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Republic of Rwanda

Republika y'u Rwanda


FLAG: The national flag has three horizontal bands of sky blue (top, double width), yellow, and green, with a golden sun with 24 rays near the fly end of the blue band.

ANTHEM: Rwanda Rwacu (Our Rwanda).

MONETARY UNIT: The Rwanda franc (RFr) is a paper currency. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 francs and notes of 100, 500, 1,000, and 5,000 francs. RFr1 = $0.00164 (or $1 = RFr610) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Democracy Day, 28 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 1 July; Peace and National Unity Day, 5 July; Assumption, 15 August; Anniversary of 1961 Referendum, 25 September; Armed Forces' Day, 26 October; All Saints' Day, 1 November; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Easter Monday, Ascension, and Pentecost Monday.

TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.


Rwanda, a landlocked country in east-central Africa, has an area of 26,338 sq km (10,170 sq mi), extending 248 km (154 mi) nesw and 166 km (103 mi) senw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Rwanda is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland. It is bordered on the n by Uganda, on the e by Tanzania, on the s by Burundi, and on the w and nw by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROCthe former Zaire), with a total boundary length of 893 km (555 mi).

Rwanda's capital city, Kigali, is located near the center of the country.


Rwanda lies on the great East African plateau, with the divide between the water systems of the Nile and Congo rivers passing in a northsouth direction through the western part of the country. To the west of the divide, the land drops sharply to Lake Kivu in the Great Rift Valley; to the east, the land falls gradually across the central plateauits grassy highlands are the core areas of settlement of Rwanda's peoplesto the swamps and lakes on the country's eastern border. Almost all of Rwanda is at least 1,000 m (3,300 ft) above sea level; the central plateau is between 1,500 and 2,000 m (4,9506,600 ft) high. In the northwest on the border with the DROC are the volcanic Virunga Mountains; the highest peak, Mt. Karisimbi (4,519 m/14,826 ft), is snowcapped. Lake Kivu, 1,460 m (4,790 ft) above sea level, drains into Lake Tanganyika through the sharply descending Ruzizi River. The Kagera River, which forms much of Rwanda's eastern border, flows into Lake Victoria.


The high altitude of Rwanda provides the country with a pleasant tropical highland climate, with a mean daily temperature range of less than 2°c (4°f). Temperatures vary considerably from region to region because of the variations in altitude. At Kigali, on the central plateau, the average temperature is 21°c (70°f). Rainfall is heaviest in the southwest and lightest in the east. A long rainy season lasts from February to May and a short one from November through December. At Gisovu, in the west, near Kibuye, annual rainfall averages 160 cm (63 in); at Gabiro, in the northeast, 78 cm (31 in); and at Butare, in the south, 115 cm (45 in).


Most of Rwanda is a region of savanna grassland. There is little forest left; the country is one of the most eroded and deforested in all of tropical Africa. Remaining woodlands are small areas of tropical forests along the western border, north and south of Lake Kivu. The most common trees are eucalyptusimported from the south in the 1890sacacias, and oil palms.

Wildlife was abundant before the region became agricultural. There are still elephants, hippopotamuses, buffalo, cheetahs, lions, zebras, leopards, monkeys, gorillas, jackals, hyena, wild boar, antelope, flying lemurs, crocodiles, guinea hens, partridges, ducks, geese, quail, and snipe. Because the region is densely populated, these are becoming fewer, and some species are disappearing. As of 2002, there were at least 151 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, and over 2,200 species of plants throughout the country.


The ability of the nation's agricultural sector to meet the demands of its large population are complicated by the overuse and infertility of the soil. Soil erosion and overgrazing are also serious problems. The remaining forested area is under intense pressure from uncontrolled cutting for fuel. During 198185, deforestation averaged 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) per year. Between 1990 and 2000, the average rate of deforestation was 3.9% per year. In 2000, only about 12.4% of the total land area was forested. Malaria and sleeping sickness have spread because forest clearing and irrigation have increased the breeding areas for disease-carrying insects. Rwanda has about 5 cu km of renewable water resources with 94% of annual withdrawals used for farming and 2% used for industrial activity. About 92% of the nation's city dwellers and 69% of the rural population have access to improved water sources. The nation's cities produce about 0.1 million tons of solid waste per year.

In 2003, about 6.2% of the total land area was protected. In northeastern Rwanda the beautiful Kagera National Park is a game reserve sheltering many types of wildlife. Volcano National Park, which surrounds Mt. Karisimbi and was Africa's first wildlife park, is one of the last existing homes of the mountain gorilla. The national parks suffered from uncontrolled poaching and unauthorized cultivation until recent years. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 13 types of mammals, 9 species of birds, 8 species of amphibians, 4 species of invertebrates, and 3 species of plants.

Threatened species include the chimpanzee, African elephant, and black rhinoceros. Sixteen species of fish have become extinct.


The population of Rwanda in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 8,722,000, which placed it at number 87 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 2% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 44% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 94 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 2.3%, a rate the government viewed as too high. Chief among the government's concerns is whether the economy can support the growing population. The projected population for the year 2025 was 12,906,000. The population density was 331 per sq km (858 per sq mi), making Rwanda the most densely populated country on the African continent.

The UN estimated that 17% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 9.30%. The capital city, Kigali, had a population of 656,000 in that year.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS has had a significant impact on the population of Rwanda. The UN estimated that 9.1% of adults between the ages of 1549 were living with HIV/AIDS in 2001. The AIDS epidemic causes higher death and infant mortality rates, and lowers life expectancy.


Before independence, many Rwandans, compelled by famine and underemployment, migrated to neighboring Zaire (now DROC), Uganda, and Tanzania. The Hutu and Tutsi political quarrels have caused numerous Tutsi to flee their homeland, many of them going to Burundi, where there were 245,600 refugees at the end of 1992. In the mid-1960s, nearly 400,000 Rwandans were listed as permanent residents of Uganda. Some 85,800 Rwandan refugees were in Uganda at the end of 1992.

With renewed violence in 1994, one half of Rwanda's 7.5 million population was forced to flee their homes. Of these displaced persons, 2.4 million refugees fled to neighboring countries. In 1996, violence in Burundi forced 100,000 Rwandans to repatriate. After the civil war in the DROC in October of 1996, 720,000 of the 1.1 million Rwandan refugees were forced to repatriate. In 1996 and early 1997, Tanzania returned 480,000 Rwandan refugees from its western regions. Another 10,000 returned from Uganda. In addition, one million refugees who left Rwanda in the 1950s and 1960s have also returned since 1994. By the end of 1997, fewer than 100,000 Rwandans remained outside the country; some 30,000 of these in the DROC were expected to return. In 2004, 19,743 Rwandans were refugees in the DROC, 19,604 in Uganda, 5,921 in the Congo, and 5,767 in Zambia. In that same year, over 2,000 Rwandans applied for asylum in Europe, Canada, and surrounding African countries.

As of 2004, Rwanda hosted some 67,605 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly Congolese, Burundi, and Ugandans. As in 1999, more than 30,000 refugees from the DROC were situated in two camps, Kiziba in Kibuye Prefecture and Gihembe in Byumba Prefecture. There was also an urban group of refugees and asylum seekers in Kigali

In 2000, the net migration rate was 62.8 migrants per 1,000 population, a significant change from -58.4 per 1,000 in 1990. In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated zero migrants per 1,000 population. Remittances in 2002 were $7.2 million.


The population of Rwanda is about 84% Hutu, a Bantu people who are traditionally farmers. The Tutsi, a pastoral people, constitute about 15% of the total population, but many have fled into neighboring territories for refuge, especially since civil strife began in 1959. The Tutsi migrated to Rwanda sometime before the 15th century. An enormous amount of tension exists between the Hutu and the Tutsi and frequently leads to violence. There are also some Batwa (Twa), a tribe of hunters related to the Pygmies of the DROC; the earliest known inhabitants of the region, they now constitute about 1% of the population of Rwanda. There are also small numbers of Asians and Europeans.


The main language is Kinyarwanda, a member of the Bantu language family. The official languages are Kinyarwanda, French, and English. Kiswahili, a form of Swahili, is used in commercial centers.


European missionaries, notably the White Fathers, introduced Christianity to Rwanda in the late 19th century. A 2001 study indicated that about 94% of the population were Christians: 50% Catholic and 44% Protestant. Muslims accounted for about 5% of the total population and about 2% professed no religion at all. A small number of people practice indigenous religions exclusively, but it is believed that many adherents of other faiths incorporate traditional elements into their own practice. These elements include belief in a supreme being, Imaana, and a number of lesser deities, who can be communicated with through the spirits of ancestors. There are small groups of Baha'is, Hindus, and others. There are several foreign missionary groups.

The constitution allows for freedom of religion; however, some groups have reported restrictions and discrimination from some local government authorities. Certain Christian and Muslim holidays are celebrated as national holidays.


In 2002, an estimated 12,000 km (7,457 mi) of road, one of the most intensive systems in all of Africa, radiated through Rwanda, but only about 996 km (620 mi) were paved. Five principal roads connect Kigali to other Rwandan cities, and an asphalted road connects Butare and Cyangugu. Most roads become impassable during the rainy season, and there are few bridges. In 1995, there were 7,868 automobiles, and 2,048 commercial vehicles in use. Bus service connects Kigali to the 10 prefectures. The most important roads for landlocked Rwanda's external trade run from Kigali to Kibungo and from Kigali to Kakitumba, thence connecting by road and rail with Indian Ocean ports in Tanzania and Kenya. About 90% of foreign trade is via the Kakitumba route, which leads to the Kenyan ports via Uganda. Rwanda has no railroads. There is traffic on Lake Kivu to the DROC from Gisenyi, Kibuye, and Cyangugu, using native craft and shallow-draft barges.

There were an estimated nine airports in 2004, four of which had paved runways as of 2005. International airports are at Kigali-Kanombe and at Kamembe, served by Air Rwanda, Sabena, Air Zaïre, Aeroflot, Air Burundi, Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania, Ethiopian Airlines, and Air France. Direct flights from Europe are available from Brussels, Paris, and Athens. Internal air traffic is provided by Air Rwanda to six domestic airfields.


Stone Age habitation, as far back as 35,000 years, has been reported in the region now called Rwanda. The first known inhabitants of the area were the Twa, a pygmoid group following hunting and gathering subsistence patterns. Later, between the 7th and 10th centuries ad, the Bantu-speaking Hutu people, who followed a settled, agricultural way of life, arrived, probably from the region of the Congo River basin. Between the 14th and 15th centuries, the Tutsi, a pastoral people of Nilotic origin, arrived from the north and formed numbers of small and independent chieftaincies. At the end of the 15th century, a few of these chieftaincies merged to form a state, near Kigali, under the leadership of Ruganzu I Bwimba. In the 16th century, the Tutsi dynasty began a process of expansion that continued into the late 19th century under the prominent Tutsi leader Kigeri IV Rwabugiri (d.1895).

The Tutsi conquest initiated a process of political integration. The ownership of land was gradually transferred from the Hutu tribes to the mwami, the king of the Tutsi, who became the supreme head and, in theory, absolute master of the country. He was the incarnation of the state and enjoyed an almost divine prestige. A feudal social system based on castethe conquering Tutsi and the subject Hutuwas the dominant feature of social relations, and especially of economic and political relations. The ownership of cattle, a vital element in the social system, was controlled by the Tutsi, who in turn parceled out their use to the Hutu. The Hutu did the farming and grew the food, but had no part in government. The Tutsi did no manual labor. To a certain extent, however, the castes were open to each other, and the northwest remained Hutu-controlled. Intermarriage, especially between Tutsi males and Hutu females, was common. The Hutu language, Kinyarwanda, was eventually adopted by the Tutsi.

The first European known to have explored the region was John Hanning Speke, who traveled with Richard Burton to Lake Tanganyika in 1858, where he turned north in his search for the headwaters of the Nile. In 1871, Stanley and Livingstone landed at Bujumbura (now the capital of neighboring Burundi) and explored the Ruzizi River region. After the Berlin Conference of 188485, the German zone of influence in East Africa was extended to include Rwanda and Burundi, and in 1894, a German lieutenant, Count von Götzen, discovered Lake Kivu. Roman Catholic missionaries soon followed. After the mwami submitted to German rule without resistance in 1899, the Germans administered the territory through the traditional authorities in accordance with the laws and customs of the region. Belgium occupied the territory in 1916 during World War I, and was awarded a mandate that was known as Ruanda-Urundi (present-day Rwanda and Burundi) by the League of Nations in 1923. In 1925, an administrative union was formed between the Ruanda-Urundi mandate and the Belgian Congo (now the DROC). A key policy of Belgian rule was the strengthening of the effective control of the Tutsi dynastyunder Belgian supervisionthroughout Ruanda.

In 1946, Ruanda-Urundi became a UN trust territory under Belgian administration. Events in Africa after World War II aroused Hutu political consciousness and led the Hutu to demand the abolition of social and political inequalities. In November 1959, a Hutu revolution began, continuing sporadically for the next few years. Many Tutsi either were killed or fled to neighboring territories during the nationwide anti-Tutsi campaign named the "wind of destruction." The Belgian authorities, along with the Roman Catholic missionaries, provided crucial support to the Hutu during this troubled period. A provisional government, republican in tendency and composed predominantly of members of the Parmehutu Party, was set up in Ruanda in October 1960. In the following January, the leaders of the Parmehutu proclaimed the deposition of the mwami and the creation of a republican regime. The new regime was recognized de facto by the administering authority, but the UN declared it to have been established by irregular and unlawful means.

On 25 September 1961, legislative elections and a referendum on retaining the institution and person of the mwami were held in Ruanda at the insistence of the UN General Assembly and under the supervision of the UN Commission for Ruanda-Urundi. The elections gave the Parmehutu, led by Grégoire Kayibanda, an overwhelming majority. In the referendum, about 95% of the electorate took part, voting 4 to 1 to abolish the monarchy. The UN strongly urged both Ruanda and Urundi to come to independence united, but reluctantly agreed that neither country wished to do so. On 27 June 1962, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution providing for the independent states of Rwanda and Burundi, and on 1 July, Rwanda became an independent country.

In December 1963, following an abortive invasion by Tutsi refugees from Burundi, a massive repression launched against the remaining resident Tutsi population caused the death of an estimated 12,000 Tutsi. The massacre was the signal for a renewed exodus of Tutsi elements into the neighboring territories of Uganda, Tanzania, the Congo (DROC), and Burundi. In all, approximately 150,000 Tutsi fled between 1959 and 1964.

In January 1964, the monetary and economic union that had existed between Burundi and Rwanda was terminated. Despite severe economic difficulties, Grégoire Kayibanda was reelected to a third four-year term as president in 1969. However, continuing internal unrest led the Rwandan army to overthrow the Kayibanda government in July 1973, and Maj. Gen. Juvénal Habyarimana assumed the presidency. His regime, dominated by officers from the north, took a more moderate stand on the issue of Hutu-Tutsi relationships than had the previous administration.

In 1975, he institutionalized his military regime, creating a one-party state under his National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND). A system of ethnic quotas was introduced that formally limited the Tutsi minority to 14% of the positions in the workplace and in the schools.

The regime was corrupt and authoritarian, and popular discontent grew through the 1980s. The MRND agreed to allow partisan competition and several new parties emerged in 1990 and 1991. But the greatest threat to the regime came in October 1990, when over 1,000 Tutsi refugees invaded Rwanda from Uganda. This group, called the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) had considerable success, considering that around 1,000 French, Belgian, and Zairian paratroopers helped defend the government in Kigali. Government forces retaliated by massacring Tutsi. A cease-fire was worked out later in October and Uganda, Burundi, and Zaire agreed to send in peacekeeping forces to supervise it. But fighting broke out again in January 1991. Further cease-fires were negotiated between government and Tutsi rebels in Brussels, Belgium, in March 1991 and in Arusha, Tanzania, in July 1992, but fighting continued.

In November 1990 Habyarimana announced that political parties would be permitted in 1991 and that tribal names would be abolished from national identity cards. In April 1992 Habyarimana appointed an opposition politician, Dismos Nsengiyaremye, as prime minister. The new cabinet included 9 members of the MRND and 10 opposition party members. Their supporters fought in the streets. Hardliners around Habyarimana were accused of trying to sidetrack the democratization process. By June the government had officially recognized 15 opposition parties. Talks with Tutsi leaders continued on power sharing, but the Hutu-Tutsi division appeared to be beyond reconciliation. A power sharing agreement was signed in Tanzania in January 1993, but this failed to end fighting. Another peace agreement was signed on 4 August 1993. The UN Security Council authorized on 5 October 1993 a peacekeeping force to assist in implementing the agreement. Unrest continued and no transitional government, which the agreement called for, was established.

In 1994 a total breakdown occurred. In February the minister of public works was assassinated. His supporters, in turn, murdered an opposition politician. In April, a rocket downed an airplane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi. All aboard were killed. They were returning to Kigali from regional peace talks in Tanzania. From that point on, Rwanda became a killing field as members of the Rwandan army and bands of armed Hutu massacred Tutsis and many moderate Hutus, including Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana. The extremist Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR) encouraged and directed the killing. In response, the RPF stepped up its liberation efforts.

By July 1994 several hundred thousand persons had been killed and several hundred thousand more had fled their homes and the country to Burundi, Tanzania, and Zaire. The RPF occupied over half the country, seizing Kigali and restoring some semblance of order. While the international community was aware of the genocide occurring in Rwanda, little was done until the RPF had occupied a large part of the country. The UN approved a large expansion of the limited peacekeeping force in the area as the RPF consolidated its control and established a government of national unity, headed by a Hutu president, Pasteur Bizimungu. Major General Paul Kagame, a leader of the RPF, became minister of defense and vice president. The government announced that Hutu refugees, numbering in the millions, were safe to return to Rwanda, but few believed them and the conditions at the refugee camps, primarily in Zaire, began to deteriorate as disease and starvation became rampant. A 70-member Transitional National Assembly was formed in late 1994 in the hopes of returning order to the country. In February 1995, the UN Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Meanwhile, the government of Zaire's policy of forcible repatriation proved catastrophic as thousands of refugees died or disappeared. From April 1994 to 1997, some 100,000 Hutu refugees lost their lives while Interahamwe ("those who attack together") guerillassuspected of having perpetrated the genocide in Rwandawere allowed free reign in the camps. In Rwanda, almost 90,000 suspected killers were arrested and detained in miserable conditions in whatever facilities the government could find, including soccer stadiums. The slow pace of the trials was a cause of considerable concern, but UN and Rwandan authorities defended the thoroughness, offering it as evidence that the government was not interested in wholesale revenge. Of the nearly 90,000 prisoners, 1,946 had been indicted by 1997. A process of gacaca trial by local communitiesbegan in June 2002 to speed up the trials of some 119,000 detainees.

When it became clear to Rwanda that the refugee camps in Zaire had become little more than training camps for Hutu paramilitaries, Rwandan and Ugandan troops enlisted Zairian rebel leader Laurent Kabila to oust longtime dictator Mobutu Sese-Seko. In less than eight months Mobutu was overthrown, and Kabila was made president the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in May 1997. A year later, irreconcilable differences between Kabila and Kagame and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, led to "Africa's first world war" eventually involving nine African countries. Peace talks in South Africa in 2002 resulted in a formal cease-fire, troop withdrawals, and a plan for a transition government in the DROC, to which Rwanda's proxy, the RCD-Goma, was a signatory. By June 2003 with the backing of UN (MONUC) troops, the transition plan had commenced implementation, but fighting between Congolese soldiers, rebel groups, and Rwandan regulars continued.

In addition to conducting the gacaca trials, Rwanda faced several challenges to national healing and rebuilding. In April 2002, Bizimungu was jailed for possessing documents the government said advocated civil disobedience and ethnic division. (He was held until 2004, when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.) In May 2002, the DROC filed a case with the International Court of Justice in the Hague accusing Rwanda of genocide against 3.5 million people in DROC. By late 2002, some 19,000 Rwandan refugees had been repatriated home from Tanzania, and another 5,000 from Zambia. In June 2003, Kagame signed a new constitution approved by national referendum into law, but international human and civil rights groups feared the constitution would limit multiparty pluralism and freedom of expression.

In March of 2003, a six-member EU election observation mission was sent to Rwanda in anticipation of a referendum to adopt the new constitution to observe election procedures, voting, and the referendum process.

On 26 May, Rwandans participated in a popular vote, which by 93% approved the parliament-supported draft constitution. On 4 June 2003, the new constitution was signed into law.

In July 2003, the government announced that presidential elections would be held on 25 August and parliamentary elections on 29 September, ending nine years of transitional rule. Opposition presidential candidate Faustin Twagiramungu, having returned from eight years in exile, said that he planned to form a new party before the elections, but he called for postponing them to allow more time for organization. However, his former Mouvement Démocratique Républicain was banned and a new law passed, giving political parties 15 days to register again, ahead of the polls, and allowing candidates to run as independentsan option that Twagiramungu chose.

In the first post-genocide presidential election, and the first multiparty election since independence in 1962, Paul Kagame won a landslide victory. He ran on a platform of increased justice, economic growth, national unity, and good governance. As of early 2006, the date of the next presidential election was estimated to be 2008.


The constitution of December 1978 provided for a unitary republic with executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive was headed by a president elected for a five-year term who presided over the council of ministers and was commander in chief of the armed forces. The secretary-general of the National Revolutionary Movement for Development, the sole legal political party, was empowered to act in the president's stead in the case of incapacity. The president shared legislative power with the country's unicameral legislature, the National Development Council, which consisted of 70 members.

A new constitution was adopted on 18 June 1991. It legalized independent parties. The executive branch consisted of an elected president and a prime minister and a Council of Ministers chosen from the legislature. The unicameral legislature continued the name, National Development Council.

The 4 August 1993 Peace Accord signed with the RPF called for a 22-month transition period leading to multiparty elections and the establishment of several new institutions. By 1994, the Rwandan patriotic Front had established control of the country, instituting a government of national unity, headed by President Pasteur Bizimungu, himself a Hutu.

In May 1995, the 70-seat transitional national assembly (TNA) created a new constitution. In early 2000 Bizimungu resigned, accusing the Tutsi-controlled parliament of unfairly investigating his allies on corruption charges. The vice president, Paul Kigame was inaugurated 22 April 2000, the country's first Tutsi president since independence from Belgium in 1962. In 2001 four additional seatstwo for women and two for youthwere added to the TNA.

The 2003 constitution did not drastically change the composition of government. The executive arm of the government is comprised of the chief of state, the president, and the prime minister, who is head of the government. A Council of Ministers is appointed by the president.

The parliament is comprised of a Chamber of Deputies, which is made up of 80 seats, 53 of which are directly elected, and a 26seat Senate.


In the last years of Belgian administration many political organizations were formed. In March 1957, Grégoire Kayibanda and other young Hutu leaders issued the Hutu Manifesto demanding a continuation of Belgian rule until the Hutu were better prepared to assume a role in political affairs. In June 1957, they formed the Hutu Social Movement, which, in 1959, became the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (Parti du Mouvement de l'Emancipation HutuParmehutu). Parmehutu thereupon set a policy of ending Tutsi rule, drawing political definitions along ethnic lines, and abolishing the feudal system.

The Rwanda National Union Party (Union Nationale RwandaiseUNAR), founded in September 1959 by Prosper Bwanakweli and backed by the mwami, was the leading monarchist party, calling for immediate self-government and independence under a hereditary (Tutsi) constitutional monarchy.

In the 1961 elections, Parmehutu received 77.7% of the votes cast; UNAR won 16.8%, and other minority parties 5.5%. Under a system of proportional representation, 35 of the 44 seats in the National Assembly went to Parmehutu. Parmehutu extended its control in the 1969 elections, and thereafter became the only political party in Rwanda until its disbanding by the military in 1973.

In 1975, President Habyarimana founded and became party president of the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (Mouvement Révolutionnaire Nationale pour le DéveloppementMRND), which became the nation's only legal party. Party membership was automatic at birth. The president of the MRND was the sole candidate in national presidential elections and appointed the party's secretary-general and central committee. In December 1981, the 64 deputies to the National Development Council were elected from 128 candidates chosen by the MRND. In the elections of December 1983, 140 MRND candidates vied for 70 seats in an enlarged Council; 17 former deputies were defeated.

In November 1990, the president announced that opposition political parties would be permitted to organize in 1991. Several new parties emerged, including the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR), the Liberal Party (LP), the Democratic and Socialist Party (PSD), and the Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR). The latter, headed by Martin Bucyana, was charged with provoking the 1994 massacres.

Cracks within the Tutsi-based Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and the Transitional National Assembly and government of unity widened following corruption probes and political and ethnic infighting.

