The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Rwanda: Abode of the majestic mountain gorilla
Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda, is a small landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa, with great natural beauty but few exportable resources. Its hilly terrain, which gives it the title Pays des Mille Collines ("Land of a Thousand Hills"), supports the densest population in Africa below the Sahara desert.
The country is infamous for the 1994 genocide that resulted in the deaths of up to one million people. Since then, the government has been making efforts to bring the people together, but Rwanda still faces numerous problems. This nation, however, is at the forefront of a new concept of ensuring peace through the implementation of a law requiring a high percentage of women within the Parliament. This is based upon the idea that women will never allow the incidence of mass killing to be reproduced.
Rwanda is located near the center of Africa, a few degrees south of the equator. It is separated from the Democratic Republic of Congo by Lake Kivu and the Ruzizi River valley to the west; it is bounded on the north by Uganda, to the east by Tanzania, and to the south by Burundi. The capital, Kigali, is located in the center of the country. Rwanda's countryside is covered by grass- lands 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 and constitutes 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. Rwanda is known as the "Land of a Thousand Hills."
Though Rwanda is a tropical country, only two degrees south of the equator, its high elevation makes the climate temperate. In the mountains, frost and snow are possible. The average daily temperature near Lake Kivu, at an altitude of 4,800 feet is 73 degrees Fahrenheit. Rwanda is considered the lightning capital of the world, due to intense daily thunderstorms during the two rainy seasons (February-April and November-January). Annual rainfall averages 31 inches, but is generally heavier in the western and northwestern mountains than in the eastern savannas.
Flora and fauna
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 eucalyptus, imported from the south in the 1890s; acacias, and oil palms.
The forest in Rwanda as of 2007 accounted for 594, 897 acres comprising humid natural forests, degraded natural forests, bamboo forest, savanna, large eucalyptus plantations, recent planta- tions of eucalyptus and coppices, and pinus plantations. Montane forests containing 200 species of trees, and many flowering plants, including the giant lobelia and many colorful orchids, date back to the ice age. There are more than 140 species of orchids in the Nyungwe forest.
The mountain gorilla is one of the most popular tourist magnets in Rwanda, habitating the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three National Parks—Mgahinga, in southwest Uganda; Volcanoes, in northwest Rwanda; and Virunga, in the Dem- ocratic Republic of Congo. The other population is found in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The biggest threats to this once critically endangered great ape's survival come from political instability, human encroachment, and forest degradation. Only about 1,000 of these great apes remain in the wild, according to the most recent census.
Rwanda's indomitable spirit will not permit the nation of 13.4 million to falter. As have its mountain gorillas resurged from the brink of extinction, the nation itself sprang back from an egregious civil war genocide, where nearly 1 million people perished. Kigali, the capital and largest city boast- ing a population of 1.2 million represents a sparkling example of Rwanda's resilience. It is near the nation's geographic center in a region of rolling hills, valleys and ridges joined by steep slopes. The city is Rwanda's eco- nomic, cultural, and transport hub.
There are also four additional defined forest categories: Congo Nile Ridge Forest, a natural forest that encompas- ses the national parks and reserves, savanna and gallery-forests, forest plantations comprised of species of Eucalyptus sp, Pinus sp, Grevillea robusta, and agro-forest.The world's smallest water lily, Nymphaea thermarum, was endemic not only to Rwanda, but to the damp mud formed by the overflow of a freshwater hot spring in Mash- yuza. It became extinct in the wild about 2008 when local farmers began using the spring for agriculture.
The farmers cut off the flow of the spring, which dried up a few square meters that was the lily's entire habitat. Carlos Magdalena, at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, managed to germinate some of the last 20 seeds. Eight began to florish and mature within weeks and in November 2009, the water lilies flowered for the first time.
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.
The greatest diversity of large mammals is found in the three National Parks, which are designated conservation areas. Akagera contains typical savanna animals such as giraffes and elephants, while volcanic mountainous areas is home to an estimated one third of the rare surviving mountain gorillas. Nyungwe Forest boasts 13 primate species including chimpanzees and Ruwenzori colobus arboreal monkeys. The Ruwenzori colobus monkeys move in groups of up to 400 individuals, the largest troop size of any primate in Africa. Primates are the dominant species of fauna in the Nyungwe Forest.
There were 670 bird species in Rwanda, with variation between the east and the west. However, as per the Birdlist Organization the number of species as per WICE criteria are reported to be 711. The Nyungwe Forest in the west has 280 recorded species, of which 26 are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Endemic species include the Rwenzori turaco and handsome spurfowl.
The grey crowned crane and the African fish eagle are two spectacular avians observable in the Nyungwe Forest of the Albertine Rift.
Rwanda has much more to yield as more secrets are yet to be discovered in its rainforests, valleys, mountains, rivers, and lakes. The landscape offers some of the most beautiful rugged and serene vistas to be found in all of Africa, and indeed the Earth.
