Rwanda (11/04)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

Flag of Rwanda is three horizontal bands of sky blue at top--double width, yellow, and green, with a golden sun with 24 rays near the fly end of the blue band. 2004. 


Republic of Rwanda

Area: 26,338 sq. km. (10,169 sq. km.); about the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Kigali (est. pop. 800,000). Other cities--Gitarama, Butare, Ruhengeri, Gisenyi.
Terrain: Uplands and hills.
Climate: Mild and temperate, with two rainy seasons.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Rwandan(s).
Population (August 2002 census): 8.2 million.
Annual growth rate: (August 2002 census) Mean of 1.2% between 1991-2002.
Ethnic groups: Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa 1%.
Religions: Christian 93.5%, traditional African 0.1%, Muslim 4.6%, 1.7% claim no religious beliefs.
Languages: French, English, Kinyarwanda.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--75% (prewar). Literacy--64%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--107/1,000. Life expectancy--40 yrs.
Work force: Agriculture--92%; industry and commerce, services, and government--8%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: July 1, 1962.
Constitution: May 26, 2003.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), prime minister (head of government). Broad-based government of national unity formed after the 1994 civil war. Elections in 2003 elected a president, 80-seat Chamber of Deputies and 26-member Senate. Legislative--Chamber of Deputies; Senate. Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Council of State, Court of Appeals.
Administrative subdivisions: 12 provinces; 106 districts; 1,545 sectors; 9,165 cells.
Political parties: Eight parties comprise the government: the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) leads a coalition that includes the Centrist Democratic Party (PDC), the Rwandan Labor [formerly Socialist] Party (PSR), the Ideal [formerly Islamic] Democratic Party (PDI), and the Democratic Popular Union (UPDR). Other parties in the government include the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Liberal Party (PL), and the Concord Progressive Party (PPC).
Suffrage: Universal for citizens over 18--except refugees, prisoners, and certain categories of convicts.
Central government budget (2000 est.): 31.7 billions of Rwandan francs ($29 million) Revenues--$28 million. Expenditures--$29 million.

GDP (1999 est.): $1.9 billion.
Real GDP growth rate (2002 est.): 9%.
Per capita income (1999 est.): $250.
Average inflation rate (2000 est.): 3.9%.
Natural resources: Cassiterite, wolfram, methane.
Agriculture (2001 est.): 47% of GDP. Products--coffee, tea, cattle, hides and skin, pyrethrum. Arable land--48%, 90% of which is cultivated.
Industry (1999 est., 20% of GDP): Types--beer production, soft drink, soap, furniture, shoes, plastic goods, textiles, cigarettes, pharmaceuticals.
Trade (1996 est.): Exports--$69.4 million: coffee, tea, hides and skins, cassiterite, pyrethrum. Major markets--Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Pakistan. Imports--$221 million: food, consumer goods, capital equipment, petroleum products. Major suppliers--Belgium, U.S., Tanzania, Kenya, France.

Rwanda's countryside is covered by grasslands and small farms extending over rolling hills, with areas of rugged mountains that extend southeast from a chain of volcanoes in the northwest. The divide between the Congo and Nile drainage systems extends from north to south through western Rwanda at an average elevation of almost 9,000 feet. On the western slopes of this ridgeline, the land slopes abruptly toward Lake Kivu and the Ruzizi River valley, which form the western boundary with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) and constitute part of the Great Rift valley. The eastern slopes are more moderate, with rolling hills extending across central uplands at gradually reducing altitudes, to the plains, swamps, and lakes of the eastern border region.

Although located only two degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda's high elevation makes the climate temperate. The average daily temperature near Lake Kivu, at an altitude of 4,800 feet (1,463 meters) is 73o F (23o C). During the two rainy seasons (February-May and September-December), heavy downpours occur almost daily, alternating with sunny weather. Annual rainfall averages 80 centimeters (31 in.) but is generally heavier in the western and northwestern mountains than in the eastern savannas.

Rwanda's population density, even after the 1994 genocide, is among the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (322 per sq. km., according to the August 2002 census). Nearly every family in this country with few villages lives in a self-contained compound on a hillside. The urban concentrations are grouped around administrative centers. The indigenous population consists of three ethnic groups. The Hutus, who comprise the majority of the population (85%), are traditionally farmers of Bantu origin. The Tutsis (14%) are traditionally a pastoral people who arrived in the area in the 15th century. Until 1959, they formed the dominant caste under a feudal system based on cattleholding. The Twa (1%) are thought to be the remnants of the earliest settlers of the region. Over half of the adult population is literate, but not more than 5% have received secondary education. During 1994-95, most primary schools and more than half of prewar secondary schools reopened. The national university in Butare reopened in April 1995; enrollment is over 7,000. Rebuilding the educational system continues to be a high priority of the Rwandan Government.