Following President Bizimungu's resignation, Kagame was overwhelmingly elected president on 17 April 2000 during a special joint session of parliament and the cabinet receiving 81 of a possible 86 votes. Under the Arusha peace accord, the number of seats by party in the transitional government was predetermined and shared by eight parties: FPR 13, Democratic Republican Movement (MDR), 13; Democratic and Socialist Party (PSD), 13; Liberal Party (PL), 13; Christian Democrats (PDC), 6; RPA 6; Rwandan Socialist Party (PSR), 2; Islamic Democrats (PDI), 2; and others, 2.

Legislative elections on 29 September 2003 saw 8 parties and 17 independents compete for representation. On 1 October the RPF, party of President Paul Kagame, won a clear victory with 40 seats. The PSD earned 7 seats, and the PL, 6. The next election for Chamber of Deputies was scheduled for 2008 and for the Senate in 2011.


Rwanda is divided into 12 prefectures, or provinces, which coincide with former Belgian administrative divisions. The prefectures are supposed to be administered by prefects appointed by the president. The former subchiefdoms and extratribal divisions were reorganized into 143 communes or municipalities. The commune, the basic political and administrative unit in Rwanda, is administered by an elected communal council presided over by a mayor. Until recently, communes had limited scope, however, decentralization has given local governments new powers and authorities previously reserved for central government.


The Rwandan legal system is based on Belgian and German civil codes and customary tribal law. The main courts in Rwanda are the Supreme Court of six justices, the High Courts of the Republic, provincial courts, district courts, and mediation committees.

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, certain provisions also give the executive branch and the president authority to appoint and dismiss judges. When the president has the opportunity to nominate for supreme court seats, two nominations are required for each open supreme court seat. In practice, the courts are susceptible to government influence and manipulation.

The constitution guarantees defendants the right to counsel, but not a publicly funded defense. A shortage of attorneys, however, leaves many criminal defendants unrepresented. In many regions the chaos resulting from the 1994 civil war has disrupted the normal functioning of the judicial system. The government asked for help from the international community to rebuild the judiciary and appoint lower court officials.


Rwanda's armed forces totaled 51,000 active personnel in 2005, which included paramilitary forces. The Army had 40,000 personnel, whose equipment included 24 main battle tanks, 106 reconnaissance vehicles, and 155 artillery pieces. The Air Force had an estimated 1,000 active members, whose major equipment included a small number of fixed-wing transport and training aircraft, and seven attack helicopters. Paramilitary forces consisted of up to 10,000 national police and local defense forces of approximately 2,000 members. In 2005, the defense budget totaled $56.8 million. The civil war of 1994 weakened the government armed forces, who could not stop the HutuTutsi tribal conflict.


Rwanda was admitted to the United Nations on 18 September 1962, and is a member of ECA and most of the nonregional specialized agencies, including the FAO, the World Bank, UNESCO, UNIDO, and the WHO. It is also a member of the WTO, the African Development Bank, the ACP Group, COMESA, G-77, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and the African Union. In 1976, Rwanda joined Burundi and Zaire (now the DROC) in the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries, formed to develop the economic potential of the basin of Lakes Kivu and Tanganyika; its headquarters are in Gisenyi. In 1977, Rwanda joined Burundi and Tanzania in forming an economic community for the management and development of the Kagera River Basin. Uganda became a part of the community in 1980. Its headquarters are in Kigali. Rwanda is part of the Nonaligned Movement.

In environmental cooperation, Rwanda is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on climate Change and Desertification.


Rwanda has an agricultural economy with relatively few mineral resources. Coffee and tea are exports. During 198090, the Rwandan GDP annually grew by 2.3%, but the average growth rate declined by 3.6% between 1988 and 1998. The 1994 genocide threw the economy into a negative spiral, but foreign aid in the late 1990s brought about positive growth. Real growth rate of GDP in 2001 was 5%. The country has a high population density (the most densely populated in Africa), intensified by a 1.6% annual population growth rate between 1992 and 1998, which puts pressure on the land and the economy. The manufacturing base is limited to a few basic products. Soil erosion has limited growth in the agricultural sector. Poor markets, lack of natural resources, underdeveloped entrepreneurial and managerial skills, and difficult transportation problems all inhibit economic growth, along with the ethnic massacres of 1994 and the subsequent displacement of population. However, the IMF estimated that during 1995 Rwanda had recovered 40% of its pre-1994 economy. In the late 1990s, the government began a privatization program, in association with the World Bank, although the country has found it difficult to attract foreign investment. Rwanda became eligible in 2000 for $810 million in debt relief under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Low world coffee prices in the early 2000s deprived Rwanda of hard currency derived from export earnings.

The GDP growth rate was 2.5% in 2004, up from 2.3% in 2003, but significantly lower than the growth rates registered previously (9.5% in 2002); in 2005, the economy was expected to expand again by 4.0%. Since Rwanda is mostly an agricultural subsistence economy, most of this growth can be attributed to the foreign aid. The inflation rate was 12.0% in 2004, up from 7.1% in 2003.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Rwanda's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $11.2 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,300. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 4.8%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 8%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 37.6% of GDP, industry 22.8%, and services 39.6%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $7 million or about $1 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.4% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $332 million or about $39 per capita and accounted for approximately 20.0% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Rwanda totaled $1.42 billion or about $169 per capita based on a GDP of $1.7 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 2.5%. It was estimated that in 2001 about 60% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


According to official 2002 estimates, about 3.6 million persons were economically active in Rwanda. As of that year, more than 90% were engaged in subsistence agriculture. The government is the largest single employer of wage laborers. There is no data on unemployment in Rwanda.

The Central Union of Rwandan Workers (CESTRAR), Rwanda's largest and formerly sole authorized trade union organization, separated from the government and the MRND in 1991 as part of the political reforms under the new constitution. Four new independent unions were recognized by the government in 199192: the Union Association of Health Personnel in Rwanda; the Interprofessional Union of Workers of Rwanda; the Union of Secondary School Teachers; and the Association of Christian Unions, which represents public and private sector workers, small businessmen, and subsistence farmers. Since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda's union movement has somewhat recovered from the collapse which it, like all other institutions in the country, suffered. About 75% of those active in the modern (wage) sector were unionized as of 2001.

While the pre-genocide labor law is still technically in effect, the government is unable to implement its provisions. The minimum legal age for regular employment is 18 (14 for apprenticeships). Minimum wages vary with position and sector. The legal standard workweek is 40 hours, with 45 being the maximum.


In 2000, about 91% of Rwanda's economically active population earned their living, directly or indirectly, from agriculture. Except for heavily eroded regions, the soil has a good humus content and is fertile, especially in the alluvial valleys and in the volcanic soils of the northwest. About 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) are under cultivation. Subsistence agriculture predominates, and the basic agricultural unit is the small family farm of about one hectare (2.5 acres).

In 2004, the principal food crops (in tons) were plantains, 2,470,000; sweet potatoes, 908,000; cassava, 912,000; potatoes, 1,072,000; dry beans, 198,000; and sorghum, 164,000. The corn crop came to 88,000 tons and the sugarcane crop to 70,000 tons. The plantain crop is used principally for making beer and wine. Coffee, grown by some 600,000 smallholders, is the chief cash crop; in 2004, 20,000 tons were produced. Tea production came to about 14,500 tons in 2004. Coffee and tea together generally contribute 80% to export earnings. Rwanda also exports quinine and pyrethrum.

Rwanda has had devastating periods of famine. In 192829, more than 400,000 Rwandans died or were forced to migrate; in 194344, the figure was 300,000. Government planning has aimed at mitigating such catastrophes by striving for annual increases of food-crop production. Included in the government effort has been the introduction of rice cultivation by agronomists from Taiwan and China. Export diversification has been encouraged by the government, including production of alternatives such as sunflowers, and fruits and vegetables for the European winter market. In 2004, agricultural products accounted for 35% of exports, but there was an agricultural trade deficit of $26 million.


Most farmers also raise livestock. In 2005 there were 1,004,000 head of cattle, 1,340,000 goats, 464,000 sheep, and 347,000 pigs. Chickens were also widely raised; in 2005 there were an estimated 2 million. Total meat production in 2005 was 50,800 tons, with beef and veal accounting for 45%.

The number of cattle owned by an individual has traditionally been a key indicator of status in Rwanda's social system. This factor has resulted in the accumulation of large herds of poor-quality stock. The government is striving to eliminate excess cattle and to improve the remainder by the introduction of modern stock-raising methods.


Fishing in the lakes and rivers is principally for local consumption. In 2003, Rwanda produced an estimated catch of 8,427 tons. The presence of methane-producing organisms in Lake Kivu limits the development of aquatic life.


There are no commercially exploitable woodlands; existing growths are too inaccessible for profitable development, although they are used locally for fuel and building. Erosion and cutting (due to farming and stock raising) have almost entirely eliminated Rwanda's original forests. Remaining growths are concentrated along the top of the Nile-Zaire divide and on the volcanic mountains of the northwest. There are scattered savanna woodlands in the eastern prefectures. Forests cover an estimated 307,000 hectares (759,000 acres). Roundwood removals came to an estimated 5,495,000 cu m (194 million cu ft) in 2003, 91% for fuel.


Before the massacres of 1994, mineral commodities typically provided 10% of export earnings, mainly from concentrates of tin, tungsten, and colombium-tantalum ores, and gold bullion. Although by the mid-2000s, Rwanda had recovered most of the mineral output lost in 1994, many obstacles continued blocking full utilization of existing resources. Among them were the absence of high-grade ores, the lack of sufficient capital, continued civil unrest, massive population displacements, a 65% poverty rate, a shortage of skilled labor, the country's landlocked status, transportation costs among the highest in Africa, a recent increase in oil prices, a nagging Hutu extremist insurgency, and involvement in two wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2004, mining and quarrying accounted for less than 1% of Rwanda's gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2004, estimated mineral production included: 300 metric tons of tin ore (metal content), compared to 192 metric tons in 2003; tungsten ore, 120 metric tons, compared to 78 metric tons in 2003; cement, 104,205 metric tons; and columbite-tantalite ore and concentrate (gross weight), 200,000 kg, up from 128,000 kg in 2003. There was no recorded mined gold output in 2004. Rwanda also produced natural gas in 2004. Some lava beds of the west and northwest contained potassium compounds useful for fertilizers. Exploitation of the country's peat deposits could become necessary to meet the subsistence farming sector's energy needs, Rwanda's deforestation rate being the third highest in Africa.

The Rwandan mineral industry consisted mostly of a number of small cooperatives and individual artisanal miners who produced ores and concentrates from scattered locations generally in a 30km-wide (18-mi-wide) zone that extended eastwest through Kigali. In 2000, the government privatized Régie d'Exloitation et de Développement des Mines, the state mining exploration company.


Rwanda has no proven reserves of coal, crude oil, or oil refining capacity, although the country has proven reserves of natural gas

All of Rwanda's refined petroleum products are imported. In 2002, demand and imports of refined petroleum products each totaled 6,500 barrels per day. These included, 2,000 barrels per day of distillates, 860 barrels per day of gasoline, 3390 barrels per day of jet fuel, and 250 barrels per day of kerosene. Rwanda's proven natural gas reserves, as of January 2003, were estimated at two trillion cu ft. However, in 2002, there was no recorded production of natural gas or natural gas imports.

Rwanda's electrical energy derives chiefly from hydroelectric sources. Electricity production in 2002 totaled 100 million kWh, of which 2% was from fossil fuels and 98% from hydropower. Consumption of electricity in 2002 was 120 million kWh. Most of the country's electric power comes from four hydroelectric stations. Additional power is imported from the DROC. Total installed capacity in 2002 was 0.035 million kW, almost all of it hydroelectric.


Manufacturing contributed 10% to Rwanda's GDP in 1998. The value added by industry dropped 75% in 1994, reflecting the turmoil and massacres of that year. The industrial sector as a whole contributed 20% to GDP in 2000, and the industrial production growth rate in 2001 was 7%.

Most industrial activity centers around food processing. Manufacturing and processing establishments have been at the artisan level, turning out items such as pottery, wicker baskets, bricks, shoes, tile, and insecticide. Rwanda has light industry which produces sugar, coffee, tea, flour, cigars, beer, wine, soft drinks, metal products, and assembled radios. Rwanda also has textile mills, soap factories, auto repair shops, a match factory, a pyrethrum refinery, and plants for producing paint, cement, pharmaceuticals, and furniture. War in 1994 severely disturbed industry. As of 2001, only 40% of prewar industries had restarted operations. There are abundant natural gas reserves in Lake Kivu, which Rwanda shares with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwanda has expressed interest in exploiting those reserves, and in 2000, the country planned to build an inland methane gas plant.

The industrial production growth rate was 7% in 2001, stronger than the GDP growth rate. By 2004, industry made up 21.2% of the economy, although it employed only a fraction of the working population; agriculture continues to be the biggest employer (an estimated 90% of all able bodies), and the most important contributor to the economy (41.1%).


The Institute of Agronomical Sciences of Rwanda, attached to the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research have their headquarters in Butare, and the Directorate of Geological and Mineralogical Research within the Ministry of Industry is in Kigali. The National University of Rwanda, in Butare, has faculties of sciences, medicine, agriculture, and applied sciences. Science and engineering students account for about 30% of college and university enrollments. In 198797, research and development expenditures totaled less than 0.1% of GNP. There were 8 technicians and 35 scientists and engineers per million people engaged in research and development.


Kigali is the main commercial center in Rwanda. There are a few small supermarkets in Kigali offering imported items at rather high prices. However, smaller outdoor marketplaces selling locally produced foods and goods predominate in most areas. Nearly 90% of the work force is employed in agriculture, primarily at a subsistence level.

Business hours are from 8 am to noon and from 2 to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Banks are open from 8:30 am to noon and from 2 to 5 pm, Monday through Friday.


Between 1996 and 1999, exports grew 424%, while imports grew by a considerably smaller 25%. However, the value of imports still equals more than four times the value of exports. Imports for 1999 consisted chiefly of food, machinery and equipment, steel, petroleum products, cement, and construction material.

Rwanda's main commodity exports are coffee (56%) and tea (27%). Other exports include gold (17%) and animal hides and skins (0.9%).

In 2004, exports reached $70 million (FOBfree on board), while imports grew to $260 million (FOB). The bulk of exports went to Indonesia (64.2%), China (3.6%), and Germany (2.7%). Imports included foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, steel, petroleum products, cement and construction material, and mainly came from Kenya (24.4%), Germany (7.4%), Belgium (6.6%), Uganda (6.3%), and France (5.1%).


The current account balance in relation to GDP was consistently negative through the 1990s, not only because of the 1994 genocide. Although the economy improved dramatically post-1994, export earnings in the early 2000s were hindered by low international coffee prices, depriving the country of hard currency. Rwanda's external debt stood at $1.3 billion in 2000. In the same year, Rwanda became eligible for $810 million in debt service relief from the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 50.4 261.2 -210.8
Kenya 20.6 74.1 -53.5
Uganda 13.4 20.0 -6.6
Tanzania 4.1 14.7 -10.6
United Kingdom 3.1 4.3 -1.2
Congo (DROC) 2.1 2.1
Burundi 1.2 1.2
Switzerland-Liechtenstein 0.8 1.5 -0.7
Belgium 0.8 31.9 -31.1
China 0.6 5.0 -4.4
Pakistan 0.6 2.1 -1.5
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -126.2
   Balance on goods -166.1
     Imports -233.3
     Exports 67.2
   Balance on services -136.3
   Balance on income -18.8
   Current transfers 194.9
Capital Account 65.9
Financial Account 75.5
   Direct investment abroad
   Direct investment in Rwanda 2.6
   Portfolio investment assets
   Portfolio investment liabilities
   Financial derivatives
   Other investment assets 8.0
   Other investment liabilities -64.9
Net Errors and Omissions -36.0
Reserves and Related Items 20.8
() data not available or not significant.

(HIPC) initiative. In 2002, the IMF approved a three-year $5 million loan to Rwanda.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Rwanda's exports was $61 million while imports totaled $248 million resulting in a trade deficit of $187 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Rwanda had exports of goods totaling $93 million and imports totaling $245 million. The services credit totaled $50 million and debit $189 million.

Exports of goods and services reached $70 million in 2004, up from $63 million in 2003. Imports grew from $244 million in 2003 to $273 million in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative in both years, reaching -$181 million in 2003, and -$176 million in 2004. The current account balance was also negative, improving from -$132 million in 2003 to -$53 million in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (excluding gold) grew to $315 million in 2004, covering more than a year of imports.


From 1922 until the independence of Zaire (Belgian Congo, now DROC) in 1960, the monetary and banking systems of Rwanda and Burundi were integrated with those of the Congo. In July 1962, upon becoming independent, Rwanda and Burundi formed a joint monetary union administered by a common central bank. This bank was dissolved, and its functions as a central banking institution were transferred, in April 1964, to the National Bank of the Republic of Rwanda. The Banque nationale du Rwanda (BNR) was looted in July 1994 but reopened later in the year and has since reopened its branches in Butare and Ruhengeri. The bank imposes foreign exchange controls and administers the import licensing system.

There are four main commercial banks, of which two predate the war and two were established in 1995. The former are the Banque de Kigali, which is jointly owned by the state and two Belgian institutionsBelgolaise Bank and Générale de Banqueand the Banque commerciale du Rwanda, which is majority state-owned. The new institutions are the Banque de commerce, développement, et l'industrie (BCDI), whose main shareholders are Rwandans, and the Gold Trust Bank of Rwanda, whose main shareholders are Ugandan Asians. Rwanda also has a savings bank and a postal savings bank. The Rwandese Bank of Development and the People's Bank of Rwanda are the nation's development banks. The Banque Rwandaise de Développement (BRD) was also looted but reopened in mid-1995 with a large amount of bad debt.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $143.6 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $285.9 million. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 13%. There is no stock exchange in Rwanda.


The Rwandan National Insurance Co., formed in 1975, is 90% state-owned. The Rwandan Insurance Society was founded in 1984. Insurance companies wishing to do business in Rwanda must be at least 51% Rwandan owned. Sonarwa and Soras, owned by the French group UAP, restarted operations on a modest scale.


Rwanda has both an ordinary budget for recurrent operations and a development budget for controlling development projects. In the 1960s and 1970s, prudent public finance management and generous foreign aid helped keep deficits and inflation low. With the fall of coffee prices during the 1980s, however, the government increased its control over the economy, and raised annual budget deficits to the equivalent of 11% of GDP by 1990. In 1998, Rwanda signed a structural adjustment facility with the IMF, and started privatization of state-owned enterprises with the World Bank.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Rwanda's central government took in revenues of approximately $509.9 million and had expenditures of $584.6 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$74.7 million. Total external debt was $1.4 billion.


Direct taxation includes a tax on industrial and commercial profits, at 35% in 2005. Taxes on dividends and a turnover (sales) tax are also levied. Indirect taxation, forming the bulk of government tax revenue, is derived largely from import and export duties.

Individual taxes are levied in accordance with a progressive schedule with five brackets with a top rate of 35%. The tax law of 2002 provides for a number of additional deductions in calculating taxable income including pension payments, disability benefits, medical expenses, travel expenses, and on-the-job meal and training expenses. Diplomats and diplomatic staff, high ranking executives of international organizations, as well as persons and companies under special agreements ratified by law, are given special tax exemptions. Privileged persons include those dealing in exports as well as with donor-funded projects under an agreement with the government of Rwanda and the donor.

Rwanda has legislated a value-added tax (VAT) with a standard rate of 18% on all taxable goods and services.


Import duties have been the most important source of tax revenues since independence. There are two kinds of duties, both levied ad valorem: customs duties, averaging 1530%, and revenue duties, averaging 515% (up to 60% for some goods). A 1% handling fee is also levied. Most imports require a license. Rwanda is a member of Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).


Rwanda has attempted to attract foreign investment. The investment code of 1 July 1962, modified in 1977, offers preferential treatment to foreign companies judged to be of primary importance. These advantages include reduction of, or exemption from, import duties and exemption from the tax on dividends for the first five years. Profits may be repatriated at the official exchange rate. There are no restrictions on personnel recruitment and no demands for Africanization. Nevertheless, foreign investment is small because of Rwanda's small domestic market, inadequate infrastructure, and civil turmoil. Net direct foreign investment in 1995 was $1 million (0.1% of GDP), down from $8 million in 1990. In contrast, foreign aid in 1995 amounted to $711 million, or over 50% of GDP.

In 2004, Rwanda was still heavily dependent on foreign aid (which represented 51% of the government's budget), and lacked a strong middle class and infrastructure developments that usually are sought after by private investors.


Rwanda's attempt to establish food self-sufficiency has delayed many of its development plans in other sectors. Rwanda typically receives foreign aid from various European donors and the EU. After the 1994 genocide, Rwandan officials requested $1.4 billion from the UN for reconstruction. Net concessional aid from international financial institutions and UN organizations in 1994 amounted to $226 million. Foreign aid continued to rise in 1995, and leveled out through the late 1990s. Working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, Rwanda hopes to restructure the economy and privatize the public sector in order to foster growth.

In 2000, Rwanda became eligible for $810 million in debt service relief under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. In 2002, the IMF approved a $5.6 million three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) Arrangement for Rwanda. Economic performance improved in the early 2000s. Demobilization and reintegration of army soldiers and ex-combatants, the jurisdiction of trials related to the genocide (gacaca courts), and assistance to genocide victims were priorities for government expenditure in 200203.

Economic growth in 2005 was, as a result of a good harvest year, higher than predicted. In addition to a strong agriculture sector, services and mining are expected to perform well. Rwanda remains, however, a poverty-stricken country that is heavily dependent on aid from abroad. In addition, it faced criticism from international donors and lending agencies following increased expenditures on defense.


Social security programs aimed at meeting the individual's basic welfare needs have been established in law since independence. Old age pensions for workers, sickness and maternity benefits, and payments for those injured on the job are provided for all salaried workers. The system is funded by contributions from employees and employers. Old age pensions are available from age 55 to 65, unless the person is deemed prematurely aged. Most of the population live in poverty and engage in subsistence agriculture.

Although sex discrimination is outlawed by the constitution, women have only limited property rights and are not treated equally in employment, education, and other areas. However, women were elected to 40% of the seats in parliament in 2003. Domestic violence and wife beating are prevalent. Child labor and human trafficking are widespread.

The government's human rights record remains poor. Arbitrary arrest and detention continue, as well as life-threatening prison conditions. Freedom of speech and of the press are severely restricted.


In 1995, an estimated 500,000800,000 Rwandan refugees fled to neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Almost 50,000 died during the first month after the exodus, many of diarrheal diseases. In normal times, malnutrition is the greatest health problem in Rwanda. Animal proteins and fats are scarce. Kwashiorkor, a protein-calorie deficiency, is common, contributing to the death of many children and to liver trouble in older individuals; it also increases the severity of other prevalent diseases, among them pneumonia, tuberculosis, measles, whooping cough, and dysentery. Malaria and trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) are endemic. AIDS is a very serious issue in Rwanda. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 5.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 250,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 22,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

Poor sanitation measures and water pollution also cause serious health problems; in was estimated that 41% of the population had access to safe drinking water and only 8% had adequate sanitation. Tuberculosis remains prevalent. Immunization rates for children up to one year of age included diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 77%, and measles, 66%.

As of 2004, it was estimated that there were fewer than 2 physicians and 21 nurses per 100,000 people. Health care expenditure was estimated at 4.1% of GDP. The World Health Organization, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and UNICEF provide aid in public health services. Since the late 1960s, the UN, Belgium, France, and the United States have been assisting Rwanda in specific health-related projects.

As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 33.3 and 21.4 per 1,000 people. Average life expectancy in 2005 was 46.96 years with the infant mortality rate estimated at 91.23 per 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality was 210 per 100,000 live births. These rates do not include about 2,000 war-related deaths between 1991 and 1992 (Tutsi and Hutu conflict) and over 500,000 deaths in 1994 (mostly of Tutsi civilians by Hutu militias).


The basic type of housing in the rural areas has been a structure that is most commonly beehive-shaped, made of mud bricks and poles, and covered with thatch. These residences are dispersed in the collines, farms organized on a family basis, and they accounted for 89% of Rwanda's housing units in 1978. However, in recent years the government initiated a National Habitat Program aimed at improving rural housing conditions and providing new housing for a large number of returning refugees and genocide survivors. One project of "villagization" is meant to construct rural village communities where public services and utilities might be provided more easily and, perhaps, with greater quality. Controversy exists over this project, since it is believed that some rural residents may be forcibly relocated from current homes to the new villages as they are consolidated into specific settlement areas. Part of the program includes a directive that will zone particular areas for housing and prohibit residence in nondesignated areas. Government policies have also been criticized because they do not necessarily address the existing housing shortage, but focus on accommodating returned refugees.

