Sentiments were voiced in Rwanda last week over the lack of more substantial qualifications for their tourism guides presently used by safari operators and deployed in the field. Causes for this situation are mentioned as lack of language skills and opportunities to learn added foreign languages and also the absence of a formal system of education, training, and examinations for Rwandan tour guides. The new law presently before cabinet for consideration would require certain levels of qualifications from tour guides and stipulates formal licensing before they can work, but the law has not yet been passed by parliament.
In comparison for instance in Kenya, the Kenya Professional Safari Guide Association currently has 709 members as of the end of 2009, all of whom have passed examinations, a key criteria for membership. Of those, 9 are presently rated in the coveted “Gold Member” bracket, i.e., are on the very top of their profession and holding their own against any competition in the world, while a further 191 hold the “Silver Member” qualification. The rest of the membership in the Kenyan safari guide association have at the very last passed the “Bronze Member” examinations, already pegged at fairly high standards to ensure that those deployed really know their flora and fauna, history, and culture about which they will be talking to their clients, without making elementary mistakes or find their clients know more than they do.
The move towards a professional safari guide association in Kenya was triggered upon the recognition that guides are in most contact with clients on a safari holiday, and if they are not up to their marks, this would reflect badly on the destination itself, in comparison with other main competitors like South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, or Namibia. New applications to the KPSGA are constantly being received and reviewed, but all such applicant members must, within a certain period of time, sit for their examinations.
The Kenyan system presently is by far the best in the entire Eastern African region, and other countries are making their own individual efforts to lift their own national guiding standards, at which stage special recognition for the single-handed struggle of one Herbert Byaruhanga is in order, who started the Uganda Safari Guide Association in the face of much opposition of many safari and tour operators, who initially opposed the empowering and training of Ugandan tour guides and in particular the formation of their own association. Yet, in the face of such initial obstacles, Byaruhanga overcame the odds, managed to get support from development partners for workshops and training sessions, and has more recently signed on to the formation of the East African Safari Guide Association, which brings together national associations and aims to improve standards in the industry across the East African Community.