Agriculture is a major economic sector for the people of Rwanda, employing about 70 percent of the population and contributing about 31 percent to GDP. Agri- culture is prominent as one of the most strategic areas in Rwanda's development. It accounts for a more significant part of the foreign exchange earnings from the exports of products, including coffee, tea, hides and skins, and pyrethrum. Seventy- five percent of Rwanda's principal crops are coffee, beans, tea, tea, flowers, beans, cassava, yams, bananas, potatoes, rice, corn, wheat, and pyrethium. Rwandan soil is very fertile and ideal for agriculture.
Tea is Rwanda's largest export. The fertile volcanic soil and temperate climate are perfect for growing the plants that create this popular drink. Tea leaves can be seen covering the mountains, creating a stunning contrast to the blue skies, dirt roads and sunshine. Visitors discover how tea is harvested, processed, and even get to taste the results. Tea plantation tours take place in a variety of locations across Rwanda, with the major ones being around Nyungwe Nat- ional park—Gisovu (right and below) and Gisakura.
A common Rwandan tea would be that of Rukeri, a tea similar to Assam or Kenyan tea, com- prised of pretty, young leaves with some tips. Dry leaf aroma is sweet and full bodied.
Rwandans are friendly people with an indomitable spirit and a quick smile. The current resident of Rwanda is Paul Kagame.
Nyungwe forest is a designated Important Bird Area (IBA) listed by the BirdLife International. The great blue turaco is a very prominent bird species found in large numbers . It is blue, red and green, described as a "bird which streams from tree to tree like a procession of streamlined psychedelic turkeys.” The European bee-eater Merops apiaster is a migrant bird species in this forest area during the winter season. The Rugezi Marsh shelters Rwanda's largest breeding population of grey crowned cranes.
History, independence, conflicts
Gregoire Kayibanda was the first president (1962-1973), followed by Juvenal Habyarimana (1973-1994). The latter, who many view as a ruthless dictator, was unable to find a solution to increasing social unrest, calls for democracy, and the long-running problem of Rwandan Tutsi refugees. By the 1990s, Rwanda had up to one million refugees scattered around neighboring countries, mostly in Uganda and Burundi.
In 1990, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda. During the fighting, top Rwandan government officials, mainly Hutu, began secretly training young men into informal armed bands called Interahamwe (a Kinyarwanda term roughly meaning "those who fight together"). Government officials also launched a radio station that began anti-Tutsi propaganda.
The military government of Habyarimana responded to the RPF invasion with pogroms against Tutsis, whom it claimed were trying to re-enslave the Hutus. In August 1993, the government and the RPF signed a cease-fire agreement known as the Arusha Accords in Arusha, Tanzania, to form a power-sharing government, but fighting between the two sides continued. The United Nations sent a peacekeeping force known as the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). UNAMIR was vastly underfunded and understaffed.
During the armed conflict, the RPF was blamed for the bombing of the capital Kigali. These attacks were actually carried out by the Hutu army as part of a campaign to create a reason for a political crackdown and ethnic violence. On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana was assassinated when his airplane was shot down while landing in Kigali. It remains unclear who was responsible for the assassination. Credible sources point to the Presidential Guard, spurred by Hutu nationalists fearful of losing power, but others believe that Tutsi rebels were responsible, possibly with the help of Belgian mercenaries.
Over the next three months, with logistical and military assistance and training from France, the military and Interahamwe militia groups killed between 500,000 and 1 million Tutsis and Hutu moderates in the Rwandan genocide. The RPF continued to advance on the capital, and occupied the northern, eastern, and southern parts of the country by June.
On July 4, 1994, the war ended as the RPF entered Kigali. Over two million Hutus fled the country, fearing Tutsi retribution. Most have since returned, but some remain in the Congo, including some militia members who later took part in the First and Second Congo Wars. After repeated unsuccessful appeals to the United Nations and the international community to deal with the security threat posed by the remnants of the defeated genocidal forces on its eastern border, in 1996, Rwanda invaded eastern Zaire in an effort to eliminate the Interahamwe groups operating there. This action, and a simultaneous one by Ugandan troops, contributed to the outbreak of the First Congo War and the eventual fall of longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Rwanda today struggles to heal and rebuild, and shows signs of rapid development, but some Rwandans continue to struggle with the legacy of genocide and war. In 2004, a ceremony was held in Kigali at the Gisozi Memorial (sponsored by the Aegis Trust and attended by many foreign dignitaries) to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the genocide. The country observes a national day of mourning each year on April 7. Rwandan genocidal leaders were put on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal, in the Rwandan National Court system and through the informal Gacaca village justice program.
The current Rwandan government has been praised by many for establishing security and promoting reconcilia- tion and economic development, but is also criticized by some for being too militant and opposing dissent.
A new constitution was adopted by referendum and promulgated in 2003. The first postwar presidential and legislative elections were held in August and September 2003, respectively. The RPF-led government has continued to promote reconciliation and unity among all Rwandans as enshrined in the new constitution that forbids any political activity or discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion.