With international assistance, the government has renovated about 100,000 homes. As of 1998, it was estimated that at least 400,000 units, about 25% of the nation's housing stock, was in need of reconstruction or repair simply to accommodate for returning refugees. In 2002, there were about 1,757,426 households representing 7,963,809 people. About 94% of all households lived in a single-family structure. Most families live in homes made of wood and mud or sun-dried mud bricks with an earthen floor. Zinc or tiles are the most common type of roofing material. About 59% of all households get drinking water from a well or spring. Only about 6,729 households have a flush toilet. About 86% of all housing is owner occupied.


There were no public schools in Rwanda until the 1950s and secondary education was then attainable only at a school founded in 1929 at Butare by Roman Catholic missionaries. With independence, Rwanda began a major expansion of its educational programs; in 1989, education accounted for 25.4% of total government expenditure. However, the Catholic Church continues to play the leading role in education.

Education is free and compulsory for six years, generally for children ages 7 to 13, but the law is not widely enforced. Primary school is for six years, followed by three years of junior and three years of senior secondary education. Technical school programs are available for students at the secondary level. Most primary and secondary schools are under the direction of religious missions, but many receive state subsidies. The academic year runs from September to June.

As of 2001, less than 3% of children between the ages of four and six were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 87% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was estimated at less than 10% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 37% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 60:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 27:1. In 2003, private schools accounted for about 1% of primary school enrollment and 44% of secondary enrollment.

The National University of Rwanda at Butare was founded in 1963 by the government and a Canadian Roman Catholic order. Other known institutions are the African and Mauritian Institute of Statistics and Applied Economics in Kigali. In 2003, it was estimated that about 3% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in tertiary education programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 64%, with 70.5% for men and 58.8% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.8% of GDP.


The largest library collection is at the National University, which had approximately 199,000 volumes. There is a government library in Kigali, with about 15,000 volumes, and smaller collections are found in the administrative centers of the other prefectures. A National Library was founded in 1989 and had a collection of about 6,000 volumes in 2002. A library of 30,000 volumes is maintained at the Dominican Monastery in Kigali and the French Cultural Institute also maintains a collection in the capital. The Kigali Public Library, Rwanda's first public library, was still under construction as of 2006, with an expected opening day in 2007.

The National Museum in Butare contains an important collection for the study of the cultural evolution of the country and is housed in a building inaugurated in January 1989. An ethnological museum is maintained in Kabgayi and a geological museum in Ruhengeri. Kigali is home to the Geological Museum of Rwanda.


Telephone and telegraphic communications are the responsibility of the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications, and Transport. Telephone service is limited to Kigali and a few other important centers and is primarily for business and government use. In 2003, there were an estimated 3 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 16 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The government-operated Radio of the Rwandan Republic provides domestic broadcasting service in French, Swahili, and Kinyarwanda. Television Rwandaise is the state-operated television broadcaster. As of 2005 there were at least five private radio stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 85 radios for every 1,000 people. The number of televisions in use is estimated at less than 1,000 nationwide. Also in 2003, 3 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet.

ARP, a French-language daily press bulletin containing news of government activities, had a circulation of 100,000 in 2002. Imvaho, a weekly, had a circulation of 51,000. La Releve, a monthly, reached 1,700. All of these are published by the government. The New Times and the Rwanda Herald are privately owned, English-language papers.

The Fundamental Law provides for freedom of the press. However, it is said that the government harasses and intimidates the media at any reporting of views contrary to its goals.


Under the Belgian administration, various commercial, agricultural, and welfare organizations were founded, and many have continued in operation since independence. There is a chamber of commerce and industry in Kigali and the Rwanda Private Sector Federation, to assist in business and trade. The government has also supported the growth of agricultural cooperatives.

Scouting and YMCA/YWCA programs are available for youth. There are sports associations promoting amateur competitions for athletes of all ages. Organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of women include the Federation of African Women Peace Networks, Pro-Femmes, and the Rwandan Women's Network. There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society, CARE International, UNICEF, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and Caritas.


Tourism had declined in the 1990s due to war and economic factors. In 1997 new hotels and inns were opened in an attempt to rejuvenate the tourism industry. Tourists are drawn by Rwanda's mountain gorillas, wild game preserve, and by hiking opportunities in the Volcano National Park and the Akagera National Park.

A valid passport is required of all tourists, and a visa is necessary for all but the nationals of the United States, Germany, Canada, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A certificate of vaccination against yellow fever is required of all visitors. Malaria, meningitis, hepatitis, and typhoid are health risks.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Kigali was $177. Other areas were significantly less at $69 per day.


Kigeri IV Rwabugiri (d.1895) was one of the most famous rulers of the precolonial Rwanda kingdom. Grégoire Kayibanda (192476), the first president of independent Rwanda, studied for the priesthood and became a teacher. He founded Parmehutu, the party that led the move to independence. Juvénal Habyarimana (193794) became president in July 1973 and remained in office until 1994, when a new government was established with Pasteur Bizimungu (b.1951) as president. Paul Kagame (b.1957), the founder of the Rwandese Patriotic Front and president of the country, is most well known for his role on the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and his destabilising role in the Second Congo War.


The Republic of Rwanda has no territories or colonies.


Adelman, Howard and Astri Suhrke, (eds.). The Path of a Genocide: the Rwanda Crisis from Uganda to Zaire. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1999.

Carr, Rosamond Halsey. Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda. New York: Viking, 1999.

Chrétien, Jean-Pierre. The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History. New York: Zone Books, 2003.

Des Forges, Alison Liebhafsky. "Leave None to Tell the Story": Genocide in Rwanda. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999.

Dorsey, Learthen. Historical Dictionary of Rwanda. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.

. Historical Dictionary of Rwanda [computer file]. Boulder, Colo.: netLibrary, Inc., 2000.

Education in Rwanda: Rebalancing Resources to Accelerate Post-Conflict Development and Poverty Reduction. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2004

Jennings, Christian. Across the Red River: Rwanda, Burundi, and the Heart of Darkness. London: Phoenix, 2001.

McElrath, Karen (ed.). HIV and AIDS: A Global View. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Nyankanzi, Edward L. Genocide: Rwanda and Burundi. Rochester, Vt.: Schenkman Books, 1998.

Press, Robert M. The New Africa: Dispatches From a Changing Continent. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

Scherrer, Christian P. Genocide and Crisis in Central Africa: Conflict Roots, Mass Violence, and Regional War. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002.

Turner, Pamela S. Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes. Boston: Houghton Miffl in, 2005.

Uvin, Peter. Aiding Violence: the Development Enterprise in Rwanda. West Hartford, Conn.: Kumarian Press, 1998.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Republic of Rwanda

Major City:

Other Cities:
Butare, Cyangugu, Gisenyi, Ruhengeri


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 1999 for Rwanda. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Rwanda, known as the "land of a thousand hills," is situated in east central Africa. Physically, it is a country of mountains, hills, lakes, and rivers. Slightly smaller than the state of Maryland, Rwanda is the most densely populated country on the continent.

The capital, Kigali, is a small city located in the heart of the country. Despite its proximity to the Equator, the altitude (approximately 4,800 feet) of Kigali provides a temperate climate throughout the year.



With independence in 1962, Kigali became the capital of Rwanda. Kigali is a small city perched on a series of hills and ridges at an altitude of almost 4,800 feet. Rather than having a defined city center, Kigali is a mixture of low buildings, European-style housing and mud-brick African dwellings. Kigali offers tree-lined streets and plentiful gardens. Main streets are paved.


Water shortages lasting several days can occur at any time.

If you will be bringing electronic equipment such as a stereo, television or computer, plan on bringing a heavy duty servo-stabilizer or voltage regulator that will accommodate all of the items and UPS equipment if needed. In addition, you should bring surge protectors for each piece of electronic gear. If possible, bring appliances that are made for 220 volts. Short power out-ages occur fairly often. Residences are equipped with European style wall sockets of various sizes. Bring plug adapters-they are in short supply in Kigali.


Locally grown fruits and vegetables are good. Many vegetables available in the U.S. are also available in Kigali, with the exception of yellow corn, lima beans, and a short season of broccoli. Mangos, pineapple, papaya, passion fruit, guava, bananas, and seasonal citrus fruits are all on the market. South African apples are found from time to time in some import stores, but are very expensive.

A German butcher has established a reliable shop offering beef, pork, chicken, fish and deli and breakfast meats. Most cuts tend to require tenderizing.

Most Americans use either imported UHT milk or powdered milk. UHT cream from Belgium is available. Imported cheeses can be found, if you don't mind paying the price! A local cheese is tasty and good for sandwiches, pizza or casseroles. A number of grocery stores offer a wide variety of imported items, but generally at great cost. Supplies fluctuate, with some products being off the shelves for months at a time.


For men, khaki pants and sport shirts suffice in the office. Most women wear dresses or suits to the office. Cocktail clothes do not need to be overly fancy. Depending on your personal interests, leisure time clothing should include a warm jacket, running shoes, hiking boots, rain gear, bathing suit. Shorts are worn at home, during athletic activities in town, and at safari camps. Generally speaking, dress for both men and women is conservative.

Larger sizes of shoes are difficult to find in Kigali, and variety of styles and types of shoes is limited. It is advised to purchase shoes before arrival.

It is always a good idea to include a winter coat in your shipment in case you must travel to the U.S. in the winter.

Supplies and Services

With a number of import shops available in Kigali, most household supplies and toiletries are available. Be prepared to pay much more than you would pay in Washington. If you have favorite brands of particular items, bring them with you, as many American products are absent from the shelves.

Tailoring and dressmaking services can be found; however, fabric selection is limited and/or expensive. Shoe repair is possible but the results are marginal. Washable clothing is the best bet as local dry cleaners are only adequate.

Servicing of radio, television and other electronic equipment is somewhat reliable. Unisex beauty salons operate in the major hotels.

Domestic Help

In Kigali, servants generally do not live in. A housekeeper does most of the household chores, including ironing.

Be prepared to train your servants in food preparation and personal hygiene. They should receive annual medical examinations. Some employers provide locally made uniforms. Employers should register servants with Rwandan social security and make the required payments. Severance pay is two weeks' salary.

Religious Activities

Catholic, Anglican, and other denominations have one or two services on Sundays.


Kigali has a challenging 9-hole golf course complete with club facilities. Membership is US $500 a year. Bring equipment, including balls, tees, gloves, etc. Weekend instruction is available.

The Cercle Sportif, Kigali's sole private club, boasts of complete facilities for tennis, squash, basketball, volleyball, soccer, swimming, and riding. The Club also provides bar and restaurant service. Anyone can join the club, which offers membership at varying lengths of time and according to the facilities you want to use.

The American Club is upgrading its weight room, and also has a basketball hoop, pool table, and dart boards.

The Hash House Harriers is a popular Saturday event, with trails set for runners and walkers. Every Sunday afternoon, a number of expats play softball.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Since the war in 1994 a number of popular destinations within Rwanda are now off limits, including visiting the mountain gorillas in the northwest.

The National Museum at Butare and the handicraft shops there are a popular destination, as is Akagera National Park, a good spot to go fishing, camping, bird watching, and with any luck, spot zebra, antelopes and hippos. The border to Uganda is a two-hour drive from Kigali.

The region offers many travel adventures including white-water rafting, photographic safaris, ballooning, mountain climbing, hiking, gorilla watching in Uganda, boat trips on the Nile, a week at the beach in Kenya or Tanzania, and much more.


The American Club is a lively spot attracting a very international membership representing the many NGOs and international organizations that are present in Rwanda. Happy hours, parties, movie nights, international dinners, and other special events are always on the calendar. The Club has a fairly well-stocked video lending library.

Pleasant restaurants, discos for dancing, and the occasional dinner-dance sponsored by a local organization are the alternatives to entertaining at home.

Traditional Rwandan Intore dancers and drummers often perform on Rwandan holidays and other special occasions.

Remember to join a book club or bring an ample supply as English-language books are difficult to find. Video tapes, CDS, and cassette tapes are expensive and the selection is small.

Life in Kigali is informal. Small dinners, private parties and government or diplomatic receptions round out the entertainment possibilities.


Situated close to Burundi on the southern border of Rwanda, BUTARE combines traditional housing areas and a commercial section. Before 1962, Butare was called Astrida. It is the second largest city in the country, with a population of about 40,000. In 1963, the National University of Rwanda was opened in the city. A museum of anthropology also is located here. Approximately 10 percent of the inhabitants are non-Africans. Most are foreign teachers at the National University of Rwanda.

CYANGUGU is situated in southwestern Rwanda, near Burundi. It is about 100 miles west of the capital with a population of roughly 12,000. Major crops include beans, cotton, tea, bananas, cassava, sweet potatoes, and corn. Industries include tea and meat processing.

The pleasant city of GISENYI is situated on Lake Kivu, one of the most beautiful lakes in Africa. The city is in the northernmost corner of the country, about 50 miles west of the capital. Gisenyi boasts of flowering trees; safe, sandy beaches; beautiful scenery; and the national park of the Virunga Volcanoes. The park is the home of a rare species of mountain gorilla. The population of Gisenyi is about 22,000.

Located in northern Rwanda near the borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), RUHENGERI is situated at the foot of the Birunga volcanic chain. The roughly 33,000 inhabitants of Ruhengeri are primarily engaged in farming. Sorghum, potatoes, bananas, coffee, and tea are grown. Industrial capacity is very small and is centered on flour-milling and the processing of pyrethrum, a natural insecticide. The city has a modern hospital and small airfield.


Geography and Climate

The Republic of Rwanda is located in the mountains of east central Africa and covers 10,169 square miles (4,587 sq. ft. of which is water). Slightly smaller than Maryland, it is circular in shape. The eastern boundary is shared with Tanzania; Uganda, to the north; the west borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Lake Kivu; Burundi, to the south. The western edge of the country along the Congo Nile watershed, rises steeply, formed by a chain of volcanoes called the Virunga Mountains. It is here that the country's highest point, the volcano Karisimbi at an elevation of 14,782 feet, is found. Gisenyi, a town at the northern end of Lake Kivu, enjoys spectacular vistas of the surrounding volcanoes. Rwanda's green valleys produce beans, sorghum, corn, manioc, Irish potatoes, rice, sweet potatoes, soybeans, bananas, coffee and tea.

The low mountains and steep hills of the remainder of the country diminish in height as one travels towards the east and southeast. On the Tanzanian border, low hills, papyrus swamps, and shallow lakes are interspersed with semiarid savanna. Hardy thickets, 8 to 15 feet tall, cactus like candelabrum trees and grassy glades are found here.

Despite Rwanda's location of only two degrees below the equator, the altitude provides a mild, temperate climate for most parts of the country. The average 24-hour temperature in Kigali is 73°F The higher reaches above 14,700 feet might even experience frost and snow.

Two rainy seasons generally occur between February and May and September through December. However, changes in world climate can cause variation to these seasons. The rains can be torrential, although brief, and sometimes are accompanied by strong winds and lightning. Although sunshine appears throughout the rainy seasons, mildew in unventilated rooms can become a problem. Annual rainfall averages 31 inches and is generally heavier in the western and northwestern mountains than in the eastern savannas.

The long dry summer season, May to September, turns the hills around Kigali a reddish ochre, fine dust is everywhere, and the grass dries up. Added to this is the smoke from fires as farmers burn away the dried brush. Dust from vehicles on unpaved roads reduces visibility, sometimes causing accidents.


A July 1997 estimate puts Rwanda's population at 7,737,537, with a population growth rate at 8.24%. Despite the 1994 genocide and civil war between Hutu and Tutsi factions that killed up to 1 million Rwandans and forced more than 2 million to flee to neighboring countries, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. Rwanda's birth rate is estimated at 38.73 births per 1,000 population; the death rate is estimated at 21.06 deaths per 1,000 population; and the net migration rate is estimated at 64.78 migrants per 1,000 population. According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, in 1996 and 1997 nearly 1,300,000 Hutus returned to Rwanda.

Ethnic groups within Rwanda are comprised of. 75% Hutu; 24% Tutsi; 1% Twa (Pygmoid). Traditionally, the Hutu are known as cultivators, the Tutsi as cattle raisers, and the Twa as hunters, but population pressure has reduced the importance of cattle raising and hunting and now over 95% of the population depends on subsistence farming. Despite these differences, Rwanda has no tribes, as that term is usually understood, since all groups speak the same language (Kinyarwanda), inhabit the same areas, freely intermarry, and share one culture.

In contrast to many African countries, life in rural Rwanda is not centered around villages (except in recent resettlement projects), but rather around but compounds called "rugos," scattered throughout the hillsides.

The population is divided religiously as follows: 65% are Roman Catholic; 9% are Protestant; 1% Muslim; and indigenous beliefs and others make up 25%. The infant mortality rate (1997 est.) is 118.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. The life expectancy at birth for the total population is 39.11 years; for males, 38.64 years; for females, 39.6 years (1997 est.). The total fertility rate is 5.93 children born per woman.

Official languages include Kinyarwanda, a universal Bantu vernacular; English and French. Kiswahili is used in commercial centers.

Approximately 8,000 non-Africans live in Rwanda, including Belgians, French, Germans, Italians, Dutch, Swiss, British, Scandinavians, South Asians, and Americans.


According to folklore, Tutsi cattle breeders began arriving in the area from somewhere in the north about 500 years ago and gradually subjugated the Hutu inhabitants. The Tutsis established a monarchy headed by a Mwami (king) and a feudal caste of nobles. The Tutsis reduced the Hutus to serfdom through a contract known as "ubuhake," whereby the Hutu farmers obligated their services to the Tutsi lords in return for cattle. Some successful Hutu and Twa were adopted into Tutsi aristocracy. Ultimately, the fortunes of some Tutsi declined until they enjoyed few advantages over the Hutu, and the boundaries of race and class became less distinct.

The first European known to have visited Rwanda was the German, Count van Goetzen, in 1894. He was followed by missionaries, notably the "white fathers." In 1899, the Mwami submitted to a German protectorate without resistance. Belgian troops from then Zaire chased the small number of Germans out of Rwanda in 1915 and took control of the country. After World War I, the League of Nations mandated Rwanda and its southern neighbor, Burundi, to Belgium as the territory known as Ruanda-Urundi. Following World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a United Nations Trust Territory, with Belgium as the administering authority.

Reforms instituted by the Belgians in the 1950s encouraged the growth of democratic political institutions but were resisted by Tutsi tradition-alists who saw in them a threat to Tutsi rule. An increasingly restive Hutu population, encouraged by the Belgian military, sparked a revolt in November 1959, resulting in the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy. Two years later, the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (Parmehutu) won an overwhelming victory in a UN-supervised referendum. During the 1959 revolt and its aftermath, more than 160,000 Tutsis fled to neighboring countries.

The Parmehutu government, formed as a result of the September 1961 election, was granted internal autonomy by Belgium on January 1, 1962. A June 1962 UN General Assembly resolution terminated the Belgian trusteeship and granted full independence to Rwanda (and Burundi) effective July 1, 1962.

Gregoire Kayibanda, leader of the Parmehutu party, became Rwanda's first elected President, leading a government chosen from the membership of the directly elected unicameral National Assembly. Inefficiency and corruption began festering in government ministries in the mid-1960s. On July 5, 1973, the military took power under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Juvenal Habyarimana, who dissolved the National Assembly and the Parmehutu party and abolished all political activity.

In 1975, the President formed the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND), whose goals were to promote peace and unity and national development. Rwandans went to the polls in December 1978, overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution, and confirmed Habyarimana as President. President Habyarimana was reelected in 1983 and again in 1988, when he was the sole candidate. Responding to public pressure for political reform, President Habyarimana announced in July 1990 his intention to transform Rwanda's one party state into a multi-party democracy.

On October 1, 1990, Rwandan exiles banded together as the Rwanda Patriotic Force (RPF) and invaded Rwanda from their base in Uganda. The rebel force, composed primarily of ethnic Tutsis, blamed the government for failing to democratize and resolve the problem of some 500,000 Tutsi refugees living in Diaspora around the world. The war dragged on for almost two years until a ceasefire accord signed July 12, 1992 in Arusha, Tanzania, fixed a timetable for an end to the fighting and for political talks leading to a peace accord and authorized a neutral military observer group under the auspices of the United Nations. A ceasefire took effect July 31, 1992, and political talks began August 10, 1992.

On April 6,1994, the airplane carrying President Habyarimana and the President of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land at Kigali. Both Presidents were killed. As though the shooting down were a signal, military and militia groups began rounding up and killing political moderates regardless of their ethnic background and all Tutsis. The Prime Minister and her ten Belgian bodyguards were among the first victims. It soon became clear that the killing was not limited to Kigali; between April 6 and the beginning of July, a genocide of unprecedented swiftness left up to a million Tutsis killed at the hands of organized bands of militia-Interahamwe-and even ordinary citizens were called on by local officials and government-sponsored radio to kill their neighbors. The dead President's own MRND party was implicated in organizing many aspects of the genocide.

Immediately after the shooting down of the President's plane, the RPF battalion stationed in Kigali under the Arusha Accords came under attack. The battalion fought its way out of Kigali and joined up with RPF units in the North. The RPF resumed its invasion, and civil war raged concurrently with the genocide for two months. In July, French forces landed in Coma, Congo (then Zaire) on a peacekeeping mission. They deployed throughout western Rwanda in an area they called "Zone Turquoise." The impact of their intervention is still hotly debated and forms the basis for a still-strained French Rwandan relationship.

The Rwandan army was quickly defeated by the RPF, and fled across the border to Congo, followed by some two million refugees. The RPF took Kigali on July 4, 1994, and the war ended a few weeks later. The RPF took control of a country ravaged by war and genocide. A million or so had been murdered, another two million or so had fled, another million or so were displaced internally.

The international community responded with one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever mounted. The U.S. was one of the largest contributors. The UN peace-keeping operation, UNAMIR, was drawn down during the fighting but brought back up to strength after the RPF victory. UNAMIR remained in Rwanda until March 8,1996.

Political Institutions

After its military victory, the RPF organized a coalition government based on the terms of the Arusha accords. On May 5, 1995, the Transitional National Assembly adopted a new constitution which included elements of the constitution of June 18, 1991, as well as provisions of the 1993 Arusha Peace Accord and the November 1994 multi-party protocol of understanding. The MRND Party was outlawed. Political organizing was banned until 1999.

The biggest problem facing the government is rehabilitation of war damage, and reintegration of the one and a half million refugees who fled to Tanzania, Burundi, and Congo, returning from as long ago as 1959. One problem of particular urgency is the prison population, which has swelled to 130,000 since the war.

Rwanda has 12 administrative divisions known locally as prefectures: Butare, Byumba Cyangugu, Gikongoro, Gisenyi, Gitarama, Kibungo, Umutara, Kigali rurale, Kibuye, Kigali, and Ruhengeri.

The legal system is based on German and Belgian civil law systems and customary law. Within the Executive branch of government, the principal government officials are: President Pasteur Bizimungu; Vice President and Minister of Defense Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame; Prime Minister Celestin Rwigema; Minister of Foreign Affairs Anastase Gasana; Ambassador to the United States Theogene Rudasmgwa; and Ambassador to the United Nations Manzi Bakuramutsa.

Arts, Science, and Education

Rwanda is especially noted for its handcrafted baskets. The baskets are made in a wide range of sizes, usually with lids and graphic patterns woven into the sides. They can be quite intricate and magnificent. Private and government-operated handicraft shops can be found in Kigali. In Butare, a city two hours to the south of Kigali, the German development agency, GTZ, coordinates a non-profit artisan coop which offers a wide variety of handi-crafts, including wood carvings, basketry, reed rugs, clothing, drums, and other tourist items. The National Museum of Rwanda, also located in Butare, offers a fascinating display of Rwandan history and culture, and a small gift shop sells many interesting pieces.

Before the 1994 war, many religious missions produced artwork and handicrafts, but little if nothing has been produced since.

Butare is also the home of the National University of Rwanda. The University operates primarily with Canadian, Belgian and French technical assistance. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provides assistance to the Law School. The Institut de Recherche Scientifique et Agricole du Rwanda (ISAR) maintains an agricultural experiment station at Rubona, above Butare. Additionally, the Institut National de Recherche Scientifique (INRS) maintains an anthropological museum and arboretum at Butare and conducts studies of regional fauna and flora. The Ministry of Natural

Resources maintains a small but interesting geological museum in Kigali. Rwanda's literacy rate within the total population is 60.5% of those aged 15 and over who can read and write. Of this percentage, 69.8% are male and 51.6% are female (based on 1995 estimates).

Commerce and Industry

Rwanda, one of the poorest nations in Africa, continues to suffer bitterly as a result of the ethnic-based civil war and genocide of 1994. The economy suffers from failure to maintain the infrastructure, neglect of important cash crops, and lack of health care facilities. Data since the war suggests that the GDP dropped 50% in 1994 and came back partially, by 25%, in 1995. By 1997, the economy posted a 13% growth rate, but has not attained pre-war levels. Agriculture dominates the economy; coffee and tea provide 80% to 90% of Rwanda's exports. However, deforestation, soil erosion and the limited amount of fertile land reduces the agriculture sector's production potential.

