This post was written by Katie Frohardt (pictured above), IGCP’s Rwanda Director from mid-1995 until mid-1997. This reflection was written in honor of IGCP’s 20th Anniversary this year, 2011. She is currently the Executive Director of Fauna & Flora International in the US and has served as the FFI representative to the IGCP Board since 2006.
Happy Anniversary, IGCP! What an honor to be invited to write and reflect, as such a special program celebrates an important milestone.
It has been more than 15 years since I arrived in Kigali, just following the first anniversary of the genocide. This event, and the history that preceded it, necessarily characterized my time with IGCP in ways small and large. It also shaped my life in ways I can only appreciate now, so many years later.
I arrived in Kigali in May of 1995 with my husband Mark, who had spent the previous four months in Rwanda, working with the UN emergency response team (UNREO) following the genocide. When it was clear he wanted to stay in Rwanda to contribute to the rebuilding, we decided to move. On our way to Kigali, I had stopped in Nairobi and met with Rosalind Aveling, one of the key architects of the mountain gorilla programming we celebrate today. She mentioned that IGCP was in transition and perhaps would be looking for someone.
My first work in Kigali, on contract with USAID, focused on land use planning associated with the resettlement process. I was working with the Rwandan Ministry charged with resettlement and rehabilitation (MINIREISO), and a Rwandan NGO leading on environmental and development issues at the time (Rwanda Development Organization), directed by a remarkable woman who became my close friend, Angelina Muganza. This work had me focused mostly in the Northeast of Rwanda – Akagera National Park, Ankole cattle, massive resettlement complexity. Not an afro-montane forest or anything resembling a mountain gorilla in sight.
After a few months in Rwanda I got a call one day, and that evening joined José Kalpers, then IGCP Regional Program Manager, Annette Lanjouw, new IGCP Regional Director, and Jean Pierre d’Huart, WWF EARPO and IGCP Board member, for dinner (Thank you, Ros Aveling.). Somehow, we agreed that I would help as IGCP transitioned from José’s expert care regionally, to something that involved an IGCP presence in all three countries. I was hired as the new Rwanda Director for IGCP, initially at half time as I concluded the work I cared so deeply about in the Northeast.
A few days later, José phoned me, indicating that there was a snared gorilla in the Susa group. The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Center (MGVC) veterinarian was out of town, and Liz Macfie (DVM, and IGCP Uganda) was coming across to do the intervention. If anything should have eliminated me from a role with IGCP, it was that first intervention, as I could barely keep up! We were moving very quickly to reach the group, and – recently arrived as I was from sea level Washington, DC – it was hard for me to complete the trek with any grace. This was my first introduction to the remarkable field staff of ORTPN (now part of the Rwanda Development Board or RDB) – some of whom I believe literally pulled me up the mountain that day. When we arrived, it was chaotic at first, and then I had my first glimpse of beauty – first through the artistry of the ORTPN staff who encircled the snared female and moved the protective silverback away with such quiet expertise, and next of the female mountain gorilla, now sedated and clearly injured, but exquisite and my first sighting of what would become an important focus for the coming two years – the remarkable mountain gorilla.
I remember that I was utterly taken with this moment. Liz Macfie was amazing. I sat nearby, watching her deploy vet skills that were no longer her daily work, but which she so clearly still mastered. At one point when the snare had been removed, I found myself quite near to the right foot of the female gorilla. I remember looking at that foot, and being transfixed. Without even really realizing that I was doing it, I had reached out my hand towards her foot, and was just inches away from touching her. At that point, I remember José very gently touching my hand, and shaking his head. Of course, I had no gloves on, and he was preventing my misstep, and protecting the mountain gorilla. I remember him doing this with real kindness, and with a look that made me know that he understood what I had just experienced. That was my first real day with IGCP.
From there, two years unfolded in a way that I’ve explained subsequently as “a normal ten years folded into two.” I cannot possibly cover this ground in this reflection, but I want to share two more stories that mean a great deal to me, and perhaps that characterize my time with IGCP, and that period for IGCP in Rwanda. Throughout this period I benefited deeply from the counsel, and friendship, of Eugène Rutagarama. He wore different hats during the period I lived in Rwanda and worked with IGCP – first as Chef de Service for ORTPN and my primary contact there – but no matter the hat, he always offered important support and guidance (and often told me to stop speaking so fast in my bad French….!).
