The promising tourism potential of Lake Muhazi and the bid to unlock it
Tourism enthusiasts have long pointed at the untapped potential of Lake Muhazi, which straddles five districts across two provinces and far-flung reaches of City of Kigali. The water body and its environs teem with latent tourism potential, they say.
The lake is part of a network of connected rivers and lakes that dot several different countries.
Lake Muhazi drains into the River Nyabugogo, which flows southwards to Kigali where it joins the River Nyabarongo. The latter is a tributary of River Nile, which snakes through different countries before it empties into the Mediterranean Sea.
The water body and areas in its vicinity hold a place of historical importance. Legend has it that the founder of the ancient Rwanda Kingdom, King Gihanga Ngomijana, fell from the sky and settled in Gasabo, near Lake Muhazi. It is believed that that is where Rwanda started from.
Lake Muhazi straddles the borders of Rwamagana, Kayonza and Gatsibo districts in Eastern Province, Gicumbi District in Northern Province and Gasabo District in City of Kigali.
According to Rwanda Development Board, the lake is known for its large population of spotted-necked otters, fish and birds.
Over the years, several hospitality and entertainment venues have sprung up in areas around the lake but rugged roads and poor marketing strategies have combined to undermine these investments.
Yet those who have visited some of these places tend to love them.
“Most of our visitors leave with good impression and often come back,” according to Innocent Rutamu, the founder of Falcon Golf and Country Club, a nine-hole golf course on the shores of the lake – in Gati, Gishari Sector in Rwamagana District.
The course, which sits on 30 hectares, can host 80 players at once.
The golf course has since been expanded into a “sports park”, now boasting additional sporting and entertainment activities like kayaking, bicycle riding, and bird watching.
“The best golf courses are near water bodies, water makes golfers relax and concentrate on the game,” Rutamu told The New Times.
Visitors also have options beyond this facility, from restaurants to pubs and to boating, swimming and beaches.
“There are several options, from Muhazi Water Sports to King Fisher, and Muhazi Beach Hotel, sometimes I take my guests there; this allows for a healthy competition and more options for visitors. That is how tourism networking works,” he added.
Muhazi is steadily emerging as a tourism and entertainment destination, he said. This is also impacting the locals.
At Falcon, for instance, the caddies (people who help golfers) are from the community. There are also another 25 employees who work on the playground, while the golf course gets almost all its fresh food from local farmers.
Notably, most of these projects are private-owned.
However, the Government has also been keen to promote the area as a key destination. The Ministry of Trade and Industry and Rwanda Development Board are among public institutions with interest in the emerging potential of Lake Muhazi. It has come up with what is known as the ‘Muhazi Belt’, which includes upgrading the road network around the lake to improve accessibility and woo more investors.
But it remains largely on paper owing to budget constraints.
RDB officials said that, once funding has been secured and feasibility studies conducted, the road works will be carried out under the inspection of the Rwanda Transport Development Agency, in collaboration with districts and other stakeholders.
“By that time we will be having many beautiful, small boutique hotels for six, eight or 10 people. That would be ideal for families.”
Ildephonse Kambogo, Ag. Product Development Division Manager at RDB, said that, apart from the Muhazi Belt, there is a plan to develop a wide range of products and services in the area.
These planned investments are under Rwanda Sustainable Tourism master plan, he said.
“It includes an amusement park, beach facilities and water sports, a nightclub and casino, a five-star hotel, guest houses, an animal orphanage and a medical centre,” he said.
The mapping of the proposed investments will be worked out after relevant feasibility studies have been completed, while RDB will work closely with the private sector identify potential investors, he explained.
“We are planning to work on a tourism development plan (sub-master plan) for the areas around the lake in the next year budget,” Kambogo added.
He also cited a national Sustainable Tourism Master plan, which includes Destination Management Areas, including Muhazi DMA.
Rutamu is excited at the prospect. “Once these plans have been implemented, people will no longer have to go to Mombasa or elsewhere for holidaying around Christmas and New Year’s seasons, they will all be coming here.”
Frank Mustaff, Managing Director, Horwath HTL, an international tourism consulting company, noted that it is very important for African countries to put more efforts in developing domestic tourism, as more people are increasingly interested in visiting local attractions with their families.
“That can also serve as a key strategy that would help in post-Covid-19 recovery,” he added. “This is also a very good opportunity for young entrepreneurs in Rwanda to start their own business. The good thing about tourism is that you do not need a lot of money to start.”
Fred Mufulukye, Governor, Eastern Province, said local government has been “very supportive” toward promoting domestic tourism.
“We have noticed that Rwanda are gradually getting interest in learning more about their country, visit historical and cultural sites and other local destinations.”
Meanwhile, there are parallel efforts to help protect the lake shoreline and prevent floods that have affected people and destroyed infrastructure in the City of Kigali.
Dismas Bakundukize, Director of Forest Management, Rwanda Forestry Authority, said the Government has been planting agroforestry trees and bamboos in the lake’s buffer zone of 50 metres from the water body.
Davis Bugingo, the Head of Flood Management and Water Storage Development at Rwanda Water Resources Board, said there is a dyke under construction between Gicumbi and Gasabo districts, a dyke that will replace the old one – to control the outflow of the water from the lake.
“This is done to control the volume of water from the lake for sustainable use in agriculture, water supply, and fisheries,” he said.
He says this will, for instance, prevent Nyabugogo River from overflowing.
Muhazi is one of the 31 lakes in Eastern Province. Rwanda has a total of 34 lakes.