According to 1995 estimates, of a labor force of 3.6 million, 93% work in agriculture, 5% in government and services, and 2% in industry and commerce. The agriculture sector has recovered to about 85% of its pre-war level of production.

The limited tourism potential that existed before the war has not recovered. Rebels continue to fight government forces in the northwest mountains, home to the mountain gorilla. Akagera National Park, once home to a wide variety of wild animals, has been reduced in area by two thirds to accommodate refugees.

Recovery of domestic production will proceed slowly. Light industry includes mining of tin and tungsten ore, cement, processing of agricultural products, small-scale beverage production, soap, furniture, shoes, plastic goods, textiles, and cigarettes.

Foreign aid, especially from Belgium, Canada, Great Britain the World Bank, the European Union, UNDP, France, Germany, Holland, the United States and Japan, continues to account for most new capital in recent years. The United States is a leading donor to Rwanda and channels approximately $12 million per annum through USAID, with an additional $200 million provided in emergency assistance since 1994.



Japanese sedans and American and Japanese four-wheel-drive vehicles are driven by most Americans. Sedans are suitable for most roads in Kigali as well as major highways, but a 4x4 is essential on unpaved roads found throughout the country. Both right and left hand drive vehicles are found, while all traffic requires driving on the same side as in the U.S.

Service at garages varies from poor to acceptable; however, spare parts are very expensive and can take months to secure.

Finding a local mechanic to service an American vehicle can be a challenge. The dry season requires that air and oil filters be changed frequently. All drivers must carry third-party insurance, purchased locally. Insurance for fire, theft, and transportation should be purchased in the U.S.

U.S. drivers licenses can be used in Rwanda.


Many roads between major towns are unpaved, but paved roads extend from Kigali to the Uganda border via Byumba in the north; from Kigali to Rusumu on the Tanzanian border in the southeast; between Kigali and Gisenyi and Ruhengeri in the northwest, and between Kigali and the Burundi border via Butare in the south. Traffic moves on the right in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo; on the left in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Buses and bush taxis (vans or open pickup trucks) service all parts of the country, but are slow, overcrowded, and dangerous.


Within Rwanda there are 12,000 km of highways; as of 1997, some 1,000 km. are paved.

There is no rail system in Rwanda, so goods are either flown or trucked in. Sabena Airlines has direct service from Brussels to Kigali two times a week. Connections via Kampala or Nairobi increase the number of options for flying to and from Europe. Additionally, flights are available from Kigali to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and South Africa.



Most American households in Kigali have telephones. Calls are individually charged based on duration and distance.

Long-distance service within Central and East Africa is fair in quality and charges. Satellite service to Europe and the United States is reliable but expensive. Internet service is also available and expensive.

Radio and TV

Local broadcast radio stations number one AM and two FM and several shortwave. Bringing a shortwave radio allows you to pick up programming from around the world.

There is one local television station which broadcasts in English, French and Kinyarwanda. The American Club offers a video tape (NTSCVHS) rental service.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

There is a local French-language newspaper available, and The New Times, a Rwandan paper published in English.

American news magazines are available locally, but not many paperbacks are available in English. The USIS library has a small collection of English-language books and The American Club maintains a lending library of several hundred paperbacks. French hardbound and paperbacks can be found at Caritas, a shop in central Kigali.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Very limited medical services are available in Kigali. Serious medical or dental conditions will require evacuation.

Local pharmacies stock mostly European drugs, vitamins and over-the counter medication, including antihistamines, cold pills, and throat lozenges. Some antibiotics are sold without a prescription.

Eyeglasses cannot be made in Kigali, so bring an extra pair.

Dental care is below U.S. standards. All preventive dental work should be done before departing for Kigali. Dental emergencies require evacuation to Nairobi or London.

Community Health

Public sanitation is reasonably good. Drains in most European-type houses are adequate; main streets are cleaned periodically, and trash and garbage are collected though irregularly.

Insects abound and learning to live with them is the best strategy. Geckos, a useful, silent, insect-eating lizard, are found in every home, usually inhabiting the upper reaches of house walls. Poisonous snakes are not a major health hazard. Rabies is prevalent; it is advised that you receive immunization against rabies.

Rwanda's temperate climate is generally healthful, but dust and pollen aggravate throat or respiratory ailments during the dry season. Allergies may be exacerbated due to mold and dampness during the rainy season.

Preventive Measures

Most hazards to your health encountered during your tour in Rwanda can be avoided by being vigilant and by taking a few necessary precautions. Malaria, AIDS, dysentery, bilharzia, and hepatitis can be either avoided completely or your risk greatly reduced by using the appropriate method of prophylaxis. Food preparation, well-cooked meat, water purification, inoculations, repellents, mosquito nets, and appropriate behavior all reduce the risk to your health.

In addition to those mentioned above, diseases endemic to Rwanda include tuberculosis, cholera, and leprosy. Also prevalent are venereal, alimentary tract, parasitic, respiratory, and childhood infectious diseases. Outbreaks of meningitis occur in the rural areas and several cases of "sleeping sickness" are reported each year. Cantaride, known in East Africa as "Nairobi Eye," is a common seasonal skin infection caused by a thin green and orange striped insect. First and second degree burns can occur from contact with the bug.

Recommended inoculations include yellow fever, Hepatitis A & B, typhoid, MMR, tetanus, anti-rabies, and polio. Anti-malaria prophylaxis should be taken.


Passage, Customs and Duties

A passport and evidence of yellow fever immunization are required. Visas are not required for American citizens entering Rwanda for less than 90 days. U.S. citizens planning on working in Rwanda should apply for a work permit at the Department of Immigration as soon as possible after arrival in Rwanda. Detailed entry information may be obtained from the Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda, 1714 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington D.C. 20009, telephone 202-232-2882, fax 202-232-4544, Internet site: rwanda/. Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Rwandan embassy or consulate.

Travelers who wish to travel to the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with visas and/or entry/exit stamps from Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda or Zimbabwe may experience difficulties at the DRC airport or other ports of entry. Some travelers with those visas or exit/entry stamps have been detained for questioning in the DRC.

Direct flights from Europe to Kigali arrive from Brussels, or via Entebbe or Nairobi. Travelers from the U.S. may take an overnight rest stop.

Make reservations well in advance and reconfirm them; check-in early since flights are frequently over booked.

The airport embarkation fee is $20 per person.

Airfreight from the U.S. can arrive within 3 weeks, but delays are common. Surface shipments are normally routed through Antwerp, Belgium and airlifted from there to Kigali. Transit time from the U.S. to Antwerp is 8 to 12 weeks, but may be longer.

Private vehicles driven to Rwanda must be declared at the border; importation formalities are arranged later in Kigali.

U.S. citizens who plan to travel to Rwanda are urged to register with the U.S. Embassy and to obtain updated information on travel and security in Rwanda. The U.S. Embassy is located at Boulevard de La Revolution; the mailing address is B.P. 28, Kigali, Rwanda, telephone 250-05601/05602/05603, fax 250-502128; e-mail address is [email protected]. The Embassy's Internet web site is


Pets are not quarantined, but dogs must have proof of rabies vaccinations and a veterinarian's certificate showing origin and health. The above is not required for cats, but is recommended. At present, veterinary service is good; however, many pet supplies are not available, so bring a supply of flea and tick repellent, heart-worm medicine, and pet food.

Firearms and Ammunition

Weapons imported into Rwanda must be registered and approved before they enter the country or turned over to Customs once they are brought into the country (thus requiring a separate packing crate) until they are registered and approved.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The Rwandan franc (FRW) is tied to the SDR and fluctuates as the SDR fluctuates. As of June, 1998, FRW 307=US$1.

The two commercial banks are the Banque Commerciale du Rwanda and the Banque de Kigali. At these banks, Americans can have a personal checking account in Rwandan francs and buy U.S. dollar traveler's checks

The metric system is used throughout the country.

Disaster Preparedness

In 2002, Rwanda experienced the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo which lies across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tremors were felt throughout Rwanda, including in the capital, Kigali. Seismic activity is unpredictable and infrequent, but American citizens should be aware of the possibility of earthquakes. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

April 7 National Mourning Day

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

May 1Labor Day

July 1 National Day

July 4 Independence Day

July 5 Peace & Unity Day

Aug. 15Assumption Day

Sept. 25 Kamarampaka Day

Oct. 26 Armed Forces Day

Nov. 1 All Saints' Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day


Id al-Fitr*



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country.

Finlay, Hugh and Crowther, Ceoff.1997. Lonely Planet Guide-East Africa. Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 08600464424.

Courevitch, Philip. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.

Isaac, John and Greenberg, Keith Elliot. January 1997. Rwanda: Fierce Clashes in Central Africa. Blackbirch Press. ISBN 15600467111. For ages 8 and above.

Keane, Fergal. August 1997. Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey. Viking Pen. ISBN 01400460247.

Newbury, Catherine. February1989. Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Ruanda, 1860-1960. Columbia University Press. ISBN 02300461062.

Prunier, Gerard. September 1995. The Rwandan Crisis: History of a Genocide. Columbia University Press. ISBN 02300461104.

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Republic of Rwanda
Republika y'u Rwanda



The Republic of Rwanda is a land-locked country located in central Africa. It is bordered on the east by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with which it shares the shores of Lake Kivu; on the north by Uganda; on the west by Tanzania; and on the south by Burundi. Rwanda is a small country with an area of 26,338 square kilometers (10,169 square miles). Comparatively, Rwanda is about the size of the state of Maryland. The capital city of Kigali is in the center of the country.


Rwanda's population was estimated at 7,229,129 in 2000. Already the most densely-populated country in Africa, Rwanda's population is growing at a rate of 3 percent annually, according to the U.S. State Department. At this rate the population is expected to reach 11.2 million by 2012, despite the fact that huge numbers of Rwandans are dying from AIDS-related illnesses. In 2000, there were approximately 34.78 births per 1,000 people. The fertility rate in Rwanda is high. An average Rwandan mother gives birth to 5 children in her lifetime. But this statistic is tempered by the fact that approximately 12 percent of Rwandan babies die at birth. The average Rwandan's life expectancy is equally dismal; on average, Rwandan males live to 38.58 years old and the average female has a life expectancy of 40.13 years.

Rwanda is populated by 3 ethnic groups: Hutu (84 percent), Tutsi (15 percent), and Twa, or Pygmoid (1 percent). Rwandans are predominantly Christian. Some 65 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, while 9 percent is Protestant. About 25 percent of the population practices indigenous and other beliefs, with only 1 percent being Muslim. Rwanda has 3 official languages: Kinyarwanda, French, and English. Kiswahili (an offshoot of Swahili) is spoken primarily in the country's commercial centers. Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, with 317 persons per square kilometer on average (or 820 people per square mile).


The single biggest factor in Rwanda's recent economic history is the 1994 genocide (see Politics, Government, and Taxation). In that year, Rwanda's ethnic majority, the Hutus, committed genocide against the Tutsi minority. The casualties of that genocide numbered more than half a million Tutsis. The genocide devastated Rwanda's already fragile economy by further impoverishing its population and unraveling its social fabric. The economy shrank by 50 percent within a year of the genocide, and per capita incomes dropped to US$80 a year.

Since the 1994 genocide, however, Rwanda has made significant headway in rehabilitating its economy. Annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates hit 37 percent in 1995, 12 percent in 1996 and 1997, and 10 percent in 1998. Inflation fell from its 1994 highs and government revenues increased. Agricultural production reached pre-war levels by 1998, though there is little new investment in this sector. Moreover, nearly 40 percent of the industries operating in 1994 have not resumed operations. Economic growth slowed in 1999, thanks to low prices for Rwanda's major exports and rising world oil prices.

Today, Rwanda remains a poor country dependent on agricultural production and foreign aid. It is primarily a rural country and about 90 percent of its population works in subsistence agriculture, and 65.3 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 1998. Its main exports, coffee and tea, account for 70 percent of exports. Rwanda receives 75 percent of its budgetary requirements from foreign aid organizations. The Rwandan government, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank have agreed to a privatization program that is expected to invigorate Rwanda's economy. Future growth in Rwanda's economy, however, will depend on continued political stability, assistance from the IMF and the World Bank, and the strengthening of world coffee and tea prices.


Rwanda's politics have long been colored by conflicts between the nation's 2 dominant ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. In 1959, the Hutu ethnic majority toppled the ruling Tutsi king. After the king fled, the Hutus killed thousands of Tutsis, and more than 150,000 Tutsis fled into exile in neighboring countries. The children of these exiled Tutsis eventually formed a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and in 1990 returned to Rwanda to wage war against the Hutu government. This war, along with the assassination of Rwanda's Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana and certain economic upheavals, compounded ethnic tensions which erupted in 1994. The Hutus massacred more than half a million Tutsis and some moderate Hutus (some estimates indicate that the number of dead was closer to 1 million). That same year, the RPF defeated the FAR (the Hutu regime's army) and the Interhamwe (the Hutu militia group that spearheaded the Tutsi genocide) and took military control of the country. The Tutsi ascension to power sparked a massive exodus of Hutus from Rwanda. Once defeated, the Hutus feared Tutsi retribution and approximately 2 million Hutu refugees, including armed members of the ex-FAR and Interhamwe, poured into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the Congo) and trickled into Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda. Most of these refugees have since returned to Rwanda. But the ex-FAR and the Interhamwe remain in the Congo and continue to threaten Rwanda's stability.

In 1991, the primarily Hutu Rwandan government ratified a constitution that provided for a multiparty democracy, a limited executive term, and independent legislative and judicial branches. In 1994, however, the Rwandan Hutu government collapsed and the Tutsi RPF seized power. Once it assumed control, the RPF prohibited all political parties that were determined to have participated in the Tutsi genocide. A multiparty Transitional National Assembly was installed to preside over a 5-year transition from military to civilian rule. In 1995, the Transitional National Assembly adopted a new constitution that was essentially a combination of the 1991 constitution and peace agreements signed after the 1994 war. In 1999, the government extended the transition period for another 5 years because ethnic tensions remained too high to hold elections.

Though still in the transition period, Rwanda held special elections in 2000 that gave Major General Paul Kagame of the RPF the presidency. Kagame received 81 of 86 votes from members of the National Assembly, who represent a variety of political parties. Kagame is expected to rule until regular elections can be held.

There are at least 4 factors that impede Rwanda's economic growth. First, Rwanda's economy depends far too much on foreign aid and will continue to do so for the near future. Currently, 75 percent of the Rwandan government's budget is financed by foreign aid. Second, the government expends a considerable percentage of its resources reintegrating the returning refugees into the folds of Rwandan society. This expenditure continues to divert from the Rwandan economy resources that could improve the country's infrastructure . Third, the government also spends much of its resources supporting rebel groups at war in the Congo. This funding could be diverted to invest in the economy. Fully 25.6 percent of the government's budget went toward the support of the Rwandan Patriotic Army in 2000, according to the U.S. State Department. Finally, Rwanda's prison population has swelled to 100,000, and the government expends considerable sums to house the inmates who were convicted of perpetrating the 1994 genocide.


Rwanda has a fairly good road system with approximately 14,900 kilometers (9,258 miles) of roads. For the most part, the primary roads are well maintained. But feeder roads have deteriorated due to the war, excessive loads by heavy-duty trucks, and a 1997 flood. Currently, though, the World Bank is providing financing for road rehabilitation and new construction in certain parts of the country.

Rwanda lacks a railroad system, although it is linked to the Ugandan-Kenya railroad system by road. Since Rwanda is landlocked, most of its international trade is transported through the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Rwanda has several airports, but the main international airport is in Rwanda's capital, Kigali.

The cost of electricity in Rwanda is exorbitant. Electricity in Rwanda costs 3 to 4 times that of neighboring countries. It therefore costs businesses more money to manufacture goods and as a result, the manufacturing sector has failed to attract significant foreign investment. To address this problem, the Rwandan water and energy utility company, Electrogaz, will be privately managed as early as 2001. Eventually, the Rwandan government intends to privatize Electrogaz. The Rwandan government, in conjunction with the private sector , is considering alternate sources of energy, such as harnessing the reserves of methane gas found in Lake Kivu.

Rwandatel, the government-owned telephone company, is the sole wire-based telephone company operating in Rwanda and is also the exclusive Internet service provider. There were only 15,000 main telephone lines in use in 1995, primarily in the capital area. To date, Internet service has proven unreliable and expensive. Thus, the Rwandan government intends to establish an agency that will privatize Rwandatel and liberalize the telecommunications sector. MTN Rwandacell provides mobile phone service to certain areas of the country. Additionally, 2 radio stations and 1 television station operate from Kigali.


Rwanda's economy is dominated by the agricultural sector, which contributes 44 percent of GDP and 70 percent of exports, and employs 9 out of 10 of the country's workers. In 1998, agricultural exports accounted for US$36.5 million. Most of Rwanda's population is engaged in some form of subsistence agriculture, producing goods for their own consumption and not for sale.

Roughly 10,000 workers are employed in the industrial sector, which represents 20 percent of the country's GDP. The industrial sector is composed of small-to medium-sized companies, whose capital rarely exceeds US$1 million and which produce primarily food-related

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Rwanda 15,000 (1995) N/A AM 0; FM 3;shortwave 1 601,000 2 N/A 1 1,000
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542;shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Dem. Rep. of Congo 21,000 8,900 AM 3; FM 12;shortwave 1 (1999) 18.03 M 20 (1999) 6.478 M 2 1,500 (1999)
Burundi 16,000 619 AM 2; FM 2;shortwave 0 440,000 1 (1999) 25,000 1 2,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

products. After the war, the industrial sector came to a halt. Since then, the Rwandan industrial sector has only been able to resume 40 percent of its pre-war levels. The services sector represents just 36 percent of GDP. Financial services are weak, and tourism nearly nonexistent thanks to the country's reputation for violence.


The Rwandan people depend on subsistence agriculture for survival, but do produce several key crops for export. The crop that generates the most foreign exchange is coffee. In 1999, about 14,500 metric tons of coffee were produced. Most coffee is grown on small farms by independent farmers. Tea is the other major export, and Rwanda also produces pyrethrum, plantains, maize, soybeans, sugar cane, wheat, beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, and sorghum. The country has approximately 980,000 goats, 500,000 cattle, 270,000 sheep, and 80,000 pigs.


MANUFACTURING. The manufacturing sector primarily produces beer, soft drinks, hoes, cigarettes, soap, wheel-barrows, cement, plastic pipe, mattresses, textiles, and roofing materials. Most manufacturing is geared toward import substitution providing goods that must otherwise be imported. Like every other sector, industry came to a halt in 1994, but had returned to 75 percent of its capacity by mid-1997.

MINING. After agricultural products, minerals generate the most foreign exchange. Rwanda has significant reserves of cassiterite (tin ore), wolfram (tungsten ore), gold, and beryl. But due to a drop in the global price of cassiterite in 1986, this metal ceased to be mined. In 1987, the wolframite mines suffered the same fate. Since 1991, some cassiterite and wolframite began to be exported, but not at their pre-1987 and 1991 levels. The mining of other mineral ores was also gravely disrupted by the 1994 genocide and have also yet to reach their pre-1994 levels of production.

Efforts have been made to explore the possibility of producing methane that is emitted from Lake Kivu, but these have yet to reach their potential. Because it is a mountainous country with many rivers, Rwanda has the capacity to produce hydroelectric power, and is currently exploring hydroelectric projects with neighboring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Most tourists go to Rwanda to see its mountain gorillas. However, Rwanda's tourism came to a halt during the 1994 war. There is hope that if Rwanda continues to benefit from its current levels of stability, the hotel and restaurant industry (the primary beneficiaries of tourism) will grow as tourism resumes its pre-war levels.

The banking system has been liberalized by the government, and there are few barriers to the flow of foreign exchange. Rwanda has a central bank and 5 commercial banks, 1 development bank, and a credit union system. In 1999, the Rwandan parliament passed a new set of liberalization measures that in part ensure that the private banks operate under the close supervision of the National Bank of Rwanda. All in all, the progress is encouraging, given Rwanda's recent history and the continuing conflict

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Rwanda
Exports Imports
1975 .042 .099
1980 .072 .243
1985 .131 .298
1990 .110 .288
1995 .054 .237
1998 .063 .287
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

in the neighboring Congo. Retail services improved in the late 1990s as returning Rwandan refugees opened a variety of small enterprises.


Rwanda's main export partners are Brazil, Germany, Belgium, Pakistan, Spain, and Kenya. Most of Rwanda's coffee and tea are shipped to Germany and other European countries. Rwanda's main import partners are Kenya, Tanzania, the United States, the Benelux countries, and France. Rwanda imported motor vehicles, textiles, fuels and machinery. In 1998, Rwanda generated US$58 million in exports, but imports cost Rwanda more than US$240 million that same year.

Tea and coffee continue to be the country's most important exports. In 1999, they represented 70 percent of Rwanda's exports. Lately, Rwandan businesses have been exploring other agriculturally-based exports that would be equally suited to the country's small farms, steep slopes, and cool climates. The feasibility of many of these new proposals to expand the agriculture industry is limited by the country's high transportation costs.

Although Rwanda's primary partners have been African and European countries, recently there have been significant purchase imports from the United States. Northrop Grumman sold a US$16 million commercial radar system and Lucent Technologies made a sale of US$25 million for a wireless air loop telephone system. It remains to be seen whether Rwandan-U.S. trade will continue.


The local currency is the Rwandan franc, and it is allowed to float freely on the world currency market. The exchange rate in 1998 was 312 Rwandan francs for 1 U.S. dollar. The National Bank of Rwanda is the country's central bank and determines monetary policy for the country. Inflation, which had been extremely high follwing

Exchange rates: Rwanda
Rwandan francs per US$1
Jan 2001 432.24
2000 389.70
1999 333.94
1998 312.31
1997 301.53
1996 306.82
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

the 1994 war, has since been stabilized and was about 5 percent in 2000.


Rwanda is, by all measures, a poor country. The 1994 war obliterated the country's economy, social fabric, human resource base, and institutions. Almost 90 percent of the population lives on less than US$2 per day and half of its population lives on less than US$1 per day. Government statistics indicated that 65.3 percent of the people lived below the poverty line in 1998.

Though the Rwandan government reports that 87 percent of the population lived within 2 hours walking distance of a health care facility in 1996, the quality of the Rwandan people's health is quite poor. Life expectancy is low, and malnutrition is high. Malaria and respiratory diseaseswhich are rarely the cause of death in more developed countriesare the biggest killers in Rwanda. Not only are the people unhealthy, they are also poorly educated. According to government reports, only 46 percent of Rwandan teachers are qualified, teaching materials are poor, and drop-out rates are high. Only 7 percent of eligible students were enrolled in secondary schools in 1998.

In an effort to curb Rwanda's poverty, the IMF, the African Development Bank (ADB), and the World Bank have taken certain steps to assist Rwanda in its efforts towards economic recovery. Thus, in 1998 the IMF approved

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Rwanda 233 321 312 292 227
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Dem. Rep. of Congo 392 313 293 247 127
Burundi 162 176 198 206 147
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Rwanda
Lowest 10% 4.2
Lowest 20% 9.7
Second 20% 13.2
Third 20% 16.5
Fourth 20% 21.6
Highest 20% 39.1
Highest 10% 24.2
Survey year: 1983-85
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, the ADB approved a structural adjustment credit of US$20 million, and the World Bank agreed to provide US$75 million to Rwanda. These efforts are designed to reduce rural poverty, pave the way for private sector growth, and promote prospects for national reconciliation by opening up economic opportunities to all Rwandans.


The Rwandan constitution permits professional associations and labor unions, and the Rwandan government generally respects this right. Rwanda has no uniform minimum wage, and wages vary in accordance with the position. In any event, the vast majority of wages paid to workers in Rwanda are insufficient to support a decent standard of living for a worker and his or her family. The majority of families supplement their earnings by working in subsistence agriculture. Pressured by labor unions, the Transitional National Assembly has considered creating a new labor code to provide protections for workers but, as with much else in Rwanda, completion of this work awaits greater political and economic stability.

Women make up 54 percent of the Rwandan population, but discriminatory practices in education and employment have meant that women bear a disproportionate brunt of the poverty in the country. The government has plans to craft laws to protect the rights of women, but these laws are still pending as of 2001.


1894. The first European, German Count Von Geotzen, visits what is present-day Rwanda.

1918. Following World War I, Rwanda becomes a protectorate of the League of Nations under Belgian rule.

1926. The Belgian colonizers issue identity cards distinguishing the Tutsis from the Hutus.

1959. The Hutus rebel against the Belgian colonizers and the Tutsi elite, forcing the Tutsi monarch and more than 150,000 Tutsis to flee the country.