Much of what we were doing in this period was rebuilding of one kind or another: repairing park infrastructure (i.e., the headquarters at Kinigi, the IGCP field house, the ORTPN staff quarters in Ruhengeri); restoring headquarters ORTPN capacity in Kigali (strategic planning for park operations, training and budgeting); equipping the staff of Parc National des Volcans to get back to work. The latter was the “boots and uniforms” phase that seemed to keep repeating itself in both Rwanda and Zaire/DRC in the years following, after each wave of conflict.
It was also a period of ongoing demining, and I was so proud that IGCP was a partner in this effort, supporting the military to engage in demining the “old fashioned” way – men on their stomachs, gently scratching the ground with a machete. Eugène introduced me to our military contact in charge of demining in the periphery of Parc National des Volcans – Captain Kayigamba – early in my time with IGCP. As we talked with Kayigamba, it was immediately clear how deeply he felt about this work, and its importance. He was so frustrated that women and children would inadvertently stumble on these landmines, losing limbs and sometimes lives. These were just a few of the many civilian casualties of this period of frequent Interahamwe incursions from DRC that he was trying to prevent. This was the project area for IGCP. These issues were inextricably linked. We bought Kayigamba a motorcycle, and paid for his fuel. I was in awe of his work. (Later, when I was with a Government Ministry group doing a land use assessment in the periphery of PNV, and the car in front of me exploded an anti-tank mine – the driver losing both of his legs – I experienced very directly the horror of these mines, and the continuing importance of the demining work.)
During that period, there were frequent rebel incursions, so it was an intense military posting and rotations were fairly short. That meant that there were always new soldiers deployed in mountain gorilla habitat. Eugène, still with ORTPN at the time, began to design and offer training sessions at the military base in Ruhengeri, where soldiers were trained before being deployed into the forest. One day we were scheduled to train together. In a room full of soldiers, Eugène began the sessions. He spoke with authority about the mountain gorillas. He showed the soldiers how to crouch and lower their eyes should they encounter a gorilla. I remember that the soldiers really got a kick out of this part – suffice it to say that this was a bit different than normal military guidance in PNV at that time….. I remember it becoming a very engaged session. We opened it up to questions. As if it were yesterday, I remember the young soldier who raised his hand and directed his question to me, asking “Katie, can you tell us about the mountain gorillas where you live?” What a powerful moment we all shared that day. I learned a lesson that I have carried with me ever since, about not assuming things.
There are so many memories that this reflection has triggered – funny moments collaborating with UNHCR with Annette; many training anecdotes, including those from the first “exchange” trip for PNV staff to Akagera (the first time many had visited this far east in Rwanda); the great collaboration with DFGF-I and MGVC that characterized that period, thanks to incredibly talented people like Liz Williamson and Tony Mudakikwa; the complexity of even seemingly simple things during those times, like awarding the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize to PNV staff; the long-time friends at ORTPN like Jean Bizimana; the wonder of seeing José design and field-test the ranger-based monitoring system that evolved into such a signature for IGCP and its important capacity building efforts with our protected area authority partners across the region.
This reflection also reminds me of that special period for the IGCP coalition (FFI, WWF and AWF), and the unique Board leadership provided by Mark Rose, Jean Pierre d’Huart, and Mark Stanley Price (with the added and substantial involvement of Ros Aveling and Debbie Snelson) during that period. They provided essential guidance and support, and took on and off their respective organizational hats with such ease, depending on what would better serve mountain gorilla conservation – this was truly enlightened collaboration, and served IGCP well.
I am so grateful to have spent time with IGCP, and congratulate them on 20 years of hard work and many important successes for mountain gorilla conservation.
Katie Frohardt worked with IGCP as Rwanda Director from mid-1995 until mid-1997. She is currently the Executive Director of Fauna & Flora International in the US, and lives in Washington, DC. She has served as the FFI representative to the IGCP Board since 2006.
Photos accompanying this post are not to be used without the expressed consent of Katie Frohardt and IGCP. Inquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.