According to folklore, Tutsi cattlebreeders began arriving in the area from the Horn of Africa in the 15th century and gradually subjugated the Hutu inhabitants. The Tutsis established a monarchy headed by a mwami (king) and a feudal hierarchy of Tutsi nobles and gentry. Through a contract known as ubuhake, the Hutu farmers pledged their services and those of their descendants to a Tutsi lord in return for the loan of cattle and use of pastures and arable land. Thus, the Tutsi reduced the Hutu to virtual serfdom. However, boundaries of race and class became less distinct over the years as some Tutsi declined until they enjoyed few advantages over the Hutu. The first European known to have visited Rwanda was German Count Von 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 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 of Ruanda-Urundi. Following World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a UN Trust Territory with Belgium as the administrative authority. Reforms instituted by the Belgians in the 1950s encouraged the growth of democratic political institutions but were resisted by the Tutsi traditionalists 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. Peaceful negotiation of international problems, social and economic elevation of the masses, and integrated development of Rwanda were the ideals of the Kayibanda regime. Relations with 43 countries, including the United States, were established in the first 10 years. Despite the progress made, 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, President Habyarimana formed the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) whose goals were to promote peace, unity, and national development. The movement was organized from the "hillside" to the national level and included elected and appointed officials.

Under MRND aegis, Rwandans went to the polls in December 1978, overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution, and confirmed President Habyarimana as president. President Habyarimana was re-elected 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 Rwandan Patriotic Front (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 problems of some 500,000 Tutsi refugees living in diaspora around the world. The war dragged on for almost 2 years until a cease-fire accord was signed July 12, 1992, in Arusha, Tanzania, fixing a timetable for an end to the fighting and political talks, leading to a peace accord and powersharing, and authorizing a neutral military observer group under the auspices of the Organization for African Unity. A cease-fire 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 was a signal, military and militia groups began rounding up and killing all Tutsis and political moderates, regardless of their ethnic background.

The prime minister and her 10 Belgian bodyguards were among the first victims. The killing swiftly spread from Kigali to all corners of the country; between April 6 and the beginning of July, a genocide of unprecedented swiftness left up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands of organized bands of militia--Interahamwe. Even ordinary citizens were called on to kill their neighbors by local officials and government-sponsored radio. The president's MRND Party was implicated in organizing many aspects of the genocide.

The RPF battalion stationed in Kigali under the Arusha accords came under attack immediately after the shooting down of the president's plane. The battalion fought its way out of Kigali and joined up with RPF units in the north. The RPF then resumed its invasion, and civil war raged concurrently with the genocide for 2 months. French forces landed in Goma, Zaire, in June 1994 on a humanitarian mission. They deployed throughout southwest Rwanda in an area they called "Zone Turquoise," quelling the genocide and stopping the fighting there. The Rwandan Army was quickly defeated by the RPF and fled across the border to Zaire followed by some 2 million refugees who fled to Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi. The RPF took Kigali on July 4, 1994, and the war ended on July 16, 1994. The RPF took control of a country ravaged by war and genocide. Up to 800,000 had been murdered, another 2 million or so had fled, and another million or so were displaced internally.

The international community responded with one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever mounted. The United States was one of the largest contributors. The UN peacekeeping 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.

Following an uprising by the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge people in eastern Zaire in October 1996, a huge movement of refugees began which brought more than 600,000 back to Rwanda in the last 2 weeks of November. This massive repatriation was followed at the end of December 1996 by the return of another 500,000 from Tanzania, again in a huge, spontaneous wave. Less than 100,000 Rwandans are estimated to remain outside of Rwanda, and they are thought to be the remnants of the defeated army of the former genocidal government, its allies in the civilian militias known as Interahamwe, and soldiers recruited in the refugee camps before 1996.

With the return of the refugees, a new chapter in Rwandan history began. As of October 2003, Rwanda's refugee population consisted of 28,000 Congolese Tutsis at two camps in Kibuye and Byumba provinces. In 2001, the government began implementation of a grassroots village-level justice system, known as gacaca, in order to address the enormous backlog of cases. As of October 2003, some 80,000 individuals remained in detention in Rwanda, awaiting gacaca trials on charges relating to the 1994 genocide.