1961. Rwanda is established as a republic. The Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) wins a majority of the seats in the National Assembly, and the assembly votes against the return of the Tutsi king.

1962. Belgium grants Rwanda independence, and the PARMEHUTU party changes its name to the Democratic Republican Movement whose leader, Gregoire Kayibanda, becomes the country's president.

1963. Exiled Tutsis unsuccessfully attempt to take over Rwanda, and the Hutus respond by massacring the Tutsis.

1973. General Juvenal Habyarimana topples President Kayibanda, accusing him of favoring southern Hutus, and suspends all political activities.

1975. Habyarimana creates the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) as the country's lone political party.

1978. President Habyarimana is given another 5-year term in single-party elections and a new constitution is ratified. Habyarimana is reelected in 1983 and 1988.

1989. Coffee prices plummet, famine increases, and the country turns to the World Bank for assistance. Following a World Bank reform plan, Rwanda liberalizes trade, divests state enterprises, devalues the Rwandan franc, and reduces government subsidies .

1990. Central African nations and Belgium send troops to Rwanda to help the Habyarimana regime defend itself against an attack from a rebel group of Tutsi exiles from Uganda.

1991. A new constitution is ratified that states Rwanda is a multiparty democracy.

1992. The price of coffee continues to plummet and Rwandan coffee trees are uprooted because coffee growers are unable to earn a living. The World Bank imposes more privatization, with proceeds going to service Rwanda's external debt . Ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis rise.

1994. President Habyarimana dies after his plane is shot down. The Hutus set out to massacre all Tutsis within the country, and hundreds of thousands of Tutsis are killed. An external Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, takes control of Rwanda, and forms the Transitional Government of National Unity to oversee a return to normalcy.

1996. The Rwandan government tacitly supports a rebel, Laurent Kabila, from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to assist in securing Rwanda's border from the Interhamwe and ex-FAR operating from the Congo. Rwanda backs Kabila's efforts to overthrow the government of the Congo. At the same time, huge numbers of refugees who had fled during 1994 return to the country.

1998. President Kabila expels Rwanda's forces from the Congo and Rwanda in turn supports rebel groups in the Congo seeking Kabila's ouster.

2000. Major General Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, is elected president of Rwanda in a special parliamentary vote, but the government is still considered to be in transition.


After the 1994 war and genocide, the Rwandan government focused on establishing peace within its territory and repatriating refugees, mostly from the Congo. The Rwandan economy, as a result of the war, had reached rock bottom. In 1995, the GDP rebounded by 37 percent after the cessation of hostilities allowed the Rwandan citizenry to return to its normal affairs. This normalization of the Rwandan economy continued in 1996 and resulted in a GDP growth of 15.8 percent. That year, the agricultural sector grew by 10 percent, livestock production by 17 percent, and the manufacturing sector by 25 percent. In 1998, Rwanda set upon an ambitious privatization program encouraged by the World Bank and also signed an Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility with the IMF, both of which were designed to provide order to the economy and encourage economic growth. This same year, Rwanda's economy grew by 9.5 percent and in 1999 by 5.9 percent. Unfortunately, the country experienced a drought which caused extensive crop failure in 2000. The economy, however, is still expected to grow by at least 5.8 percent for the next 3 years. After the 1994 war, inflation had risen to 64 percent. Since then, inflation has come down to around 5 to 7 percent. Admirably, by 1998, the country's GDP surpassed its pre-war level.

Rwanda faces 2 major threats to its continued economic progress: its support of the rebel groups at war with the government of the Congo, and HIV/AIDS. With respect to the first threat, the IMF blames Rwanda's poor coffee production on the fact that Rwanda has diverted indispensable resources needed for coffee production to fund the rebel groups operating in the Congo. Particularly, the IMF contends that unless funding for the rebel groups ceases, Rwanda will be unable to finance the replacement of the aging Arabica trees with newer high-yield trees, and if that is not done, Rwandan coffee production will continue to fall. Both the IMF and the European Union have warned Rwanda that if it does not keep its military expenditures below 2 percent of GDP, they may curtail their funding. With respect to the second threat, 11 percent of the rural Rwandan population is infected with the AIDS virus and that number is growing exponentially. If the Rwandan government fails to implement effective prevention and treatment programs, Rwanda may begin to experience very severe strains on its labor and budgetary expenses.

Prior to 2000, Rwanda had fallen behind in some of its external debt repayments in some bilateral agreements. But as of 2000, Rwanda was not in arrears to either the World Bank or the IMF. Based on this good credit, the IMF has approved a 3-year program with total disbursements of US$56.3 million. Equally important to Rwanda's continued progress is the fact that the IMF and the World Bank have stated that Rwanda qualifies for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries program. But these donors, however, made clear that this debt relief is contingent on Rwanda disentangling itself from the Congo war.


Rwanda has no territories or colonies.


Action Programme for the Development of Rwanda, 2001-2010. Kigali: Government of Rwanda, 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Rwanda. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Official Website of the Republic of Rwanda. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Rwanda: The Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda, Washington, D.C. <>. Accessed September 2001.

The Rwandan Economy Website. <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. "World Factbook 2000: Rwanda." <>. Accessed February 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Republic of Rwanda, March 1998. <>. Accessed February 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Rwanda. <>. Accessed February 2001.

Michael David Nicoleau

Raynette Rose Gutrick




Rwanda Franc (RFr). One Rwanda franc equals 100 centimes. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 francs and notes of 100, 500, 1,000, and 5,000 francs.


Coffee, tea, hides and skins, cassiterite, pyrethrum.


Food, machinery and equipment, steel, petroleum products, cement and construction material.


US$5.9 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$70.8 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.). Imports: US$242 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.).

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ETHNONYMS: Banyarwanda, Banyamulenge, Bafumbira


Identification and Location. The Rwandan culture has its roots in the precolonial kingdom of Rwanda and encompasses both the population of the modern state of Rwanda and speakers of the Kinyarwanda language in the neighboring Congo and Uganda. The Burundi culture is closely related to the Rwandan culture and shares many elements with it. Rwanda is a small landlocked country in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa that has a mountainous terrain and a temperate climate.

Demography. The population of Rwanda was 7.7 million in the 1991 census. Despite social upheaval since that census, including the death of approximately 800,000 people from war and genocide and the temporary exile of over two million people, the population is estimated to have returned to prewar levels, in part because of the return of thousands of long-term refugees from earlier violence and in part because of a high birth rate. The 1991 census reported the division of the population into the three major ethnic groups as 90 percent Hutu, 9 percent Tutsi, and 1 percent Twa, although the percentage of Tutsi is thought to have been underestimated because of bias in the reporting. Because records on ethnic identity are no longer kept, current statistics are difficult to obtain, but they are estimated to be comparable with those from before the war. The population of Kinyarwanda speakers in the neighboring Congo is between one half million and one million, while the Bafumbira population in southern Uganda is about 200,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Kinyarwanda language is spoken almost universally in Rwanda, serving as a unifying factor for the population. Kinyarwanda is a Central Bantu language that is part of the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo language family and is closely related to Kirundi (spoken in Burundi), Mashi (spoken in the Congolese region of South Kivu), and Kiha (spoken in northern Tanzania). Variations in pronunciation distinguish the Kinyarwanda spoken in the northern part of Rwanda from that spoken elsewhere. Also, Twa speak Kinyarwanda using only two tones, in contrast to the Tutsi and Hutu, who speak with three. Outside Rwanda, Kinyarwanda serves as a major cultural identifier for Banyarwanda communities.

History and Cultural Relations

Rwandan culture emerged in the isolated mountainous terrain bordering Lake Kivu and Lake Muhazi in west-central Africa. The kingdom of Rwanda was founded in the sixteenth century in what is eastern Rwanda at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and then moved west to modern central Rwanda. Benefiting from military and administrative innovations, the Rwandan monarchy began to extend control over neighboring kingdoms and chieftaincies through conquest and incorporation. The resulting political system was complex, based more on political and economic ties than on a shared cultural identity.

In the central areas of the kingdom, power was centralized and a division of status between the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa emerged. A system of cattle vassalage bound local communities together and tied them to the monarchy. Chiefs for land, cattle, and military force in a system of overlapping chieftaincies served as local representatives of the court. Areas outside the central kingdom, however, retained their distinct political and social organization to varying degrees, with some chieftaincies retaining practical autonomy and merely paying tribute to the Rwandan king. During this period some people who resented the increasing political control emigrated from the kingdom, resettling in Congo, where they formed a distinct Rwandan community later known as the Banyamulenge.

Colonial rule was the primary force that led to the emergence of the Rwandan national cultural identity. German colonial authorities, who claimed Rwanda in 1895, and the Belgians, who replaced them in 1916, regarded the Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa as three distinct national or racial groups. Nevertheless, colonial policies led to a greater identification with the Rwandan national state for all groups even as they created greater ethnic identification and polarization. The colonial overlords helped the Rwandan monarchy centralize its control and extend its social system throughout the territory that is today Rwanda, eliminating the local social and political variations that had existed in the precolonial period. Political centralization helped encourage greater cultural continuity. By establishing modern state institutions in Rwanda, the colonial administrators also imported the ideas of nationality associated with the modern nation-state. Subsequent social and political conflicts have revolved around how Rwandan nationality should be defined (which ethnic groups should be included as "true" Rwandans) rather than the validity of Rwandan as a national cultural identity.


Traditional Rwandan settlements were highly dispersed. Each family lived in a homestead surrounded by its banana plantation and fields. The basic social unit was the "hill," the collection of families that lived together on a single hill. The three ethnic groups lived interspersed throughout the country, though individual hills sometimes had a concentration of one ethnic group. Houses were built along the slopes of the hills, where fields for crops were concentrated. The tops of hills generally were reserved for grazing, and the marshy valleys were left uncultivated. Traditional households consisted of a walled compound with several round homes with mud walls and thatched roofs. Each wife had her own home within the compound, and the compound contained buildings for cooking and grain storage and space to shelter livestock.

The arrival of Europeans at the turn of the twentieth century led to several changes in settlement patterns. The introduction of tile making generated a shift to rectangular houses, which were easier to roof with clay tiles. Villages also emerged around churches, administrative offices, and markets, though most of those villages were quite small. The vast majority of the people continued to live in dispersed homesteads. In the 1991 census the rate of urbanization was only 5 percent, among the lowest in the world. The violence that swept the country in the early 1990s, however, instigated rapid shifts in settlement. At the beginning of the twenty-first century Kigali is estimated to have up to eight hundred thousand people, almost three times its prewar size, while many rural areas have seen their populations shrink. Patterns of ethnic settlement have also shifted, as Tutsi have increasingly concentrated in urban areas and in the pasturelands in eastern Rwanda whereas rural areas in most of the country have become increasingly Hutu.


Subsistence. Most Rwandans produce the majority of the food they consume. Rwanda remains nearly 90 percent rural, with farmers producing beans, sorghum, bananas, sweet potatoes, manioc, and potatoes primarily for private consumption. Cattle are raised for milk, and goats and chickens are raised for meat. Excess food products are sold or bartered at local markets where traders purchase goods to transport to the cities.

Commercial Activities. Rural Rwandans participate in the monetary economy for only a limited number of items that they cannot grow or produce at home, such as clothing, soap, and medicine. The primary sources of income for rural residents are sales of their excess agricultural production and work as day laborers in the fields of wealthier farmers, in construction, or in other occasional occupations. Urban dwellers, in contrast, are dependent on commercial activities. The government is the largest employer, providing a wide range of salaried positions. Since the 1990s economic liberalization programs have forced the government to sell off parastatal industries and expand the private sector, but much of the capital remains in the hands of government officials and their families. Wealthy urban dwellers often keep cattle in the countryside as well as land that they rent out to augment their income and provide financial security.

Industrial Arts. Basketry and mat making were important traditional industrial arts that continue to be practiced to a limited extent, primarily for sale as souvenirs. The production of pottery traditionally was reserved for the Twa, whose pots were important for cooking and making sorghum beer. Rwanda has no carving tradition, though in recent years some workshops have been developed for the tourist market.

Rwanda has very few modern industries. A few items, such as soap and beer, are produced for local consumption, but the country exports very few industrial products.

Trade. The major exports are coffee and tea. Coffee is grown on small farms throughout the country, and tea is grown on plantations in areas of high elevation. A small amount of pyrethrum, a natural insecticide, is grown in the northern region. Flowers have been grown for export in recent years. Rwanda produces only trace amounts of minerals but has become a major transit point for diamonds, gold, and coltan, a mineral used in microchips and cellular phones, from the neighboring Congo.

Division of Labor. According to tradition, precolonial Rwandan society had a strict division of labor along ethnic lines, with Tutsi raising livestock, Hutu farming, and Twa hunting, gathering, and making pottery. Evidence indicates that the division of labor was much more complex, as most Tutsi engaged in at least some agriculture and many Hutu raised livestock. Cattle ownership was nevertheless an important element defining social status, and the social and political elite commonly used the exchange of cattle as a means of linking themselves to people of lower status. The elite continue to demonstrate their status through the accumulation of cattle and generally eschew participation in manual labor, usually hiring others to farm their fields and watch their livestock.

Agricultural work generally is divided by sex, with men clearing land and preparing the fields and women planting, weeding, and harvesting, though women also commonly participate in preparing the fields and men participate in the daily maintenance of the fields as needed. Household work such as cooking, cleaning, and raising children is the domain of women, while men are more likely to engage in salaried labor and are responsible for heavy household work such as construction. There is limited division of labor by age, with most watching of livestock done by youths, but children are involved from an early age in adult activities such as watching younger children and working in the fields.

Land Tenure. All land in precolonial times was theoretically owned by the king and allocated by him and the chiefs to individual families for their use. In practice, however, families that worked a particular plot of land gained rights to that land that were difficult to remove and could sell or pass those rights to others at will. New arrivals to a community could seek rights to unclaimed or unused land from the local chief, but otherwise the chiefs had little practical control over land allocation. In the early twenty-first century, most farmers continue to own the land that they farm and where they build their homes. However, in the closing decades of the twentieth century increasing poverty and overpopulation encouraged poor families to sell their fields, creating land accumulation and a growing class of landless poor.


Kin Groups and Descent. Competition between clans for political power was once the primary source of political conflict, but since the demise of the monarchy, clans have lost most of their social significance. Clan identities are passed down through the patrilineal line. Clans cut across ethnic lines, with each clan including Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa, but there is variation in the clans present from one region to the next. Rwandan communities in Congo and Uganda share some of the clan names found in Rwanda but also have clans not found in Rwanda. Parts of Rwanda incorporated into the kingdom late have different clans than do areas of central Rwanda.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is the most important social institution, and there is intense pressure on all individuals to marry and produce children. Marriages traditionally were arranged by parents, but today most people find their own mates, in consultation with their families. Cattle continue to be required as a dowry. Polygyny was historically common but has become increasingly rare. Instead, divorce and remarriage have become common. Marriage occurs outside of clans. Marriage between Hutu and Tutsi is relatively common.

Domestic Unit. Families typically live in single-family compounds consisting of several buildings surrounded by a hedge or fence. Each wife (if there is more than one) typically has her own house in the compound, as do elderly parents. The husband's extended family typically lives in close proximity on the same hill or on a nearby hill. The wife's family also may live nearby or may be from farther away, but both the husband's and the wife's kin have important socially defined relations with the family. Nevertheless, women are considered members of the husband's family after marriage.

Rwandans consider children a sign of wealth, and bearing children is an important social duty. As a result, Rwanda has the highest rate of fecundity in the world, and families are generally very large.

Inheritance. After the death of a family head, family possessions, including land, are divided among the surviving sons. In practice, sons often receive an allocation of land at the time of marriage. Daughters are considered members of the husband's family and do not generally have rights of inheritance. Unmarried daughters and widows are the responsibility of the oldest son. With the massive numbers of widows created by the 1994 war and genocide, these inheritance practices proved untenable. The government subsequently revised inheritance laws to increase the right of women to inherit.

Socialization. Mothers have the primary responsibility for child rearing, assisted by other females in the household. Women carry children on their backs as they go about their daily tasks. The mother's oldest brother also is responsible for supervising the moral development and socialization of children. Before the end of the monarchy, young Tutsi men were sent to the court for formation as Intore warriors, a process that included not only military training but education in arts and history and socialization into court culture.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Ethnicity has been the most important aspect of social identity since at least the beginning of the colonial period. The meaning of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa in precolonial Rwanda remains a matter of debate. Whereas some scholars see the terms as primarily occupational categories, most agree that they also represented a status difference. The royal court encouraged the differentiation between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa as a means of helping organize its rule, but it was under colonial rule that the identities gained exaggerated importance. Regional divisions also have been historically important. Northern regions, which were incorporated late into the kingdom, retain a distinct identity. The Juvénal Habyarimana regime, which was in office from 1973 to 1994, was the first government dominated by northerners. Clan, once an important element of social organization, has lost most of its social significance.

Rwandan society has traditionally been highly hierarchical. The complex social and political system included many symbols and rituals that reinforced social positions. Deference to those of higher status continues to be an important cultural value. In practice, however, the culture also has strong traditions of rumor and satire used to challenge those of higher social status who abuse their power and of factionalism and rebellion by which status positions sometimes have been reversed.

Political Organization. Rwanda has few traditions of popular political participation, but the power of political officials has never been absolute. Under the monarchy the queen mother, who came from a clan different from that of the king, served as an important check on his power, as did court advisers and ritual specialists. In independent Rwanda the parliament, though limited in power, provides some balance to the power of the president, whereas periodic elections have been used to give the impression of popular participation, although these elections have rarely been free and fair.

The political system has an elaborate structure that helps maintain power at the center. The complex system of chiefs of land, cattle, and military force was eliminated during the colonial period in favor of a more simplified system of centralized rule. The Habyarimana regime implemented a system of political divisions that linked every local community closely to the central state. The country's eleven prefectures were divided into communes, communes into sectors, and sectors into cells, each with appointed political officials who could monitor the population and carry out the will of the regime. In 2001 the system was again reorganized, with prefectures changed to provinces and communes consolidated into a smaller number of districts. Ostensibly this reform was intended to decentralize power, but in practice power remains highly centralized and the basic principle of organizing down to the most local level has been retained.

Political parties have been an important element in politics since the first elections just before independence. The country's first president, Gregoire Kayibanda, was the leader of a party that became a de facto single party. His successor, President Habyarimana, created a new single national political party in the 1970s in which all Rwandans were by law members. Under internal and external pressure, Habyarimana allowed other political parties to emerge in the early 1990s. In 2002, despite considerable restrictions on political activity, a number of political parties are represented in the government.

Social Control. Ethnicity has been the primary source of conflict since colonial times. Under colonial rule the Tutsi monopolized political, economic, and social power, leading in 1959 to a popular revolution that brought the Hutu to power. For the next several decades the Hutu dominated the political system, and political elites used resentment of the Tutsi as a means of rallying popular support. This policy ultimately culminated in genocide of the Tutsi in 1994 organized by Hutu leaders afraid of losing power under growing democratic pressures. The genocide was so destructive that the Rwandan Patriotic Front, an army of Tutsi refugees, was able to drive the regime from office and take power. Both Hutu and Tutsi regimes have relied heavily on coercion to maintain their power, and well-developed systems of surveillance have helped expose potential resistance.

Conflict. In part because the culture is not confined to Rwandan national territory, ethnic conflict has been a major factor in regional conflicts between Rwanda and its neighbors. After the 1959 revolution brought the Hutu to power in Rwanda, the Tutsi continued to dominate the political system in Burundi. When massacres of Hutu occurred in Burundi in 1972, they inspired massacres of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1973. The assassination of Burundi's first Hutu president in 1993 was an important precursor to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. When the Hutu who carried out the genocide in Rwanda fled to Congo in 1994, they began to attack Congolese Tutsi, and this inspired a reaction by the new Tutsi regime in Rwanda and became the impetus for a major regional war in Congo.

In precolonial Rwanda many conflicts were solved at the community level by councils of elders known as gacaca. In the aftermath of the genocide the government has drawn on this tradition to create gacaca courts, popularly elected judicial bodies composed of community members chosen for their integrity who sit in judgment over those accused of participation in the genocide. The king traditionally played the key role in adjudicating larger disputes, and the president still plays an important role in negotiating social conflicts.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The traditional Rwandan cosmology included belief in a high god, Imana, who was linked to the living through lower deities, ancestors, and the monarch. The royal court engaged in various religious practices to guarantee peace and prosperity, while veneration of ancestors was an essential element of religious life in the general community. Two secret societies worshiped ancestral heroes known as Kubandwa. The Lyangombe sect was important in central and southern Rwanda and in parts of Congo and Burundi, while the Nyabingi sect was dominant in northern Rwanda and southern Uganda.

Christianity is widely practiced in the early twenty-first century, though many Rwandan Christians continue to practice some elements of the traditional religions, particularly veneration of ancestors and traditional medicine. Over 60 percent of the population is Catholic, and another 30 percent is Protestant, with Seventh-Day Adventist, Anglican, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian churches being the largest Protestant groups.

Religious Practitioners. The royal court included religious specialists, but with the demise of the monarchy, court religious traditions and practitioners disappeared. The Kubandwa sects include priests, and although these sects have become less common, there are Kubandwa priests in many communities. More common are traditional healers who draw on spiritual forces to cure illness. The most important religious practitioners are bishops, pastors, priests, and other Christian clergy. Christian leaders have considerable social, political, and economic influence.

Ceremonies. Many traditional ceremonies were eliminated along with the monarchy. The postindependence Hutudominated regimes created new rituals to celebrate the 1959 revolution that brought them to power. After a Tutsidominated regime came to power in 1994, it eliminated the ceremonies of the previous governments and created new ceremonies commemorating the 1994 genocide. Rwanda also celebrates the major Christian holidays. Traditional ceremonies are practiced only in families, where traditional funeral rites remain common.

Arts. Dance and music are the most important elements of Rwandan artistic culture. Intore dance, a form of martial dancing and drumming that involves both group performance and individual demonstrations of skill and prowess, was included in the education of young warriors in the Rwandan court. A national dance troupe has preserved that tradition. The general population participated in dances for marriages, fertility festivals, and other occasions. Ballads and lullabies were common forms of music, often performed by troubadours who traveled through the countryside. The most common instruments included a one-stringed harp and a form of zither. Literature includes court histories passed down from generation to generation by court specialists and popular folktales and aphorisms passed within families and communities. There are few traditional visual arts. Baskets and mats woven from reeds and grasses traditionally were decorated with geometric designs. Twa potters specialized in producing decorated ceramics, especially pots for beer.

Medicine. Rwandans practice both Western and indigenous medicine. Hospitals and health centers are present throughout the country, many of them run by Christian churches, but many people continue to consult indigenous healers. Indigenous medicine emphasizes the flow of bodily fluids and the maintenance of social and personal equilibrium. Illness is attributed to a rupture in the flow of life or the equilibrium of a family or community that often is caused by intentional malevolence on the part of living individuals or neglected dead family members. Since no distinction exists in the Kinyarwanda language between poisoning and enchantment, healers use a combination of herbal and spiritual remedies.

Death and Afterlife. Rwandans believe that the spirit continues to exist after death and see their families as including not only the living but those who have come before and those who will come in the future. Showing respect to dead family members is considered extremely important. Failing to appease the spirits of dead ancestors through appropriate rituals and offerings can lead the ancestors to neglect their families and allow evil spirits to inflict harm. The burial of the body on family land is an important symbol of the continuity between the living and the dead. The mass death during the 1994 genocide and war has created serious spiritual problems for families that are unable to provide a proper burial for their deceased members.

For other cultures in Rwanda,

see List of Cultures by Country in Volume 10 and under specific culture names in Volume 9, Africa and the Middle East.


Lemarchand, René (1970). Rwanda and Burundi. New York: Praeger.

Linden, Ian, and Jane Linden (1977). Church and Revolution in Rwanda. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Muzungu, Bernardin (1974, 1975, and 1981). Le Dieu de nos peres, 3 vols. Bujumbura: Presse Lavigerie.

Newbury, M. Catharine (1988). The Cohesion of Oppression: Citizenship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1860-1960. New York, Columbia University Press.

Rennie, J. K. (1972). "The Precolonial Kingdom of Rwanda: A Reinterpretation," Transafrican Journal of History 2(2): 11-54.

Reyntjens, Filip (1985). Pouvoir et Droit au Rwanda: Droit Publique et Evolution Politique, 1916-1973. Butare: Institut National de Recherche Scientifique.

Taylor, Christopher (1992). Milk, Honey and Money: Changing Concepts in Rwandan Healing. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Van't Spijker, Gerard (1990). Les Usages Funeraires et la Mission de l'Eglise. Kampen: Uitgevesmaatschappij J.H. Kok.


