On her first visit to Rwanda, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of International Monetary Fund (IMF), had a planed secret visit to the country’s touristic hot-spot, the Virunga Mountain, Northern Rwanda, home to the world’s rare mountain gorillas.
She arrived in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, on Sunday night, January 25. Early morning, she hit the road, a three hour ride on a neatly paved road, meandering through Rwanda’s Rocky Mountains covered with thick green vegetation and a heavy fog.
She has traveled to many memorable attractions around the world, but this time, she was about to be taken away by a rather lifetime emotional experience.
After four-hours hike to the top of the Volcano Park, in the middle of a bamboo forest, where the mountain gorillas snack on the bamboo buds, Lagarde was now standing on top of the 15,000 feet chain of volcanoes in East Africa, along the northern border of Rwanda, overseeing DR Congo and Uganda.
Prosper Uwingeli, the volcano national park chief warden and a tour guide, watched her with intent as she took a deep breath, gulping a lot of it. “The volcano’s fresh air,” says Uwingeli , “was the best she ever enjoyed.”
Suddenly, came the primates. “She was caught by emotions…like anyone who visits,” says Uwingeli. “You would not remain in the same mood if you saw mountain gorillas.”
Lagarde was even luckier; she had the opportunity to see the Sabyinyo gorilla family, a well organised family that is breeding so fast.
Sabyinyo is an easily accessible group led by the mighty Guhonda, the largest silverback of all the 10 groups. The Sabyinyo silverback is well known for his massive appearance.
In 2006, Microsoft Chairman, billionaire Bill Gates, was given the honour to name a baby Gorilla. Gates could not look further than the Sabyinyo group, giving the baby the name Keza, meaning cute.
Before she ended the tour, 60 tourists, many from France and Singapore, all craved for selfies with the world’s most influential economist.
After adoring the gorillas as well as the country’s beautiful scenery seen from the mountains, Lagarde was she was awarded a certificate of appreciation and accomplishment, which also calls upon her to advocate for these endangered gorillas.
“She is already attached to Rwanda, we hope her advocacy will earn us more tourists,” says Uwingeli.
Lagarde was then driven to the country’s ecological lodges, made from traditional materials, where most say, nature meets beauty.
One of them is Sabyinyo silverback lodge, established by a local cooperative meant to promote tourism, and develop the community in the park’s vicinity.
The hotel’s nine rooms, $1200 a night, are always fully booked, until the end of the year.
Lagarde enjoyed a lunch at Virunga Lodge, where tourists get to experience the traditional lifestyle of the neighboring local communities.
The lodge offers a panoramic view of Burera and Ruhondo twin lakes with traditional canoes and fresh air, an exceptional hangout spot.
She did not want to leave without a feel of an ordinary Rwandan lifestyle. She visited potato farmers, at the foot of Virunga Mountain, experiencing firsthand the use of traditional farming tools.
The heavily guarded Largarde, and her three day experience of Rwanda, was not about the presidential protocol and motorcades accorded to her and the beautiful wildlife, but something else unusual about Africa.
Despite a long lecture on development and growth to Rwanda’s lawmakers and top bureaucrats, Lagarde had something to say before she said ‘au revoir’ to the land of a thousand hills.
“What struck me most about Rwanda, is the unrelenting focus on homegrown interventions to make growth more inclusive,” she said.