After its military victory in July 1994, the RPF organized a coalition government similar to that established by President Habyarimana in 1992. Called "The Broad Based Government of National Unity," its fundamental law is based on a combination of the June 1991 constitution, the Arusha accords, and political declarations by the parties. The MRND Party was outlawed. In April 2003, the transitional National Assembly recommended the dissolution of the Democratic Republican Party (MDR), one of eight political parties participating in the Government of National Unity since 1994. Human rights groups noted the subsequent disappearances of political figures associated with the MDR, including at least one parliamentarian serving in the National Assembly. On May 26, 2003, Rwanda adopted a new constitution which eliminated reference to ethnicity and set the stage for presidential and legislative elections in August and September 2003. The seven remaining political parties endorsed incumbent Paul Kagame for president, who was elected to a 7-year term on August 25, 2003. Rwanda held its first-ever legislative elections September 29 to October 2, 2003. The success or failure of the Rwandan social compact will be decided over the next few years, as Hutu and Tutsi try to find ways to live together again.

Challenges facing the government include promoting further democratization and judicial reform; prosecuting more than 80,000 individuals detained for crimes relating to the 1994 genocide; preventing the recurrence of any insurgency among ex-military and Interahamwe militia who remain in eastern Congo; and the shift away from crisis to medium- and long-term development planning.

Principal Government Officials
President--Paul Kagame
Prime Minister--Bernard Makuza
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Charles Murigande
Ambassador to the United States--Dr. Zac Nsenga
Ambassador to the United Nations--Stanislas Kamanzi

Rwanda maintains an embassy in the United States at 1714 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-232-2882).

The Rwandan economy is based on the largely rainfed agricultural production of small, semisubsistence, and increasingly fragmented farms. It has few natural resources to exploit and a small, uncompetitive industrial sector. While the production of coffee and tea is well-suited to the small farms, steep slopes, and cool climates of Rwanda, farm size continues to decrease, especially in view of government ownership of all land and the resettlement of displaced persons. Agribusiness accounts for 50% of Rwanda's GDP and 70% of exports. Tea accounts for 60% of export earnings, followed by coffee and pyrethrum (whose extract is used in insect repellant). Mountain gorillas serve as a potentially important source of tourism revenue, but Rwanda's tourism and hospitality sector requires further development. Rwanda is one of 20 member states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and hoped to form a free trade area with Burundi in January 2004. Some 34% of Rwanda's imports originate in Africa, 90% from COMESA countries. The genocide continues to impact Rwanda's economy; as of 2003, 30% of the Rwanda Development Bank's outstanding nonperforming loans originated from the period of 1994 genocide. In 2003, the Government of Rwanda sought to privatize several key firms, including Rwandatel (the country's second-largest mobile phone provider); Electrogaz, the utility monopoly; several government-owned tea factories; and the Commercial Bank of Rwanda, the country's second-largest commercial bank.

During the 5 years of civil war that culminated in the 1994 genocide, GDP declined in 3 out of 5 years, posting a dramatic decline at more than 40% in 1994, the year of the genocide. The 9% increase in real GDP for 1995, the first postwar year, signaled the resurgence of economic activity, due primarily to massive foreign aid.

In the immediate postwar period--mid-1994 through 1995--emergency humanitarian assistance of more than $307.4 million was largely directed to relief efforts in Rwanda and in the refugee camps in neighboring countries where Rwandans fled during the war. In 1996, humanitarian relief aid began to shift to reconstruction and development assistance.

Since 1996, Rwanda has experienced steady economic recovery, thanks to foreign aid (averaging $200-$300 million per year) and governmental reforms. As of 2002, the GDP had ranged from 3%-9% per annum, and inflation had ranged between 2%-3%. Rwanda depends on significant foreign imports ($250-$300 million per year). Export rates remain weak at $75 million per year. Private investment remains below expectations despite an open trade policy, a favorable investment climate, cheap and abundant labor, tax incentives to businesses, stable internal security, and crime rates that are comparatively low. Investment insurance also is available through the Africa Trade Insurance Agency or the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. The weakness of exports as well as low domestic savings rates have had a negative impact on the current account for Rwanda, thus requiring a recent currency devaluation and debt restructuring measures.

The Government of Rwanda remains committed to a strong and enduring economic climate for the country. To this end the government focuses on poverty reduction, infrastructure development, privatization of government-owned assets, expansion of the export base, and liberalization of trade. The implementation of a value added tax of 18% and improved tax collections are having a positive impact on government revenues and thereby services rendered. Banking reform and low corruption also are favorable current trends. Agricultural reforms, improved farming methods, and increased use of fertilizers are improving crop yields and national food supply. Moreover, the government is pursing educational and healthcare programs that bode well for the long-term quality of Rwanda's human resource skills base.