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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Rwandese Republic
Region: Africa
Population: 7,229,129
Language(s): Kinyarwanda, French, English, Kiswahili (Swahili)
Literacy Rate: 60.5%
Academic Year: September-June
Number of Primary Schools: 1,710
Compulsory Schooling: 6 years
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 1,104,902
  Secondary: 94,586
  Higher: 1,987
Teachers: Primary: 18,937
  Secondary: 3,413
  Higher: 331
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 58:1

History & Background

A small, landlocked nation in Central Africa, Rwanda faces significant economic, social, and political challenges. In 2000, Rwanda had an approximate population of 7.23 million and was the most densely populated nation in Africa. With an extremely low per capita income and a life expectancy of 41, Rwanda is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped nations in the world (CIA 2000). A horrific period of genocide in 1994 severely undermined the nation's institutions, infrastructure, and social fabric. Since 1994 there have been extensive government and international efforts to rebuild. However, many challenges remain including poverty reduction, human capital formation, national reconciliation, and the rampant spread of the HIV virus that leads to AIDS.

The population is divided into two primary ethnic groups, the Hutu (approximately 84 percent) and the Tutsis (approximately 15 percent), who share a common language, Kinyarwanda. These groups have a long history of conflict, including the 1994 genocide in which approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, nearly two million Hutu refugees fled to neighboring countries, and approximately 300,000 children were separated from their families or orphaned.

Rwanda is divided into 11 provinces of prefectures and 147 communes. Kigali, the capital, is the largest urban center. Approximately 90 percent of the population live in rural areas and farms for subsistence. Some agricultural products including tea, coffee, and rice generate export earnings. Availability of food is a continual concern in the region due to high population growth, deforestation, and lack of development.

Rwanda was a German colony from 1900 until the end of World War I. Belgium administered the country from 1917 until its independence on July 1, 1962. Under Belgian rule, the minority Tutsis dominated the government. The education system was also controlled by the Tutsis and favored enrollment of Tutsi children. In 1920 the Ruanda-Urundi (now Rwanda and Burundi) territory had 123 schools and only 6,000 students (Duarte 1995). From World War I to World War II, Belgium, under a League of Nations mandate, developed a plan to offer primary school to as many children as possible. Most schools were administered by religious institutions and received government funding if they followed the curriculum and other guidelines established by the Belgians. Secondary service was limited to training for civil service and the priesthood. After World War II, Belgium pledged in a United Nations' agreement to improve the education system under a trusteeship system. Education remained limited by inadequate government inspections, few resources, and limited accessibility. By 1957 fewer than three percent of children finished six years of primary school (Duarte 1995). Under Belgian rule, no institute of higher education existed in Rwanda and by 1960 only 100 natives had received postsecondary education abroad. Religious schools provided adult education, literacy, and religious instruction to approximately 650,000 adult students (Duarte 1995).

After independence in 1962, the First Republic (1962-1973) opened the educational system to all children and founded the National University of Rwanda (NUR). Since 1962, the Rwandan government has actively sought to democratize educational access and to use the education system to produce a skilled labor force.

In 1994, the genocide and refugee crisis dramatically impacted the education system through destruction of schools, communities, and infrastructure and massive social displacement. Since 1994, the government and international organizations have been committed to rebuilding and enhancing the education system as a fundamental strategy for broad development. However, education services remain limited and challenges raised by the genocide, subsequent refugee flight, and economic underdevelopment continue. A 1996 survey by the government and United Nations Population Fund found that 59.6 percent of the population age six and over had a primary education, 3.9 percent had completed secondary school and only .2 percent had a university education (CIA 2000).

Since 1995, the Rwandan government has worked closely with local and international nongovernmental organizations to provide services to children. The government has been committed to improving educational services and to reuniting children separated from their families or orphaned by the 1994 genocide and 1996 repatriation. By 1999, some 85 percent of these children had been reunited with their families or placed in foster homes (CIA 2000). In January 2001, President Paul Kagame reported that since 1995, the number of students in tertiary institutions increased from approximately 3,000 to approximately 7,000, and enrollment in secondary schools rose to 124,000. Rwandan schools have also eliminated an ethnic quota system for admittance, which had existed since the 1960s (Rwanda News Agency 2001).

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) centrally controls the Rwandan education system and there is a national curriculum in public schools. Many other ministries operate educational programs including literary classes offered by the Ministry of Local Government; special programs for girls' education implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Affairs; and the operation of a continuing education center system by the Ministry of the Interior. The Rwanda National Examinations Council coordinates a unified national examination system. In the late 1990s, some efforts were made to decentralize education and to encourage more community involvement and management.

Rwanda has ratified the 1990 World Conference on Education for All and has established a target for achieving universal primary education by 2010. MINEDUC's other goals include improving the rate of transition to secondary schools; increasing the number of teachers; improving teacher qualification; introducing new curricula; increasing the supply of instructional materials; and improving human resource development (CCA 2000).

Educational SystemOverview

Rwandan students are required to begin school at age seven. Both primary and secondary school are six years in length. The academic year is centrally determined and lasts from September to July. Entry into secondary school is by examination and most primary school students do not continue on to secondary school. Rwandan families are required to pay school fees and to purchase uniforms to enroll their children, but the government routinely waives fees for orphans.

International organizations have been influential in Rwandan education since the Germans and Belgians colonized the area. Religious and private schools have been active since colonization and remain significant today. Since 1995, international aid agencies, foreign governments, and international financial institutions have been actively involved in reconstructing the education system.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Prior to 1991, preschool education was provided informally by parents and/or communities. In 1991, the Division of Preschool Education was created. This division seeks to set standards, train teachers, and promote enrollment of children from age two-and-a-half to age six. The Rwandan government has prioritized the expansion of facilities for and quality of preprimary education with a focus upon a community-based approach. In 2000, the World Bank reported that there were approximately two million children under the age of five and that the preschool-aged population was likely to double by 2022. In 2000, Rwanda had approximately 160 to 200 privately run early child education programs with an enrollment of about 6,000 children (less than 1 percent of children under seven) (World Bank 2000).

The 1994 genocide dramatically impacted primary school education. UNICEF estimates that approximately 600 primary schools (32 percent of the pregenocide total) were destroyed and 3,000 or more primary school teachers were lost. In 1998, just 45 percent of primary school teachers were qualified creating a 124:1 student to qualified teacher ratio. By 1999, there were 2,061 primary schools in Rwanda and the net primary enrollment ratio had reached 65 percent. Gender equity is improving with 69 percent male and 61 percent female net enrollment.

Despite improvements in the education system, the task of educating children under age 14, who make up 43 percent of the Rwandan population, remains enormous. Although net enrollment rates are increasing, they have not yet reached pregenocide levels of approximately 71 percent (CCA 2000). Additionally, enrollment figures vary substantively across prefectures. Completion and attendance figures suggest high drop out rates, although accurate data is difficult due to the substantial population shifts that occurred from 1994-1996.

The six-year primary school curriculum is nationally determined and teaching instruction is formal. The curriculum was revised in 1996, but the new version had not been widely disseminated by 2000. The new curriculum will include civics, peace education, national reconciliation, and new life skills approaches. Textbook coverage is limited, with UNICEF estimating only 22 percent coverage in 1998.

Secondary Education

Transition rates from primary to secondary school are low. Approximately 20 percent of students who finished primary school in 1998 continued on to public secondary schools, and another 10 percent enrolled in private schools. The gross enrollment for secondary schools was only 7 percent in 1998. Nearly half of secondary students are female (49 percent). Secondary school admission is no longer based on a regional or racial quota system. However, many schools are associated with ethnic conflict, as many were damaged and others were used as torture centers during the genocide.

The six-year secondary education program in Rwanda includes two cyclesa common core focusing on basic skills, and a second cycle providing more academic choices. Students can also complete the second cycle at teaching, nursing, or technical training schools. Student-to-teacher ratios are greatly reduced in secondary school, with estimates at about 22:1 (CCA 2000).

Data on secondary schools and evaluation of the quality of their instruction is limited, as numerous schools were constructed or opened after 1995. Secondary education quality concerns include low standards for entrants, insufficient instruction materials, poorly qualified teachers, and curriculum with low relevance to employment opportunities or life skills.

Higher Education

Higher, or tertiary, education opportunities dramatically increased after independence. Since 1967, the National University of Rwanda (NUR) has graduated approximately 450 students per year (CCA 2000). However, in 1994, nearly the entire staff of the NUR was lost. Since then, the university has depended on visiting professors, who in 1996 made up 71 percent of the faculty (CCA 2000).

Although the NUR is the largest tertiary institution, there are also religious, military, and other vocational and technical institutions. Several ministries and private institutions provide opportunities for apprenticeships and training in specific employment opportunities. Since 1995, new institutions have been opened with international support including the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), the Kigali Institute for Education (KIE), and the Kigali Health Institute (KHI).

Higher education suffers from weaknesses similar to those of secondary education. Students are often under prepared by secondary curricula, instruction materials are limited, and many instructors lack doctoral degrees. Additionally, there is a significant gender gap at the tertiary level, with women making up only 28 percent of students (CCA 2000).

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Prior to the 1994 genocide the Rwandan government emphasized education spending. In 1984, for example, 27.5 percent of Rwanda's national budget was allocated to education (Dorsey 1994). Although education expenditures after the genocide were reduced, possibly due to a need to focus on security issues, they have been steadily rising since 1996. In 1999, some 22.7 percent of the national budget was devoted to education (World Bank 1999). Additionally, Rwanda has received extensive financial support for its educational programs from international sources. The government's broad goals for improving education require an extensive, ongoing financial commitment to education and continued international support.

Nonformal Education

Vocational training institutes operated by the Ministry of Youth serve out-of-school young people and adults through both six-month and three-year training programs. There is also a growing system of apprenticeship available through the private sector.

Distance learning courses are being conducted at both KIST and the NUR. It is hoped that distance learning can help to overcome a lack of qualified professors at Rwanda's institutions of higher learning. Nonformal education is hampered by a lack of media and technological resources. There is no daily paper in Rwanda, although there are several privately owned weekly papers. The government owns one national radio station and the only television station, which offers five hours of daily programming. The government is also the only Internet service provider (CIA 2000).

Teaching Profession

Teacher training begins with the second cycle of secondary education. Training occurs in Primary Teachers' Colleges. The government is striving to open teachers' colleges in each prefecture. Religious and private schools also continue to train teachers. The rapid expansion of the educational system has led to a shortage of teachers at all levels.


The education system in Rwanda, despite extensive efforts, remains inadequate for the current and rapidly expanding population of children. Nearly 70 percent of children do not continue beyond the six years of primary school. Although illiteracy figures vary, estimates are that at least one-third of the population remains illiterate. Teacher shortages, lack of supplies, rapid population growth, and limited school facilities continue to negatively impact the educational system. In some western border regions, disruptions from regional conflict have continued and many schools have been closed.

A large number of children remain in economic or social circumstances that make educational attendance difficult. UNICEF estimates that there are over 60,000 children age 18 or younger who head households that include 300,000 school-age children. Child labor is a problem as evidenced by street children, underage domestic workers, and agricultural labor. Additionally, increasing HIV/AIDS infection rates are challenging both the nation and the education system. There is growing government interest in incorporating HIV/AIDS education at each level of the education system. However, curriculum limitations and teacher training have made implementation of this goal difficult.

Thus, Rwanda faces numerous challenges as the government, in cooperation with international organizations, seeks to rebuild and to expand its educational system. Current efforts to decentralize, to implement new curriculums, to improve organizational efficiency, and to address quality concerns may help meet these challenges. At higher education levels, emphasis upon developing instruction that facilitates future employment and has life-skills relevance, as well as efforts to move beyond reliance on foreign instructors, should continue. Addressing current educational needs and meeting the demands of a rapidly increasing population will require a significant, on-going financial and political commitment from both the Rwandan government and the international community.


CIA Factbook. "Rwanda." (2000). 1 March 2001. Available from

"Common Country Assessment (CCA) 1999-2000." Coordinated by a UN inter-agency working group under the direction of UNESCO, this assessment is available upon request from the United Nations.

Dorsey, Learthen. Historical Dictionary of Rwanda. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1994.

Duarte, Mary T. "Education in Ruanda-Urundi, 1946-61." Historian: A Journal of History. (Winter 1995). Citing United Nations Trusteeship Council Official Records (1948-1959).

Ndengejeho, P. B. "Rwanda." In International Encyclopedia of National Systems of Education, ed. T. Neville Postlethwaite, 828-835. Elsevier Science Ltd, 1995.

Rwanda News Agency. "President Outlines Achievements Since 1994, Vows to Do More." BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. British Broadcasting Corporation, 19 January 2001.

UNICEF. "Children and Women of Rwanda. A Situation Analysis of Social Sectors." (1998).

U.S. Department of State. "1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." 25 February 2001. Available from

World Bank. "Rwanda: Country Assistance StrategyProgress Report." (1999).

. "Technical Note on Early Childhood Development and Education (EECCD) in the Human Resources Development ProjectRwanda, Appraisal Working Paper, March 2000." 4 March 2001. Available from

Heather Heckel

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Rwanda (rŏŏän´dä), officially Republic of Rwanda, republic (2005 est. pop. 8,441,000), 10,169 sq mi (26,338 sq km), E central Africa. It borders on Congo (Kinshasa) in the west, on Uganda in the north, on Tanzania in the east, and on Burundi in the south. Kigali is the capital and largest town.

Land and People

Most of Rwanda is situated at 5,000 ft (1,520 m) or higher, and the country has a rugged relief made up of steep mountains and deep valleys. The principal geographical feature is the Virunga mountain range, which runs north of Lake Kivu and includes Rwanda's loftiest point, Volcan Karisimbi (14,787 ft/4,507 m). There is some lower land (at elevations below 3,000 ft/910 m) along the eastern shore of Lake Kivu and the Ruzizi River in the west and near the Tanzanian border in the east. In addition to the capital, other towns include Butare, Gisenyi, and Ruhengeri.

About 85% of the inhabitants are Hutu, and the rest Tutsi, except for a small number of Twa, who are a Pygmy group. Since independence, ethnic violence has led to large-scale massacres and the creation of perhaps as many as three million refugees. Kinyarwanda (a Bantu tongue), French, and English are the official languages, and Swahili is also spoken. Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, and its population has a high annual growth rate that is usually around 3%. About 90% of the people are Christian (more than half of these Roman Catholic, with Protestant and Adventist minorities) and 5% (mostly Tutsis) are Muslim. A small number follow traditional religious beliefs.


The economy of Rwanda is overwhelmingly agricultural, with most of the workers engaged in subsistence farming. Economic development in Rwanda is hindered by the needs of its large population and by its lack of easy access to the sea (and thus to foreign markets). The chief food crops are bananas, pulses, sorghum, and potatoes. The principal cash crops are coffee, tea, and pyrethrum. Large numbers of cattle, goats, and sheep are raised. Food must be imported, as domestic production has fallen below subsistence levels. Food shortages were exacerbated by the civil strife and severe refugee problems of the early 1990s, and exports were devastated. However, by the early 2000s the economy had revived to pre-1994 levels.

Cassiterite and wolframite are mined in significant quantities, and natural gas is produced at Lake Kivu. Rwanda's industries are limited to food processing, brewing, and small factories that manufacture furniture, footwear, plastic goods, textiles, and cigarettes. The country has a good road network but no railroads. Kigali has an international airport.

The annual value of Rwanda's imports is usually considerably higher than its earnings from exports. The main imports are foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, steel, petroleum products, and construction materials; the principal exports are coffee, tea, hides, casseritite, wolframite, and pyrethrum. The chief trading partners are Kenya, Germany, Belgium, Uganda, and China. Rwanda depends on outside aid to balance its national budget, to finance foreign purchases, and to fund development projects.


Rwanda is governed under the constitution of 2003. The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected for a seven-year term and is eligible for a second term. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. There is a bicameral Parliament. The Senate has 26 members, 12 elected by local councils, 8 appointed by the president, and the rest representing political and educational groups; all serve eight-year terms. The Chamber of Deputies has 80 seats; 53 of the members are popularly elected on a proportional basis, and the rest are nominated from women, youth, and other groups. Deputies serve five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into five provinces.


History to Independence

The Twa were the original inhabitants of Rwanda and were followed (c.AD 1000), and then outnumbered, by the Hutus. In the 14th or 15th cent., the Tutsis migrated into the area, gained dominance over the Hutus, and established several states. By the late 18th cent. a single Tutsi-ruled state occupied most of present-day Rwanda. It was headed by a mwami (king), who controlled regionally based vassals who were also Tutsi. They in turn dominated the Hutus, who, then as now, made up the vast majority of the population. Rwanda reached the height of its power under Mutara II (reigned early 19th cent.) and Kigeri IV (reigned 1853–95). Kigeri established a standing army, equipped with guns purchased from traders from the E African coast, and prohibited most foreigners from entering his kingdom.

Nonetheless, in 1890, Rwanda accepted German overrule without resistance and became part of German East Africa. A German administrative officer was assigned to Rwanda only in 1907, however, and the Germans had virtually no influence over the affairs of the country and initiated no economic development. During World War I, Belgian forces occupied (1916) Rwanda, and in 1919 it became part of the Belgian League of Nations mandate of Ruanda-Urundi (which in 1946 became a UN trust territory). Until the last years of Belgian rule the traditional social structure of Rwanda was not altered; considerable Christian missionary work, however, was undertaken.

In 1957 the Hutus issued a manifesto calling for a change in Rwanda's power structure that would give them a voice in the country's affairs commensurate with their numbers, and Hutu political parties were formed. In 1959, Mutara III died and was succeeded by Kigeri V. The Hutus contended that the new mwami had not been properly chosen, and fighting broke out between the Hutus and the Tutsis (who were aided by the Twa). The Hutus emerged victorious, and some 100,000 Tutsis, including Kigeri V, fled to neighboring countries. Hutu political parties won the election of 1960; Grégoire Kayibanda became interim prime minister. In early 1961 a republic was proclaimed, which was confirmed in a UN-supervised referendum later in the year. Belgium granted independence to Rwanda on July 1, 1962.

Independence and Civil Strife

Kayibanda was elected as the first president under the constitution adopted in 1962 and was reelected in 1965 and 1969. In 1964, following an incursion from Burundi, which continued to be controlled by its Tutsi aristocracy, many Tutsis were killed in Rwanda, and numerous others left the country. In 1971–72, relations with Uganda were bitter after President Idi Amin of Uganda accused Rwanda of aiding groups trying to overthrow him. In early 1973 there was renewed fighting between Hutu and Tutsi groups, and some 600 Tutsis fled to Uganda.

On July 5, 1973, a military group toppled Kayibanda without violence and installed Maj. Gen. Juvénal Habyarimana, a moderate Hutu who was commander of the national guard. In 1978 a new constitution was ratified and Habyarimana was elected president. He was reelected in 1983 and 1988. In 1988 over 50,000 refugees fled into Rwanda from Burundi.

Two years later Rwanda was invaded from Uganda by forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting mainly of Tutsi refugees. They were repulsed, but Habyarimana agreed to a new multiparty constitution, promulgated in 1991. In early 1993, after Habyarimana signed a power-sharing agreement, Hutu violence broke out in the capital; subsequently, RPF forces launched a major offensive, making substantial inroads. A new accord was signed in August, and a UN peacekeeping mission was established. However, when Habyarimana and Burundi's president were killed in a suspicious plane crash in Apr., 1994, civil strife erupted on a massive scale. Rwandan soldiers and Hutu gangs slaughtered an estimated 500,000–1 million people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The RPF resumed fighting and won control of the country, but over 2 million Rwandans, nearly all Hutus, fled the country.

The RPF named Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president, but there were reprisals against Hutus by elements of the Tutsi-dominated army, and real power lay with RPF leader Paul Kagame, who became vice president and defense minister. The Hutu refugees remained crowded into camps in the Congo (then called Zaïre) and other neighboring countries, where Hutu extremists held power and, despite relief efforts by the United Nations and other international organizations, disease claimed some 100,000 lives. In 1995, a UN-appointed tribunal, based in Tanzania, began indicting and trying a number of higher-ranking people for genocide in the Hutu-Tutsi atrocities; however, the whereabouts of many suspects were unknown. A number of former senior Rwandan government and military officials were convicted of organizing the genocide or having participated in it. Many more individuals were tried and convicted in Rwandan courts over the next two decades, with nearly 2 million suspects, most of whom were accused of looting and other property crimes, tried in semitraditional community courts. Over a million Hutu refugees flooded back into the country in 1996; by 1997, there was a growing war between the Rwandan army and Hutu guerrilla bands.

In 1998, Rwandan soldiers began aiding antigovernment rebels in the Congo who were attempting to overthrow the Congolese president, Laurent Kabila; Rwanda had helped Kabila overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko 18 months earlier. President Bizimungu resigned in Mar., 2000, accusing the parliament of using an anticorruption campaign to attack Hutu members of the government. Kagame officially succeeded Bizimungu as president in April, becoming the first Tutsi to be president of Rwanda.

Fighting in 1999 and 2000 between Rwandan and Ugandan forces in the Congo has led to tense relations between the two nations and occasional fighting between proxy forces in the Congo; each nation also accused the other of aiding rebels against its own rule. Rwandan troops were withdrawn from the Congo in 2002 as the result of the signing of a peace agreement, but Rwanda forces fighting Hutu rebels subsequently made incursions into the Congo and Burundi as well. (In 2010 a leaked UN report on the Congo civil war accused Rwanda's army and its Congolese allies of massacring civilian Rwandan and Congolese Hutus during the conflict.) Also in 2002, Bizimungu, who had become a critic of the government and established an opposition party, was arrested and charged with engaging in illegal political activity; he was convicted in 2004, but released in 2007 after being pardoned.

In May, 2003, votes approved a new constitution. In the subsequent presidential election in July, President Kagame faced three Hutu candidates, the most prominent of which was former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu. The election, the first in which Rwandans could vote for an opposition candidate, was won by Kagame, with 95% of the vote, but some observers accused the government of voting irregularities, and the campaign was marred by continual government interference with opposition rallies. The RPF also won a majority of the elected seats in the Chamber of Deputies in September. The main Hutu rebel group, based in E Congo (Kinshasa), announced in Mar., 2005, that it would disarm and return peacefully to Rwanda, but the Rwandan government said that rebels who participated in the 1994 genocide would face trial when they returned.

In late 2006, a French judge investigating the crash that killed Habyarimana and provoked the genocide concluded that Kagame and a number of his aides should be tried for their roles in shooting down the plane; the judge was investigating the crash because of the deaths of the plane's French crew. The Rwandan government, which had accused extremist Hutus of assassinating Habyarimana and which also was investigating what it said was French complicity in the massacres that followed the crash, angrily denounced the judge's action and expelled the French ambassador. Ties between the two nations were fully reestablished only in late 2009.

In Aug., 2008, a Rwandan report was released that accused France and French leaders of playing a direct part in the genocide (France rejected the charges), and a Jan., 2010, report again blamed Hutu extremists in the government for the killing of Habyarimana. A new French investigation concluded in Jan., 2012, that the most likely perpetrators of the attack on Habyarimana were elite Rwandan presidential troops. In the Sept., 2008, legislative elections the RPF received more than 78% of the vote for the popularly elected seats.

Rwanda joined the Commonwealth of Nations in Nov., 2009, becoming only the second nation with no historic ties to Britain to join that body. In Feb., 2010, Human Rights Watch accused the government of intimidating the opposition in advance of the presidential election scheduled for August; Kagame's government has also been accused of killing and attempting to kill Rwandan dissidents abroad. Kagame won reelection with 93% of the vote, but the only candidates he faced were from parties in the governing coalition; opposition candidates were excluded from the campaign. In mid-2012 Rwanda's military was accused of aiding antigovernment rebels in Congo-Kinshasa, and a number of nations cut or suspended aid to Rwanda. The RPF won the Sept., 2013, legislative elections by a landslide (76%) nearly identical to that in 2008.


See W. R. Louis, Ruanda-Urundi, 1884–1919 (1963); R. Lemarchand, Rwanda and Burundi (1970); F. Keane, Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey (1996); P. Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (1998); L. Melvern, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide (2000).

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POPULATION: 7 million

LANGUAGE: Kinyarwanda; French; Swahili; English

RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Protestantism; Islam; small numbers of Baha'is


Rwanda is one of the only African kingdoms to have kept its identity through the colonial era (18901962). However, colonial rule harmed Rwanda in ways that helped lead to ethnic warfare in the 1990s.

Rwanda is home to three ethnic groups: the Hutu (about 8590 percent of the population); the Tutsi (1015 percent); and the Twa (less than 1 percent). The cultures of these groups have much in common. They have spoken the same language for at least five hundred years.

