By the 17th century Tutsis had established a kingdom in present-day Rwanda where Hutus, Tutsis and Twa were living. Rwanda became part of German East Africa in 1899. After World War I, it came under Belgian administration under a League of Nations mandate, and, from 1920, as part of a UN trust territory, ‘Ruanda–Urundi’.
After World War II, Rwanda continued to be administered by Belgium. In 1959, as the independence movement gathered pace, the ruling Tutsi elite formed a political party, Union Nationale Rwandaise. The Belgian authorities encouraged the Hutu majority also to aspire to political power and, in the same year, a rival party, Parti de l’émancipation du peuple Hutu (Parmehutu), was established.
As the 1960 local elections approached, Parmehutu initiated a Hutu uprising resulting in the death of many Tutsis and forcing King Kigeri V and tens of thousands of Tutsis to flee into exile in Uganda and Burundi. In 1961 the monarchy was abolished and Rwanda became a republic,
gaining independence from Belgium in 1962, with Parmehutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda as President; many more Tutsis left the country and those who remained faced continuing state-sponsored violence and institutionalised discrimination. The most serious eruption of violence at this time was triggered in 1963 by an incursion from Burundi of exiled Rwandan Tutsis and resulted in the death of at least 15,000 Tutsis at the hands of Hutu gangs.
Kayibanda was overthrown in 1973 in a military coup led by army chief of staff Juvénal Habyarimana. There then ensued a period of military rule, until 1978, when a new constitution was promulgated and Habyarimana became President.
The Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU) was formed in 1979 by Rwandan refugees in exile, to mobilize against divisive politics and genocide ideology, repeated massacres, statelessness and the lack of peaceful political exchange. In 1987, RANU became the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF).
On 1 October 1990, the RPF launched an armed liberation struggle that ultimately ousted the dictatorship in 1994 and ended the genocide which cost more than one million lives. Though predominantly a Tutsi movement, the RPF did win the support of a significant element of moderate Hutus. A new constitution promoting multiparty democracy was introduced in 1991. Peace talks brokered by the UN in August 1993 resulted in a power- sharing agreement between Habyarimana and the RPF, the Arusha Accords.
In April 1994 an aircraft carrying Habyarimana and the Burundian President was shot down on its return from Arusha to Kigali, killing all the passengers. The President’s violent death triggered the co-ordinated massacre of Tutsis – and some Hutus who opposed the government – by Hutu militia and elements of the Rwandan army. In response the RPF began a major offensive from the north.A systematic count by the government of Rwanda in collaboration with genocide survivor organisations established that 1,074,017 people were killed, of whom 934,218 have been identified by names: 93.6% were killed because they were Tutsi; the others either because they were Hutus married to Tutsis, resembled Tutsi, had hidden Tutsi neighbours or were Hutus who opposed the killings In July 1994 the RPF took control of Kigali and formed an administration based on the principles of power-sharing and national reconciliation which were the basis of the 1993 Arusha Accords. The administration comprised five political parties: the RPF, Christian Democratic Party, Liberal Party, Republican Democratic Movement and Social Democratic Party. Pasteur Bizimungu was inaugurated as President for a five-year term; the RPF military chief Paul Kagame became Vice-President and Defence Minister. The government’s priorities were security, rebuilding the economy and national reconciliation; it prohibited any official recognition of ethnicity. By February 2007 some 60,000 prisoners accused of genocide had been released.
Shortly after the new government took office, a 70-member Transitional National Assembly was formed, including representatives of the five governing parties and three other smaller parties, the Democratic Union for Rwandese People, Islamic Party and Socialist Party, as well as six representatives of the Rwandese Patriotic Army.
The UN Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in November 1994 to contribute to the process of national reconciliation and to the maintenance of peace in the region. The tribunal was established in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, in February 1995, for the prosecution of those responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda during 1994.
Some two million Hutus followed the Hutu militias into exile in Zaire, where they were accommodated in UN refugee camps. Many other Hutus fled to Tanzania. By 1995 the Hutu militias and Zairean government forces were initiating attacks on Zairean Banyamulenge Tutsis who lived in Eastern Zaire. In October 1996 Rwandan troops and Zairean Tutsis attacked the refugee camps where the Hutu militia were based with the aim of repatriating the refugees. In 1997 the Zairean regime was overthrown, Laurent Kabila became President and the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, in 1998, when it was clear that the new government of DRC was not going to return the Hutu militias to Rwanda, Rwanda began to lend its support to forces that opposed Kabila. However, in July 2002 Rwanda and the DRC agreed that Rwanda would withdraw its troops and DRC would work with Rwanda in disarming Hutu militia. By October 2002 Rwanda reported it had completed its withdrawal, and in March 2005 the main Hutu rebel group, Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda, announced the end of its armed struggle. . In November 2007 Rwanda signed a peace agreement with the DRC, under which DRC was to hand over those implicated in the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi to Rwanda or to the ICTR.
Did you know:
Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in November 2009, becoming its 54th member.
In 2008 the Government of Rwanda decided to change the medium of education from French to English.
In September 2008 Rwanda became the first nation in the world to elect a majority of women MPs: 45 of the 80 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Since then, Rwanda has continued to hold the largest percentage of women in parliament in the world, which stands at 64% today.