Many challenges remain for Rwanda. Rwanda is dependent on significant foreign aid. Exports continue to lag far behind imports and will continue to affect the current account. Inflation may become a problem should the government resort to over-printing currency for short-term gains. The persistent lack of economic diversification beyond the production of tea, coffee, and coltan keeps the country vulnerable to market fluctuations. Rwanda's landlocked situation necessitates strong highway infrastructure maintenance, and good transport linkages to neighboring countries, especially Uganda and Tanzania, are critical. Transportation costs remain high and, therefore, burden import and export costs. Rwanda has no railway system for port access in Tanzania, although the nearest railhead from Kigali is 380 kilometers away at Isaka, Tanzania. The development of small manufacturing and service industries is needed, and the tourism industry, now at 8,000 visitors per year, has far greater potential given the current stability, travel infrastructure, and available animal parks as well as other potential tourist sites.

American business interest in Rwanda, other than in tea and telecommunications, is weak, and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has yet to make a significant impact in Rwanda. Energy needs will stress natural resources in wood and gas, but hydroelectric power development is underway, albeit primarily in the planning stages. Rwanda does not have nuclear power nor coal resources. Finally, the Rwanda's fertility rate (averaging 5.8 births per woman) will continue to stress services, and diseases such as AIDS/HIV transmission, malaria, and tuberculosis will have a major impact on human resources.

Rwanda's government-run radio broadcasts 15 hours a day in English, French, and Kinyarwanda, the national languages. News programs include regular re-broadcasts from international radio such as Voice of America and Radio France International. There is a fledgling television station. There are few independent newspapers; most newspapers publish in Kinyarwanda on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. Several Western nations, including the United States, are working to encourage freedom of the press, the free exchange of ideas, and responsible journalism.

The military establishment is comprised of a well-trained army and a small, rotary-wing air force. Defense spending continues to represent a disproportionate share of the national budget, largely due to continuing security problems along the frontiers with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi in the aftermath of the war. Following withdrawal of Rwandan Armed Forces from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in October 2002, the government completely restructured the military and launched an ambitious plan to demobilize thousands of soldiers. At end state, Rwanda will have a small, well-equipped army of 25,000 soldiers.

In July 2003, Rwanda's Presidential Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Patrick Mazimhaka, was elected Deputy Chairperson of the 10-person African Union Commission. President Paul Kagame was elected as the First Vice Chairman of the African Union (AU).

Rwanda has been the center of much international attention since the war and genocide of 1994. Rwanda is an active member of the UN, having presided over the Security Council during part of 1995. The UN assistance mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), a UN Chapter Six peacekeeping operation, involved personnel from more than a dozen countries. Most of the UN development and humanitarian agencies have had a large presence in Rwanda.

At the height of the emergency, more than 200 nongovernmental organizations were carrying out humanitarian operations. Several west European and African nations, Canada, China, Egypt, Libya, Russia, the Vatican, and the European Union maintain diplomatic missions in Kigali. In 1998, Rwanda, along with Uganda, invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) to back Congolese rebels trying to overthrow then-President Laurent Kabila. Rwandan troops pulled out of the D.R.C. in October 2002, however, in accordance with the Lusaka cease-fire agreement.

In the post-crisis period, U.S. Government interests have shifted from strictly humanitarian to include the prevention of renewed regional conflict, the promotion of internal stability, and renewed economic development.

Since 1995, the United States has been the principal donor for Rwanda's humanitarian demining program, providing over $11 million to help remove the scourge of landmines. As of October 2003, one million square meters of landmines are estimated to remain in Rwanda, 80% of which lie in two identified minefields.

A major focus of bilateral relations is the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) "transition" program, which aims to promote internal stability and to increase confidence in the society. To achieve this, USAID is trying to achieve three strategic objectives under an integrated strategic plan:

  • Increased rule of law and transparency in governance;
  • Increased use of health and social services and changed behavior related to sexually transmitted infections and human immunodeficiency virus and maternal and child health by building service capacity in target regions; and
  • Increased ability of rural families in targeted communities to improve household food security.

The mission currently is implementing activities in humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation--women's income-generating initiatives, shelter, family relocation for children, administration of justice, increased local government capacity, improved health service delivery, AIDS and STI prevention, and enhanced food security.

The State Department's Public Affairs section maintains a cultural center in Kigali, which offers public access to English-language publications and information on the United States. American business interests have been small; currently, private U.S. investment is limited to the tea industry. Annual U.S. exports to Rwanda, under $10 million annually from 1990-93, exceeded $40 million in 1994 and 1995, but decreased to only $13.4 million in 2001.

Principal U.S. Officials
Charge d' Affaires--Henderson Patrick
Deputy Chief of Mission--Ken R. Miller
Director USAID program--Henderson Patrick
Acting Public Affairs Officer—Grace Brunton

The U.S. Embassy is located on Boulevard de la Revolution, P.O. Box 28, Kigali (tel. 250-75601/02; fax 250-72128).

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.