Rwanda became a German colony in the 1890s. The Germans treated the upper-class Tutsi better than the Hutu. After Germany lost World War I (191418), the Belgians took control. Like the Germans, they favored the Tutsi. As a result, some (but not all) Tutsi were better off due to colonial rule. This angered the Hutu majority, and ethnic violence broke out in 1959. Many Tutsis were killed, and many more fled to nearby countries. The Tutsi monarchy was overthrown, and Rwanda became an independent nation in 1962.

For almost thirty years, Hutu political parties held power. In 1990, however, a rebel group composed mostly of Tutsi refugees invaded Rwanda from Uganda. Fighting raged, off and on, for the next four years. In 1994, up to 1 million people were killed. The victims were mostly Tutsi. However, many Hutu who opposed the government also died. In the end, the rebels overthrew the government. The new government vowed to build a society that would not be based on ethnic divisions.


Rwanda is a tiny country in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. It is about as large as the state of Massachusetts. To Rwanda's west is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). To the east is Tanzania. Uganda is directly to the north, while Burundi is located to the south. Rwanda is very close to the equator. However, it has a temperate climate because of its high altitude.

Rwanda has a total population of close to 7 million people. In 1994 as many as 1 million Rwandans fled to refugee camps in Tanzania, Burundi, and the former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The majority were Hutus. Civil war broke out in Zaire in 1996, and most of the Hutu refugees there returned to Rwanda.

Kigali, the capital, is Rwanda's largest city. It has a population of about 300,000 people.


All Rwandans speak a Bantu language called Kinyarwanda. It is a difficult language for outsiders to learn. For example, Kinyarwanda has over twenty different kinds of nouns. In contrast, English has only two: singular and plural.

French is Rwanda's second language. It is spoken by many educated Rwandans. Some Rwandans speak Swahili, a common language of East and Central Africa. English is also spoken, especially in cities.


Rwanda is rich in legends, stories, and poetry. In the past, they were memorized and recited by men who served the king. In the twentieth century much of Rwanda's folklore was written. For this reason Rwanda has a better record of its history and traditions than most neighboring countries.

Rwandan stories and legends are still told to instruct children or to entertain.


Missionaries have converted many Rwandans to Christianity since the colonial era (18901962). Today about 60 percent of Rwandans are Roman Catholics. Another 2030 percent are Protestants. There is also a small Muslim (followers of Islam) minority and some followers of the Baha'i faith.

Rwandans often combine native religions with Christianity. They believe that Imaana, their traditional god, is well-meaning but distant. Imaana is most often contacted through the spirits of deceased family members.


Rwandans celebrate the major Christian holy days such as Christmas (December 25) and Easter (in March or April). They also observe other Roman Catholic festivals, including Ascension Day (forty days after Easter) and All Saints' Day (November 1). Most of the traditional Rwandan festivals are no longer national holidays. However, a harvest ritual called Umuganura is still celebrated in August.


Rwandan rites of passage include birth, marriage, blood brotherhood, and death. Rwandans who practice traditional religions are initiated into the cults of Ryangombe or Nyabingi. Baptism and confirmation are important turning points in the lives of Rwandan Christians.

Birth is the first rite of passage. When a baby is born, the mother and child are left alone for up to eight days. When this period is over, friends and relatives visit and bring gifts. The baby is shown in public for the first time and its name is announced.

Rwandans do not have an initiation rite at puberty. They are not considered adults until they have married and had a child. Marriage happens in several stages, from the engagement to the wedding. At each stage, the families of the groom and bride exchange gifts. The most important gift is the bride wealth cow that the husband gives his future wife's father.

Most Rwandans have a Christian funeral. However, traditional rituals are often observed as well. It is common to sacrifice a cow or bull, for example.


Rwandans are usually friendly, polite, and helpful. In rural areas, people greet everybody they pass in the fields and pathways. In the cities people are expected to greet everyone they know. The warmest greeting is similar to a hug. Each person's left hand touches the other person's hip. The right hand reaches up to touch the other person's shoulder

Rwandans spend much of their time visiting. Guests are always offered something to drink.

Tutsi and Hutu will often share the same cooking pots and drink containers. However, Twa are not allowed to drink or eat from the same containers. Their dishes are kept separate from those of everyone else.


Different social classes in Rwanda live very differently. Conditions in the city and the country also vary greatly. In the cities, rich Rwandans may live in brick houses with running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, and telephones. But most urban Rwandans live more simply. Many have small houses with mud walls and iron roofs. Most lack electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing.

In rural areas, the houses vary. Some wealthy people live in brick houses with tile roofs. Wattle-and-daub (rod and clay) houses are more common. The oldest houses are circular. More recently, many Rwandans have built rectangular houses with iron or thatched roofs. These houses usually lack indoor plumbing, electricity, and running water


Inzu, the Rwandan word for family, means either "family," "household," or "house." The Rwandan family consists of a husband, one or more wives, and the children. (Only about 10 percent of Rwandan men have more than one wife.) When a man has more than one wife, each one has her own house on the family grounds.

After the inzu, the next largest family unit is the umuryango. It consists of several inzus who trace their family line back five or six generations to the same male ancestor. Rwandans must marry someone outside their umuryango. A young man goes to see the father of a woman he wishes to marry. His father also pays a visit and brings gifts. Then the two fathers discuss the marriage. The bridegroom and his father have to pay at least one bride wealth cow to the bride's father. This payment grants legal status to any children the couple have.


Today Rwandans wear modern Western-style clothing. However, they buy it at used clothing stores. Some Rwandans can afford to buy new clothing made by tailors in Rwanda. The traditional Rwandan costumes made of animal skins and bark cloth is seen only in museums.


The two most common foods are beans and plantains. (Plantains are similar to bananas.) Often they are boiled together. Another food staple is sorghum grain. It is used as a beverage, a porridge, and a type of flour. Rwandan beer is brewed from sorghum and plantains. Other common foods are white potatoes, sweet potatoes, manioc (cassava), and maize (corn).

Only wealthy Rwandans eat meat often. The most common meat is goat. It is usually barbecued over a charcoal burner. Beef is the most valued meat. In most cases it is only eaten if a bull or cow is sacrificed for a ritual. In the past, Rwandans hardly ate any fish. Today, fish farming provides tilapia and catfish.

Only urban Rwandans eat three times a day. Except for a beverage, Rwandan farmers don't eat until about midday. Often they cook food right in the field. They eat again after returning home at night.


Rwandan children begin primary school at age seven. By law all children are ensured at least a sixth-grade education. Sometimes, however, parents cannot afford school uniforms, supplies, and other expenses. Only the better students attend secondary school. Rwandans can go to a university, a nursing school, or even a medical school in their own country. Some study in Europe or the United States.

Many Rwandans in rural areas cannot read or write.

Families try hard to educate all their children. However, this is rarely possible because education is so costly.


Groups known as intore perform traditional ritual dances. The dancers wear headdresses made from dried grasses. They carry small shields on their left arms. There is also dancing at weddings and other special occasions. The Twa people are renowned for their musical skills. Rwanda has its own musical instruments.


Rwandans work very hard. Men in rural areas try to find paid employment but also perform farm tasks. The women mostly farm instead of working for wages. In the cities, though, many women have paid jobs.


The most popular sport in Rwanda is soccer. The country's many soccer clubs compete in organized leagues. Large crowds attend soccer matches, especially when the national team is playing. Running has become very popular. Rwandans begin competing in races at a very young age.


Almost everyone in Rwanda owns and listens to a radio. In the cities, the wealthier people have televisions and VCRs. There are video stores in large cities. In urban dance clubs, one can hear American rock music, Caribbean reggae, and pop music from Zaire and Kenya. American dances are popular, but the Rwandans do them their own way.

Special occasions such as weddings also provide recreation. Food and beer are served, and there is music and dancing.


Rwandans are known for weaving baskets and mats with detailed designs. Similar designs are painted on large cooking pots made by Twa potters. In recent years, wood-carving, sculpture, and painting have become important crafts.


The most pressing social problem in Rwanda today is ethnic conflict. Restoring the country after the violence of 1994 has been a difficult task. In the final weeks of 1996, hundreds of thousands of Hutu returned to Rwanda from refugee camps in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire).

Differences between rich and poor have widened the country's ethnic divisions. Poor rural youths migrate to cities but often cannot find jobs. They then turn to crime or get involved in terrorist activities.


Handloff, R., ed. Rwanda: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.

Prunier, G. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Taylor, C. Milk, Honey and Money. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.


World Travel Guide. Rwanda. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Official name: Republic of Rwanda

Area: 26,338 square kilometers (10,169 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Karisimbi (4,519 meters/14,826 feet)

Lowest point on land: Rusizi River (950 meters/3,117 feet)

Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern

Time zone: 2 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 248 kilometers (154 miles) from northeast to southwest; 166 kilometers (103 miles) from southeast to northwest

Land boundaries: 893 kilometers (555 miles) total boundary length; Burundi 290 kilometers (180 miles); Democratic Republic of the Congo 217 kilometers (135 miles); Tanzania 217 kilometers (135 miles); Uganda 169 kilometers (105 miles)

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits: None


Rwanda is a small, landlocked country located south of the equator in east-central Africa. With an area of 26,338 square kilometers (10,169 square miles), it is almost as large as the state of Maryland.


Rwanda has no territories or dependencies.


High altitudes keep the climate moderate in much of Rwanda despite its proximity to the equator. In addition, trade winds from the Indian Ocean moderate the temperatures on the Central Plateau, where the annual average is 21°C (70°F). Temperatures in the mountains of the northwest are lower, especially at night, yet they average near 32°C (90°F) in parts of the eastern lowlands. Average annual rainfall can range from as little as 76 centimeters (30 inches) in the eastern lowlands to 179 centimeters (70 inches) in the mountains. The yearly average rainfall on the Central Plateau is about 114 centimeters (45 inches).


The divide between two of Africa's great watersheds, the Congo and Nile basins, extends from north to south through western Rwanda at an average elevation of almost 2,743 meters (9,000 feet). On the western slopes of this Congo-Nile ridgeline, the land slopes abruptly toward Lake Kivu in the Great Rift Valley on the western border of the country. The eastern slopes are more moderate, with rolling hills extending across the central uplands at gradually reducing altitudes to the plains, swamps, and lakes of the eastern border region.

Rwanda can be divided into five regions from west to east: 1) the narrow Great Rift Valley region along or near Lake Kivu, 2) the volcanic Virunga Mountains and high lava plains of northwestern Rwanda, 3) the Congo-Nile Ridge, 4) the rolling hills and valleys of the central plateaus, which slope eastward from the Congo-Nile Ridge, and 5) the savannahs and marshlands of the eastern and southeastern border areas, which are lower, warmer, and drier than the central upland plateaus.


Rwanda is landlocked and therefore has no oceanic coast.


Rwanda has many lakes. The largest, Lake Kivu, is located in the midst of the volcanic peaks in the Virunga Mountains and forms part of the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The lake has a surface area of 2,665 square kilometers (1,025 square miles) and reaches a maximum depth of 475 meters (1,558 feet). Lake Cohoha and Lake Rugwero lie in Rwanda's southeast, partly extending into Burundi. There are also eight sizable lakes that lie entirely within Rwanda: Lakes Rwehikama, Ihema, Muhazi, Mugesera, Hago, and Rwanye in the east, and Lakes Ruhondo and Burera in the north.


Most of Rwanda's rivers are in the eastern part of the country. The Kagera River in the east forms the boundary with Tanzania and part of the boundary with Burundi. With a total length of 692 kilometers (430 miles), the Kagera is the longest river in Rwanda. The Nyabarongo River and its tributaries drain much of the Central Plateau. In the west, the Ruzizi flows southward from Lake Kivu along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, into Burundi, and on to Lake Tanganyika. In the south, the Luhwa and Akanyaru Rivers form parts of the boundary with Burundi.


There are no deserts in Rwanda.


Much of the countryside is covered by grasslands and small farms extending over the rolling hills that cover much of the Central Plateau; this terrain has given Rwanda the nickname "Land of a Thousand Hills."


Rising from high lava plains in the northwest corner of Rwanda are the Virunga Mountains, Rwanda's only mountain range. They consist of five volcanic peaks, two of which still emit smoke and steam. The highest of these is Mount Karisimbi, which rises to over 4,519 meters (14,826 feet).


The system of caves in the Gisenyi region of northwestern Rwanda is infamous for the 1994 massacre of some eight thousand Hutus, an ethnic minority, by the rival Tutsi people.


The Central Plateau has an average altitude of 1,432 meters (4,700 feet); becoming progressively lower in elevation as it extends toward the eastern border.


There are no railways in Rwanda. The capital city of Kigali is connected with nearby towns in Burundi and Uganda by a well-traveled road.



Carr, Rosamond Halsey, and Ann Howard Halsey. Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda. Rockland, MA: Compass Press, 2000.

Harelimana, Froduald. Rwanda: Society and Culture of a Nation in Transition. Corvallis, OR: Harelimana, 1997.

Murphy, Dervla. Visiting Rwanda. Dublin, Ireland: Lilliput Press, 1998.

Web Sites

Rwanda Information Exchange. (accessed April 11, 2003).

Rwanda Page. (accessed April 4, 2003).

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Country statistics


26,340sq km (10,170sq mi) 8,162,715

capital (population):

Kigali (608,141)


Multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Hutu 90%, Tutsi 9%, Twa 1%


Kinyarwanda, French, English (all official), Swahili


Roman Catholic 53%, Protestant 24%, Adventist 10%, Traditional beliefs 6%


Rwanda franc = 100 centimes

Republic in e central Africa. Rwanda is Africa's most densely populated country. It is a small state in the heart of Africa, bordered by Uganda (n), Tanzania (e), Burundi (s), and Congo (w). The w border is formed by Lake Kivu and the River Ruzizi. Rwanda has a rugged landscape, dominated by high, volcanic mountains, rising to Mount Karisimbi, at 4507m (14,787ft). The capital, Kigali, stands on the central plateau. East Burundi consists of stepped plateaux, which descend to the lakes and marshland of the Kagera National Park on the Tanzania border.

Climate and Vegetation

Altitude moderates Rwanda's. Rainfall is abundant. The dry season is June–August. The lush rainforests in the w are one of the last refuges for the mountain gorilla. Many of Rwanda's forests have been cleared and 35% of the land is now arable. The steep mountain slopes are intensively cultivated. Despite contour ploughing, heavy rains cause severe soil erosion.

History and Politics

Twa pygmies were the original inhabitants of Rwanda, but Hutu farmers began to settle ( 1000), gradually displacing the Twa. In the 15th century, Tutsi cattle herders migrated from the n, and began to dominate the Hutu. By the late 18th century, Rwanda and Burundi formed a single Tutsi-dominated state, ruled by a King ( Mwami). In 1890, Germany conquered the area and subsumed it into German East Africa. During World War 1, Belgian forces occupied (1916) both Rwanda and Burundi. In 1919, it became part of the Belgian League of Nations mandate territory of Ruanda-Urundi (which in 1946 became a UN Trust Territory). The Hutu majority intensified their demands for political representation. In 1959, the Tutsi Mwami died. The ensuing civil war between Hutus and Tutsis claimed more than 150,000 lives. Hutu victory led to a mass exodus of Tutsis. The Hutu Emancipation Movement, led by Grégoire Kayibanda, won the 1960 elections. In 1961, Rwanda declared itself a republic. Belgium granted independence in 1962, and Kayibanda became president.

Rwanda was subject to continual Tutsi incursions from Burundi and Uganda. In 1973, Major General Habyarimana overthrew Kayibanda in a military coup. In 1978, Habyarimana became president. Drought devastated Rwanda in the 1980s. More than 50,000 refugees fled to Burundi. In 1990, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda, forcing Habyarimana to adopt a multi-party constitution. In April 1994, Habyarimana and the president of Burundi died in a rocket attack. The Hutu army and militia launched a premeditated act of genocide against the Tutsi minority, massacring more than 800,000 Tutsis. In July 1994, an RPF offensive toppled the government, creating 2 million Hutu refugees. A government of national unity, comprised of Tutsis and Hutus, emerged. More than 50,000 people died in the refugee camps in e Zaïre (now DR Congo). Hutu militia controlled the camps, their leaders facing prosecution for genocide. The sheer number of refugees (1995, one million in Zaïre and 500,000 in Tanzania) destabilized the region. In 1997, Rwandan troops supported Laurent Kabila's successful overthrow of President Mobutu in Zaïre. Kabila failed to expel the Hutu militia from Congo, and Rwanda switched to supporting rebel forces. In 1998, the UN International Criminal Tribunal sentenced Rwanda's former prime minister Jean Kambanda to life imprisonment for genocide. Paul Kagame became president in 2000. He was re-elected in 2003.


Rwanda is a low-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$900). Most people are subsistence farmers. Crops include bananas, beans, cassava, and sorghum. Some cattle are raised. Rwanda's most valuable crop is coffee, accounting for more than 70% of exports. Tea, pyrethrum, and tin are also exported.

Political map

Physical map


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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Rwandese Republic
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 7,229,129
Language(s): Kinyarwanda, French,English, Kiswahili(Swahili)
Literacy rate: 60.5%

Approximately the size of the state of Maryland, the Republic of Rwanda is a landlocked country; the nearest harbor is at 1,000 miles. It is located just south of the equator, bordered by Congo (ex-Zaire), Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi. The capital is Kigali. The population amounts to about eight million people (Hutu 84 percent, Tutsi 15 percent, and Twa 1 percent). Religiously, 76 percent are Christians, 10 percent Adventists, 2 percent Muslims, 7 percent indigenous, and 5 percent are not religious.

Officially, Banyarwanda (the people of Rwanda) speak French and English, but Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili are also used. Since its independence in 1962 from Belgium, Rwanda has lived under internal siege, turmoil, and even genocide. In 1994, in the wake of the president's plane crash, over 500,000 Banyarwanda died, mostly at the hands of the Hutus. The November 1994 Multiparty Protocol of Understanding has gradually repaired the bloody climate.

Rwanda remains an extremely impoverished nation with a GDP at less than US $1,000 per capita. The HIV infection rate is 12 percent. The economy is largely duo-commodity-based (coffee and tea) and is thus extremely susceptible to world commodity price volatility.

Daily newspaper circulation is one of the lowest in the world at 0.1 per 1000 Banyarwanda. There is one daily newspaper. The two monthlies are Inkingi (Kinyarwanda) and La Relève (French). There exists one state-controlled television and one state-controlled radio systems. Press and media in Rwanda are used as propaganda instruments by both sides in the political and ethnic conflicts. However, recent trends towards democracy and "interethnicity" may eventually lead to a more free press.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). World Factbook 2001. Directorate of Intelligence, 2002. Available from

The Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda. 1999. Available from

Samuel Sarri

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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Banyarwanda, Banyamulenge, Bafumbira


Identification. The Rwandan culture includes not only the population of Rwanda but people in neighboring states, particularly Congo and Uganda, who speak the Kinyarwanda language. The important ethnic divisions within Rwandan culture between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa are based on perceptions of historical group origins rather than on cultural differences. All three groups speak the same language, practice the same religions, and live interspersed throughout the same territory; they are thus widely considered to share a common culture, despite deep political divisions. The Rwandans in Congo and Uganda include both refugees, who generally maintain a strong identification with the Rwandan national state, and Kinyarwanda speakers who have lived outside Rwanda for generations and therefore have a distinct cultural identity within the wider national culture.

Location and Geography. Known as the "land of a thousand hills," Rwanda is a mountainous country located on the far western edge of the Rift Valley, bordering on Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania. Rwanda rises from relatively flat plains in the east along the Tanzania border to steep mountains in the west along the continental divide between the Congo and Nile rivers. From the continental divide, the land drops sharply to the shores of Lake Kivu, which forms most of Rwanda's border with Congo. A range of high volcanoes forms Rwanda's northwest border. The mountainous topography continues in the North Kivu region of Congo, where almost half of the population identifies as Rwandan. A concentration of Kinyarwanda-speaking Tutsi, known as the Banyamulenge, lives in the high plains and mountains above Lake Tanganyika in South Kivu. The Bufumbira region of southwest Uganda is also Kinyarwanda speaking. The difficulty of travel and isolation resulting from the mountainous topography historically encouraged largely self-sufficient local communities and many local variations of the culture, but the modern centralized state implemented during the colonial period has encouraged a degree of cultural homogenization, at least within the borders of Rwanda.

Demography. War and political turmoil have led to radical population shifts in Rwanda in the past decade. According to the 1991 census, the total population of Rwanda was 7.7 million, with 90 percent of the population in the Hutu ethnic group, 9 percent Tutsi, and 1 percent Twa, though the actual percentage of Tutsi was probably higher. During the 1994 genocide, an estimated 80 percent of the Tutsi population living in Rwanda was killed, perhaps 600,000 people, but after a Tutsi-dominated government came to power in Rwanda in 1994, an estimated 700,000 Tutsi refugees returned from abroad. Meanwhile, several hundred thousand Hutu also died in the genocide and war and from diseases like cholera that spread in refugee camps when, at the end of the war, several million Hutu fled to Tanzania and Congo. Several million more were internally displaced within Rwanda. War that broke out in Congo in 1996 killed thousands more Hutu and drove most Hutu refugees back into Rwanda. As a result, the size and ethnic breakdown of the population are thought to be roughly comparable today to that before the 1994 war.

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. Prior to the 1994 war, Rwanda was among the most rural countries in the world, but the war precipitated rapid urbanization, with many refugees choosing not to return to their rural homes but to settle instead in the cities, primarily Kigali.

Linguistic Affiliation. Kinyarwanda is a unifying factor within Rwanda, since it is spoken almost universally. Closely related to Kirundi (spoken in Burundi), Mashi (spoken in the South Kivu region of Congo), and Kiha (spoken in northwestern Tanzania), Kinyarwanda is a Bantu language. Less than 10 percent of Rwanda's population also speaks French, and a small portion speaks English, primarily refugees returned from Uganda and Kenya. Kinyarwanda is the primary cultural identifier for Rwandans living outside Rwanda.

Symbolism. Historically, Rwanda's three ethnic groups have been identified with distinct aspects of the economy: the Tutsi with cattle, the Hutu with the land, and Twa with the forests. Each group had distinct roles in public rituals, and each group had a distinctive mode of dress. The monarchy served as an important unifying symbol, representing the interest of all three ethnic groups. Hutu and Tutsi were also linked together throughout much of the territory in a system of cattle vassalage, in which Tutsi patrons provided cattle to Hutu clients. During the colonial period, however, the monarchy lost much of its legitimacy as it became increasingly identified with the Tutsi minority, and the system of cattle vassalage became viewed as a system of exploitation of Hutu by Tutsi. The cattle vassalage system was abolished in the 1950s and Hutu politicians deposed the king in 1961. After independence in 1962, the all-Hutu government sought to portray Rwanda as a Hutu country, emphasizing agrarian cultural symbols. Christianity became an important source of national symbols, with almost all national leaders openly identifying as Christians, the large majority as Catholic. Since the Tutsi retook power in 1994, historic symbols such as cattle have been revived, and a strong political faction has called for the reinstallation of the monarchy as a means of reunifying the country's ethnic groups.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Rwanda traces its origins to one of the many small kingdoms that emerged in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa beginning five hundred years ago. Land pressures throughout the densely populated region encouraged increasing political centralization, particularly among cattle-raising people, who feared the loss of pasture land to encroaching cultivation. The kingdom of Rwanda was founded in the sixteenth century in what is today eastern Rwanda, then moved west to modern central Rwanda, where it developed a unifying social system and a strong army and began to expand, incorporating neighboring kingdoms and chieftaincies through conquest or alliance. A complex system emerged, based on political and economic ties rather than shared cultural identity. In the central kingdom, power was centralized and an ethnic division between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa became well developed. A system of cattle vassalage bound local communities together and tied them to the monarchy. Areas outside the central kingdom retained their distinct political and social organizations to varying degrees, with some chief-taincies merely paying tribute to the Rwandan king, but remaining otherwise autonomous. During this period, some Rwandans who resented the increasing political control emigrated from the kingdom, resettling in Congo, where they formed a distinct Rwandan community later known as the Banyamulenge.

National Identity. Colonial rule, which began in 1895, was the primary force leading to the emergence of the Rwandan national identity. German colonial authorities and the Belgians who replaced them in 1916 actually regarded the Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa as three distinct national groups, but colonial policies led to a greater identification with the Rwandan national state for all groups, even as they also created greater ethnic identification and polarization. The colonial overlords helped the Rwandan monarchy to centralize its control and extend its social system throughout the territory that is contemporary Rwanda, eliminating the local social and political variations that had existed in the precolonial period. By establishing modern state institutions in Rwanda, the colonial administrators also imported the ideas of nationality associated with the modern nation-state. Subsequent social and political conflicts have revolved around how exactly Rwandan nationality should be defined (for example, which ethnic groups should be included as "true" Rwandans) rather than over the validity of Rwandan as a national identity, as in many African states.