8% p.a. 1990–2018
2015: World ranking 159
Kinyarwanda, English, French, Swahili
GMT plus 2hr
Rwandan franc (Rwfr)
26,338 sq km
Population density (per sq. km):
The Republic of Rwanda is a landlocked country with land borders with four countries: Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo (clockwise from the north). Water covers 1,390 sq km of the country; the largest lakes include Bulera, Ihema, Kivu (straddling the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo), Mugesera and Muhazi, and there are many rivers. The country comprises five provinces.
Rwanda has 5 Provinces: Kigali province (Capital: Kigali), Southern province (Capital: Nyanza), Northern province (Capital: Byumba), Western province (Capital: Kibuye), Eastern Province (Capital: Rwamagana).
Most of the main towns in the country are now connected by paved road. The major urban arteries of Kigali, as well as the high streets in Ruhengeri, Kibuye and Gisenyi are dual carriageways, but all national long distance roads are single carriageway.
There is no railway.
The main international airport is Kigali International.
Rwanda is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, East African Community, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
Rwanda joined the East African Community in July 2007. Commonwealth leaders, holding their biennial CHOGM in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, admitted Rwanda as the association’s 54th member on 28 November 2009.
The terrain is rugged with steep hills and deep valleys, rising in the north to the highest peak, Karisimbi (4,519 metres), which lies in a range of volcanoes. The country is popularly known as the ‘land of a thousand hills’.
Though the country is close to the Equator, the climate is tempered by altitude; it is hot and humid in the valleys, and drier and cooler in the higher elevations. The rainy seasons are March–May and October–November; the hottest season August–September.
The most significant environmental issues are drought, limiting the potential for agriculture; overgrazing; soil erosion and degradation; and deforestation due to almost universal use of wood as a fuel.
Thick equatorial rainforest is found in the north and west of the country – forest covering some 18 per cent of the total land area – and savannah in the east. Forest cover has increased at 1.6 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises 49 per cent and permanent cropland ten per cent of the total land area.
National parks and game reserves cover some eight per cent of the country and include the Volcanoes National Park (famous for its mountain gorillas) and Akagera National Park (elephants, buffaloes, lions, rhinos, giraffes and zebras). Through conservation initiatives, the Mountain Gorilla population has grown from over 200 to over 800 over the last 3 decades.
Population density (per sq. km):
12,089,721 (2018); 27 per cent of people live in urban areas; growth 2.1 per cent p.a. 1990–2013; birth rate 35 per 1,000 people (53 in 1970); life expectancy 64 years (44 in 1970).
The main ethnic groups are Hutus, comprising an estimated 85 per cent of the population; Tutsis (14 per cent); and Twa (less than one per cent). Censuses carried out since the conflict of the 1990s have not included ethnicity.
Kinyarwanda, English, French and Kiswahili are the official languages.
Christians (mostly Roman Catholics) comprise about half the population and most of the rest hold traditional beliefs, often combined with Christianity. There is a small minority of Muslims, comprising about two per cent of the population, according to the 2012 census.
Public spending on health was 7.5 per cent of GDP in 2014. Some 71 per cent of the population uses an improved drinking water source and 64 per cent have access to adequate sanitation facilities (2012). Infant mortality was 37 per 1,000 live births in 2013 (122 in 1960). In 2013, 2.9 per cent of people aged 15–49 were HIV positive.
The King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, is the country’s principal referral centre and teaching hospital, Muhima Hospital is also located in Kigali, and there are health centres, health posts, clinics and dispensaries throughout the country.
Public spending on education was 5.1 per cent of GDP in 2013. There are nine years of compulsory education starting at the age of seven. Primary school comprises six years and secondary six, with two cycles each of three years. The school year starts in January. Some 37 per cent of pupils complete primary school (2009). In October 2008 the government decided to change the medium of education from French to English.
The National University of Rwanda was established in 1963 with faculties of medicine and social sciences, and a teacher-training college. Faculties of law, science and technology, and the National Institute of Education followed, all now located at Butare in the south. Among other important tertiary institutions are the Kigali Health Institute; the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology; the Rwanda Institute of Administration and Management; and the School of Finance and Banking. The female–male ratio for gross enrolment in tertiary education is 0.70:1 (2011). Literacy among people aged 15–24 is 77 per cent (2010).
The New Times (daily), Radio Rwanda provides public radio services in Kinyarwanda, French, English and Kiswahili, and there are several private commercial or faith radio stations. Télévision Rwandaise provides a public service in the urban areas.
Some five per cent of households have TV sets (2010). There are three personal computers per 1,000 people (2006).
Country code 250 (no area codes); internet domain ‘.rw’.
For every 1,000 people there are four landlines, 568 mobile phone subscriptions and 87 internet users (2013).
There is over 4,500km of Fibre Optic cabling laid out across Rwanda, and mobile penetration is 64 per cent.
New Year’s Day, Heroes’ Day (1 February), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi (7 April), Labour Day (1 May), Independence Day (1 July), Liberation Day (4 July), Harvest Day/Umuganura (Friday of the First Week of August), Assumption (15 August), End of Ramadan (EID EL FITR and EID AL-ADHA, two days), Christmas Day and Boxing Day.