the port of Manila on March 1 and 5 this year from Dar es Salaam. The shipments were initially falsely declared as blow moulding machines and recycled waste plastics.




Rwanda's Mutware escapes again. Baltimore Times, May 26, 2006
Mutware, the infamous elephant of Rwanda, has struck again. He recently escaped from a game park in Rwanda and went about scaring the daylights out of villagers he passed on his sojourn to nowhere in particular. The bull elephant acquired his fearsome reputation last year after the US security warned about his bad temper. A resident from one of the villages that is not happy with Mutware's unscheduled visits said, "We can no longer move; we are in fear of Mutware, who has destroyed our gardens." The zoo keeper told the news that, "He has destroyed crops, but so far no one has reported any damage to infrastructure." Mutware, who is a friend of sorts to tourists who come from far away (thankfully) usually wallows in Lake Ihema as a tourist attraction. He obviously got tired of that gig. Last year alone, the 37-year-old elephant single-handedly destroyed three vehicles in a park. Park rangers say Mutware is usually a wonderful animal, but has a short temper where foolhardy visitors who wander into the park unaccompanied are concerned.

Rogue elephant escapes in Rwanda, BBC, May 18, 2006 (...Park rangers say Mutware usually has a good character and violent incidents in the past came about because foolhardy visitors ventured into the park without guides....)

Rwanda's famous Mutware (giant elephant a tourist attraction in Akagera National Park). Reuters AlertNet, May 5, 2006
Submerged in the muddy waters of a Rwandan lake, Mutware cools down from the scorching morning heat, ignoring the crowd of visitors who have come to visit him. Flapping his ears as birds rest on his back, the 38-year-old rogue elephant seems out of sorts - there is no sign of the aggressive beast that wrecked at least three cars last year, prompting a security warning from the U.S. State Department. "Mutware, Mutware, wake up!" several villagers cry out, eager to please the tourists who have come to see the elephant. But it takes several hours and some cassava flour and leaves to Make Mutware move. Villagers say the elephant is tired after a long night of feeding on their crops. Mutware's bathing spot, Lake Ihema, in Rwanda's eastern Akagera Park, is just one of the attractons some 25,000 foreign tourists visited last year in tiny Rwanda.

Elephant prompts embassy warning, BBC, Dec 9, 2005 (..."The first sign he's feeling aggressive is that he flaps his ears - the second is that he sends clouds of dust up into the air and the third sign is when he stamps his foot on the ground. "When that happens you'd better get out of the area"....)



Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~