Ethnic Relations. The three ethnic groups in Rwanda emerged through a complex process of immigration and social and economic differentiation that took place over several centuries. Tradition holds that Twa were the original inhabitants; Hutu came second in a wave of migration from the west, and Tutsi came much later from the northeast. Archeological and anthropological research, however, indicates that in fact patterns of migration were much more complex, as populations moved into Rwanda over many centuries. Each new group of migrants adopted the local language and most local customs, although they also added some of their own beliefs and practices to the local culture. Modern ethnic identities emerged fairly recently and therefore could not derive primarily from migration. In fact, the differentiation throughout the region into three fully distinct ethnic groups occurred only during the colonial period and grew much more from European ideas about race and identity than from historic cultural patterns.

German and Belgian policies were based on the concept of indirect rule which sought to administer colonies through existing structures of power. Colonial administrators mistakenly believed power in Rwanda to be organized primarily along ethnic lines, and thus they instituted policies that subjugated the Hutu and favored the Tutsi, whom they saw as the natural rulers. The colonial rulers did not, in fact, maintain local power structures unchanged but centralized the political system, eliminating local political variations, including abolishing autonomous Hutu chieftaincies. In strengthening the rule of the Rwandan monarch throughout the territory, the colonials and their Tutsi allies in the royal court helped to extend the culture of central Rwanda to the rest of the territory. Many of the myths, practices, and beliefs of central Rwanda were spread to the rest of the territory, as were the system of cattle vassalage and the clear distinction between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. The northern region of the country, which was least integrated into pre-colonial Rwanda, has remained somewhat politically distinct from the rest of the country, and competition between the north and the rest of the country has remained an important political factor.

With the establishment of colonial borders, some Kinyarwanda-speaking people were situated outside Rwanda. The Rwandan populations of Bufumbira in southwest Uganda and the border regions of North Kivu, as well as the Banyamulenge population in South Kivu, had little connection to the Rwandan court even before colonial rule. Under separate colonial authorities, these groups developed distinctive cultural identities, even as the populations of Uganda and Congo associated them with Rwanda. Meanwhile, thousands of Rwandans migrated to Congo and Uganda for economic purposes, creating large Rwandan communities with a stronger identification with Rwanda in places such as Masisi in North Kivu. In the Rwandan community outside Rwanda, the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi remained less significant than it became within Rwanda, as most Kinyarwanda-speakers were collectively known as Banyarwanda.

Within Rwanda the myth that Tutsi were a distinct race that arrived recently and established its dominance over Hutu and Tutsi through conquest came to be embraced by most of the population. It served the interests of the Tutsi elite who used it to reinforce German and Belgian prejudice that regarded Tutsi as natural rulers. During the colonial period, Rwanda was administered jointly with its neighbor to the south, Burundi, which had a closely related language and a similar social structure. With Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa in Burundi as well, the ethnic politics in the two countries tended to develop in tandem, with events in one country inspiring a response in the other.

In the 1950s, as independence approached, a movement of Hutu ethno-nationalism arose in response to the growing impoverishment of Hutu and the dominance of Tutsi. The Hutu ethnonationalists claimed that Hutu were the true Rwandans and that Tutsi were foreign interlopers. A peasant uprising in 1959 drove Tutsi chiefs from office and led thousands of Tutsi to flee the country, most of them to Uganda, Congo, and Burundi. Anti-Hutu violence in 1972 in Burundi, where Tutsi remained in charge, inspired anti-Tutsi violence in Rwanda in 1973 and led thousands more Tutsi to flee into exile. Hutu ethno-nationalism remained an important ideology in Rwanda and ultimately Hutu leaders used the idea that Tutsi were not "true" Rwandans to inspire Hutu soldiers and militia to slaughter the country's Tutsi population in 1994 along with moderate Hutu who challenged the exclusivist national ideology.

Although they embraced an exclusivist notion of identity during the colonial period, Tutsi since independence have sought to promote a more inclusive conception of national identity that regards Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa as one nationality. In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a group of Tutsi refugees based in Uganda, invaded northern Rwanda to attempt to force the government to allow Tutsi refugees to return to Rwanda. Although hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were killed in the 1994 genocidein part because Hutu were frightened by the RPF invasionthe RPF was ultimately successful on the battlefield, and in July 1994, they took control of the country. The current RPF-dominated government now promotes a multi-ethnic idea of Rwandan national identity.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Rwanda is among the most rural countries in the world. Most people live in individual family compounds surrounded by banana groves and fields and scattered across the hillsides. The hillthe collection of families living on a single hillhas historically been the central social and political unit. Each hill had a chief who linked the population to the monarch. Although chieftaincies were abolished in the 1960s, the new administrative units generally preserved the hill divisions.

The extreme violence that swept the country in 1994 devastated Rwanda's rural social structure. With millions of people uprooted from their homes, hundreds of thousands killed, and hundreds of thousands more returned from long exile, Rwandan society underwent rapid social change. Most of the returned Tutsi refugees chose to settle in urban areas, while most Tutsi in the countryside were killed or chose to move to the cities. As a result, urbanization took on a new ethnic character, even as the rate of urbanization jumped dramatically. Meanwhile, the government instituted a program of villagization in the countryside, forcing peasant farmers to leave their isolated homesteads to live together in small overcrowded villages. While the government claimed that these villages were intended to facilitate the administration of social services, many critics believed that the program was designed to facilitate social control.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Rwandan food is quite simple, with beans, bananas, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and sorghum being the most common foods. Dairy products are also widely consumed, particularly a traditional drink of curdled milk. Those who can afford to do so also eat meat, primarily beef, goat, and chicken. Sorghum and banana beers are common as well.

Rwandans traditionally eat food in public settings only for ceremonial purposes, but otherwise eat only in the home. In recent years, the taboo on eating in public has diminished significantly, and restaurants have appeared in most urban areas. While the system of clans has diminished sharply in importance in Rwanda, most Rwandans will still not eat the totemic animals associated with their clans.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Important occasions in Rwanda always involve the ceremonial consumption of alcohol and food, but full meals are never served. People in attendance at a wedding or funeral are formally served a piece of meat and something else to eat, usually a roasted potato. A pot of sorghum beer is placed in the center of the room with numerous reed straws, and participants come forward to partake. Calabashes of banana beer are passed through the crowd.

It is also customary to serve people food and drink when they visit a home. Refusing to partake of offered food or drink is considered a grave insult. Hosts typically sip from drinks and taste the food first before passing them to the guests to show that they are safe for consumption and have not been poisoned. Visitors are often presented with food as gifts to take with them at the conclusion of their visits.

Basic Economy. Rwanda has an overwhelmingly agrarian economy. Most residents live largely from subsistence farming, growing some coffee on the side as a means of earning income. The level of industrialization remains extremely low.

Land Tenure and Property. Most Rwandans own the land that they work. Traditionally, all land was formally held by the king and rights to the land were distributed to subjects by the local chiefs, but in practice, Rwandans controlled their own land and passed it down as an inheritance to their male children. Private land ownership was formalized during the colonial period and continued as a general practice. Overpopulation and related poverty have led to land accumulation by a limited elite and the emergence of a class of landless poor, but most rural residents, even the very poor, own at least some of the fields they work.

Commercial Activities. With almost no natural resources other than land, no access to the ocean, and extremely dense population, Rwanda's economic possibilities are extremely limited. Coffee has been the most important export, followed by other agricultural products such as tea and pyrethrum. Since the 1970s, Rwanda's economy has been heavily dependent upon foreign economic assistance. Foreign aid has financed the construction of roads, water and electrical systems, and the development of new economic ventures, most recently flowers for export. These ventures have generally benefitted only a limited elite associated with the government, while doing little to address the growing poverty of the masses.

Major Industries. Rwanda has developed a few small industries to meet local demands for products such as bottled beer, soap, and fabric, but these provide little employment and contribute little to the economy.

Trade. Coffee is the country's primary export, along with tea, which is grown on large estates in areas of high elevation, and pyrethrum, a type of chrysanthemum grown as a natural insecticide. Since the 19901994 war, Rwanda has become more involved in international trade with Uganda and Congo. Rwanda has become a major transport center for gold, diamonds, and other commodities mined in Congo.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Historians have described the pre-colonial division between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa as both a class and a caste division, though neither term is wholly accurate. Like caste divisions, one's group determined to some extent one's occupation, with Hutu engaged more in cultivation, Tutsi in raising livestock, and Twa in hunting and a few other activities such as making ceramics. The occupational lines were not, however, strictly enforced, as Hutu could own cattle and goats and most Tutsi engaged in at least some cultivation. The terms may be somewhat closer to class labels, because there clearly was a status distinction between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa, with Tutsi at the top of the social hierarchy and Twa at the bottom. Each group had a specific socially proscribed public role, symbolized by distinct functions in public rituals.

The association between ethnic identity and class has broken down since independence. Since Hutu took control of the government, those Hutu with access to power were able to use their positions to enrich themselves and accumulate cattle and land, traditional signs of wealth. While most Hutu remained poor, a small Hutu elite was able to flourish. Without access to political power, Tutsi lost most opportunities for enrichment. With the change in government in 1994, Tutsi once again gained access to economic opportunities. Many Tutsi returning from Uganda or elsewhere were able to bring capital with them, and they have been able to use their international connections to engage in trade and other economic activities.

Despite the changing position of Hutu and Tutsi, the Twa have remained fixed at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Twa have almost no political power and remain the poorest segment of society. Twa are generally despised by Hutu and Tutsi alike, who regard them as dirty and dishonest. Whereas intermarriage between Hutu and Tutsi is common, it is extremely rare between Twa and other groups.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Historically, social status was symbolized through the possession of cattle, the primary sign of wealth in Rwanda. In fact, Hutu families that acquired sufficient cattle and were able to take clients in the cattle vassalage system would eventually have their status changed and come to be known as Tutsi, whereas Tutsi who lost their cattle and clients would eventually be considered Hutu. Although ownership of cattle is no longer associated with ethnic identity, it remains an important symbol of status. Other historic symbols of high social status, such as elaborate hair styles and distinctive dress, are no longer in practice. Social status in contemporary Rwanda is reflected in the knowledge of French or English, which demonstrates a degree of education, and in the possession of consumer goods such as vehicles and televisions. Twa are identified in part by their distinctive patterns of speech; while Kinyarwanda is generally spoken using three tones, Twa speak Kinyarwanda with two.

Political Life

Government. Rwanda has a powerful president, assisted by a multiparty cabinet and a prime minister. The national assembly and the judiciary have little independent power in practice. The country is divided into twelve regions, known as prefectures, each led by a prefect named by the president. The prefectures are divided into communes, led by burgomasters, and the communes into sectors. In 1999, local elections were held throughout Rwanda for the first time in a decade, but the level of competition was constrained by continuing political repression. The government promised presidential and legislative elections within five years.

The current political system evolved from the single-party state implemented by President Habyarimana in 1975. Under pressure from a prodemocracy movement and from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), multiparty politics was legalized in 1991, the office of prime minister implemented, and a multiparty "government of national unity," including ministers from all the major political parties, installed. The August 1993 Arusha Peace Accords between the RPF and the government stipulated a continuation of the system of coalition government. The Arusha Accords are the basis for the current government structure, though the current government excludes Habyarimana's political party because of its involvement in the 1994 genocide.

Leadership and Political Officials. With its long history of royal rule and social status divisions, Rwanda has strong hierarchical political traditions. Relations with politicians, like other social relations, are highly regulated by status roles. Common Rwandans are expected to show deference to their politicians, whose positions give them social status. In exchange for deference and loyalty, politicians are expected to provide their constituents with services and opportunities. Political officials must in turn show deference and loyalty to their political superiors and help to create popular support for the government or risk losing their positions.

While public political relations are formal and deferential, behind the scenes Rwandan politics has long been an arena of clandestine plotting and intrigue. Various clans competed for power in the royal court as alliances shifted and groups sought to increase their power through spying and assassination. These traditions of political intrigue have continued under the republican regimes, with rivals for power secretly plotting the demise of rulers and coup attempts common. Such duality can be seen at the grassroots level, where public deference by citizens may mask private resistance and disobedience.

Social Problems and Control. Traditionally in Rwanda, the local community played the primary role in maintaining social order. When crimes were committed or disputes arose, a council of elders would convene to reach a fair settlement in a process known as agacaca.

The colonial rulers suppressed this system, while implementing a Western legal system. Nevertheless, informal local controls on behavior remained important, in part because the use of the legal system for political purposes undermined public confidence in it. Political authorities have frequently used informal means of repression against opponents, such as civilian militia, to maintain their power. In the early 1990s, for example, as the Habyarimana regime lost public support, soldiers, police, and civilian groups targeted opposition groups for arrest, torture, and assassination. The regime promoted anti-Tutsi rhetoric in the hopes of attracting support from Hutu. The regime arrested Tutsi and began to organize anti-Tutsi violence, which ultimately culminated in the genocide that took place from April to July 1994.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front took power through force in July 1994, leaving problematic legacies of the ethnic violence and war. As a mostly Tutsi movement, the RPF had difficulty gaining the support of the mostly Hutu population and thus used extensive force to maintain order. Immediately after taking power, the RPF began to arrest people suspected of involvement in the genocide and within a few years placed over 100,000 people in prison. Many critics claimed that many of those in prison were innocent and that the regime was more interested in establishing control than in honestly seeking justice. The RPF, like its predecessor in power, also used force against the civilian population. The government recently initiated a program to renew the agacaca system, but the program did not receive substantial local support.

Military Activity. At least since the 1973 coup by army chief Juvénal Habyarimana, the military has been a dominant force in Rwandan political life. The prominence of the military increased markedly after the 1990 RPF invasion. Since the victory of the RPF rebel movement in the war in 1994, the military has dominated the political system, even though it remains officially a civilian regime.

Many RPF military officials hold positions in government ministries, and most observers consider them the real power in government offices. (Paul Kagame, who served simultaneously as head of the army and vice president, became president in 2000.) Officials who disagree with the RPF leadership, particularly the core of Tutsi officers around Kagame, are removed from office.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Social assistance in Rwanda has traditionally been provided by family members and neighbors, though Christian churches have gradually taken on an increasing role in providing welfare assistance. Beginning in the 1970s, Rwanda began to receive substantial bilateral and multilateral development assistance. Since the 1994 war, hundreds of international nongovernmental organizations have also become involved in relief and development efforts. Despite these programs, Rwanda remains among the ten poorest countries in the world.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Many of Rwanda's historic social organizations were eliminated either by the colonial regime or the collapse of the monarchy. Today, religious groups are the most important nongovernmental organizations in Rwanda. Christian churches sponsor not only many religious associations but also other social groups, such as women's groups, youth organizations, and farmers' cooperatives. Numerous economic groups, such as rotating credit societies, have been founded in the past two decades to help people cope with the serious poverty in the country. Since the 1994 genocide, a number of organizations for widows and orphans also have been created. While nongovernmental organizations have become increasingly important in recent years, the level of group membership and activity in Rwanda remains relatively low.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Agricultural work is divided between women and men. Men clear the land and assist women in breaking the soil, while women engage in most of the day-to-day farming activities, such as planting, weeding, and harvesting. Men bear the primary responsibility for overseeing livestock, assisted by youths who act as shepherds. Men also do heavy jobs around the house, such as construction, while women are responsible for maintaining the household, raising children, and preparing food. Formal nonfarm employment in Rwanda is dominated by men, while women often participate in informal nonfarm economic activities, such as market trading.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. In precolonial Rwandaeven as most positions of public authority were reserved for menwomen enjoyed a modicum of political and economic power, as exemplified by the powerful position of queen mother. The relative position of women eroded during the colonial period and never fully recovered. Women in contemporary Rwanda hold few political positions and have limited economic power, as seen in the difficulties women have in inheriting land and property. Many women's associations have attempted to increase the status of women in recent years, with little apparent success.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is considered the most basic social institution in Rwanda, and the pressure to marry and have children is quite heavy. Unlike in the past, most couples today select their own mates, though approval of the family is expected. Marriage across ethnic lines between Hutu and Tutsi is relatively common.

Polygamy, once extensively practiced, has become uncommon except in some rural areas, such as the northwest. The decline in polygamy has been accompanied with a sharp increase in levels of divorce and remarriage.

Women bearing children out of wedlock were once punished by banishment or death. Illegitimacy remains strongly stigmatized, though it is also relatively common.

Domestic Unit. Rwandans consider children a sign of wealth, and bearing children is an important social duty. As a result, Rwanda has the highest rate of fecundity in the world, and Rwandan families are generally quite large. Rwandan families typically live in single-family compounds consisting of several buildings surrounded by a hedge or fence. Each wife (if there is more than one) typically has her own house in the compound, as do elderly parents. The husband's extended family typically lives in close proximity on the same hill or on a nearby hill. The wife's family may also live nearby or may be from further away, but both the husband's and wife's kin have important socially defined relations with the family.

Inheritance. Upon a father's death or retirement from active labor, his land and property are traditionally divided between his sons. The eldest surviving son is expected to take care of his mother and any unmarried sisters after his father's death. While wives and daughters have not formally been forbidden from inheriting, in practice inheritance by women has been difficult. In recent years, inheritance law has been revised to allow women to inherit more easily.

Kin Groups. Clan groupings historically have been important social relationships in Rwanda, but their significance has declined over the past century. Clan affiliations were passed down from father to children and cut across ethnic lines, with each clan including Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. Competition between clans for political power was a major source of conflict in pre-colonial Rwanda. Today, clans serve little purpose beyond helping to define marriage partners, since people continue to be expected to marry outside their clans.


Infant Care. The mother plays the primary part in caring for infants, but she is assisted by other female relatives and by her older female children. Women generally carry their children on their backs for at least the first year, or until they bear another child.

Child Rearing and Education. The mother has the primary responsibility for child rearing and education. Her eldest brother, the maternal uncle, also plays an important part in overseeing the moral development and socialization of the children, ensuring that they learn social traditions. The state has assumed the responsibility for providing formal education for children, though only about 60 percent of children ever attend school. Even the small required fees are too much for many families to afford.

Children continue to be named in a public ceremony eight days after their births, but many other initiation rites are now rare. Tutsi children were once sent to the royal court for training and initiation, but this practice was abolished along with the monarchy. Few children are now initiated into the Lyangombe and Nyabingi sects.

Higher Education. Rwanda puts little emphasis on higher education. Less than 10 percent of Rwandans attend high school, and another small portion attends technical training schools. A very small percentage of the population continues on to university. Rwanda has one national university based in Butare, with branches in Kigali and Ruhengeri. In the past decade, several small private colleges have also been established.


With its long history of hierarchical social relations, Rwandan culture puts great emphasis on practices of etiquette that demonstrate respect and emphasize social rank both inside and outside the family. Within the family, chairs are traditionally reserved for men, while other family members sit on mats on the floor. Men eat first, with women and children eating after. Visitors are given the best chairs and the first choice of food and drink.

Rwandans have an elaborate system of salutation that varies depending on the relative social rank and familiarity of the greeters. Rwandans almost always shake hands upon encountering someone. When greeting someone of higher rank, a person extends his or her right hand while placing the left hand on the right arm in a sign of deference. Close friends and others of equal rank may embrace, holding one another by the shoulders and brushing their heads together first on one side then on the other.


Religious Beliefs. Christianity has become a central part of Rwandan culture. More than 60 percent of the population are Catholics, and another 30 percent are Protestants, with the largest Protestant churches including Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Free Methodists, and Baptists. Many Rwandans credit the Catholic Church with having supported the Hutu rise to power in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the church has thus gained great influence and public support among Hutu. With the demise of the monarchy, most of the associated religious rituals ended, and Christian rituals have come to take their places.

At the same time, most Rwandan Christians continue to participate in certain indigenous religious practices as well. Veneration of ancestors remains widespread, with most Rwandans continuing to have traditional funerals and other traditional rites for the dead. Indigenous healers remain common as well. Two secret societies that worship ancestral heroes, known as Kubandwa sects, are less common today than in the past but are nevertheless widespread. The Nyabingi sect is found in the north of the country near the Ugandan border, while the Lyangombe sect is found in other parts of the country.

Religious Practitioners. Both Nyabingi and Lyangombe have priests associated with their worship, but these figures have little public importance today. Instead, the main religious leaders of Rwanda are Christian clerics. The Catholic bishops and leaders of Protestant churches are prominent national figures with considerable political influence, and pastors and priests are important local figures.

Rituals and Holy Places. The Kubandwa sects of Nyabingi and Lyangombe are secret societies that induct new members through initiation. Families experiencing difficulties of some sort will often choose to have a child initiated into the sect. The Lyangombe ceremonies are conducted outdoors in a clearing around a type of tree whose red flowers, tradition holds, represent Lyangombe's blood. Nyabingi ceremonies are also practiced outdoors. The level of secrecy of both sects has been increased because of the hostility they have faced first from colonial authorities and subsequently from Christian officials. Many Christian churches penalize members they find to have participated in one of the Kubandwa ceremonies.

Death and the Afterlife. Rwandans believe that the spirit continues after death, and they see their families as including not only the living, but those who have come before and those who will come in the future. Showing respect to dead family members is considered extremely important. Failing to appease the spirits of dead ancestors through appropriate rituals and offerings can lead the ancestors to neglect their families and allow evil spirits to inflict harm.

Medicine and Health Care

Rwandans practice both Western and indigenous forms of health care. Christian churches have built numerous hospitals and health centers, but many Rwandans continue to visit indigenous healers, who combine herbal medicines with spiritual cures. Rwandan indigenous medicine emphasizes the flow of bodily fluids. In Rwandan culture, no conceptual distinction is made between physical poisoning and enchantment, and poisoning is regarded as a major cause of illness.

Secular Celebrations

Prior to the 1994 genocide, Rwanda had holidays celebrating the 1959 revolution and the 1973 coup that brought President Habyarimana to power. These celebrations involved public gatherings and military parades. Since the rise of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, these holidays have been discontinued and new holidays have been created to commemorate the genocide and honor those killed. The most important holiday for Rwandan families is New Year's Day. Families traditionally gather for a meal and exchange of gifts on New Year's Day.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The Rwandan government provides very little support for the arts. The government supports a national dance troop based in Nyanza, but there are few other nationally funded artistic groups.

Literature. Rwanda has little literary tradition. The royal court had a tradition of oral history, but this tradition has not been continued.

Graphic Arts. Rwanda has few graphic arts. The main ones are decorative arts, primarily baskets and pottery. There are no traditions of carving or painting.

Performance Arts. Music and dance have been the most important artistic expressions in Rwanda. Both instrumental and vocal music have strong traditions in Rwanda. While traveling instrumentalists are no longer common as they once were, recorded music and public performances in clubs have become common.

The tradition of dance in Rwanda is particularly rich. The training of young Tutsi men at the royal court included training in a form of martial dance that involved drumming and demonstrations of prowess by individual dancers. This intore dancing has been preserved since the demise of the monarchy through a national dance troupe, and the tradition is widely taught in schools. Other types of dances were important in public ceremonies and continue to be performed at weddings and other celebrations.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The physical and social sciences were weak in Rwanda even before the genocide, but they were completely decimated by the violence. Rwanda is heavily dependent upon foreign scholars and researchers for scientific advances and social analysis.


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The people of Rwanda are Rwandans. The population of Rwanda is about 85 percent Hutu, who were traditionally farmers. The Tutsi, a warrior people, once made up about 14 percent of the total population, but many have fled into neighboring territories for refuge. To learn more about the Tutsi see the chapter on Burundi in Volume 2. There are also some Twa, a Pygmy tribe of hunters, living in Rwanda, as well as small numbers of Asians and Europeans.

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Rwandaadder, bladder, khaddar, ladder, madder •Esmeralda, Valda •scaffolder • lambda •Amanda, Aranda, Baganda, Banda, brander, candour (US candor), coriander, dander, expander, gander, germander, goosander, jacaranda, Leander, Luanda, Lysander, meander, memoranda, Menander, Miranda, oleander, panda, pander, philander, propaganda, Rwanda, sander, Skanda, stander, Uganda, understander, Vanda, veranda, withstander, zander •backhander • Laplander • stepladder •inlander • outlander • Netherlander •overlander • gerrymander •pomander •calamander, salamander •bystander •ardour (US ardor), armada, Bader, cadre, carder, cicada, Dalriada, enchilada, Garda, gelada, Granada, Haggadah, Hamada, intifada, lambada, larder, Masada, Nevada, panada, piña colada, pousada, promenader, retarder, Scheherazade, Theravada, Torquemada, tostada •Alexander, commander, demander, Lahnda, slander •Pravda • autostrada

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