By law, at least a third of the Parliament representation must be female. It is believed that women will not allow the mass killings of the past to be repeated. Rwanda topped a recently conducted global survey on the percentage of women in Parliament with as much as 49 percent female representation.
Rwanda is divided into five provinces and subdivided into 30 districts. The provinces are North, East, South, West and Kigali Province.
Military, foreign relations
Rwanda's armed forces consist of mostly infantry and an air force. In 2002, there were a reported 15,000-20,000 troops stationed in the Congo. The paramilitary consists of national police and local defense forces. Opposition forces may number around 15,000 in the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda, which is comprised of Hutu rebels. The civil war of 1994 weakened the government armed forces, which could not stop the Hutu-Tutsi tribal conflict. Rwanda was granted United Nations membership on September 18, 1962. It is a member of the African Development Bank, G-77, and the African Union. It is also a signatory of the Law of the Sea and a member of the World Trade Organization.
In 1976, Rwanda joined Burundi and Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) in the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries, formed to develop the economic potential of the basin of lakes Kivu and Tanganyika. 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 a rural country with about 90 percent of the population engaged in subsistence agriculture. It is land- locked with few natural resources and minimal industry. Primary exports are coffee and tea, with the addition in recent years of minerals—mainly Coltan, used in the manufacture of electronic and communication devices such as mobile phones.
Tourism is also a growing sector, notably around eco-tourism (Nyungwe Forest, Lake Kivu) and the world-famous and unique mountain gorillas in the Virunga park. It has a low gross national product (GNP), and it has been identified as a Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC). In 2005, its economic performance and governance achievements prompted international funding institutions to cancel nearly all its debts. The national currency is the Rwandan franc.
According to the World Food Program, it is estimated that 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 10-12 percent of the population suffers from food insecurity every year. In 2006, China proposed funding a study for building a railway link from Bujumbura in Burundi to Kigali in Rwanda to Isaki in Tanzania. China has also offered economic cooperation in agriculture, energy, education, and industry.
Agriculture is the main economic activity in Rwanda with 70 percent of the population engaged in the sector, and around 72 percent of the working population employed in agriculture. The period for cultivation can be divided into the first cultivable season (from September to January) and the second cultivable season (from February to June). In the marshlands, where water is abundant, there is also a third agricultural season for the cultivation of rice and vegetables.
The agricultural sector accounts for 33% percent of the national GDP . In general, Rwanda’s GDP has been growing at the rate of 7 percent since 2014. Tea and coffee are the major exports while plantains, cassava, pota- toes, sweet potatoes, maize, and beans are the most productive crops. Rwanda exports dry beans, potatoes, maize, rice, cassava flour, maize flour, poultry and live animals within Eastern Africa. Due to the strong link between agriculture and poverty, the challenges in the agriculture sector are also drivers of rural poverty. Despite remarkable improvements over recent years, the agricultural sector in Rwanda still faces many challenges:
Land degradation and soil erosion are among the main challenges faced by agriculturalists. Around 90 percent of Rwandan territory lies on slopes with the consequent effect of soil loss, erosion and decreasing fertility. It is esti- mated that 1.4 million tons of soil per year is lost, accounting for a loss of 320.000 US dollars . The pressure of a growing population also has a negative effect on land availability. As a result, land holdings are becoming more and more fragmented.
Land use and distribution. In Rwanda, land categorized as rural is nearly 98 percent of the total land area, with around 49 percent classified as arable. A Land Law passed in 2005 established a private market for land titles and eliminated customary land tenure systems. Under the law, land owners are obliged to register their land holdings and land titles are equally available for women and men. However, in some cases informally married women have insecure land rights and women in general face difficulties in claiming inheritance.
Rwandan agriculture presents a strong dependence on rainfalls and vulnerability to climate shocks. The low level use of water resources for irrigation makes agricultural production unpredictable from one season to another. Low levels of productivity for both crops and livestock due to low input use, poor production techniques and inefficient farming practices. The use of chemical fertilizers in Rwanda saw a steady rise in 2007 when the Government of Rwanda (GoR) started the Crop Intensification Program (CIP). Under the program, subsidized fertilizers are provided to farmers for the cultivation of six priority crops. Despite this, famers’ adoption of fertilizers remains quite low when compared to other countries in the region.
Weak processing capacity and higher value-added products placed on the market. Between 1999 and 2008 the share of food crops processed never exceeded 6.5 percent. Furthermore, of the total food produced in the country only 34 percent reaches the market. The reasons for unexploited processing capacity lies in lack of appropriate technologies, expertise, financing incentives and rural infrastructure. Lack of access to an adequate water supply and at times energy supply makes it difficult for processing businesses to function.
Due to shortage in land availability, the Government of Rwanda is promoting intensification as a strategy to increase production and farmers’ incomes. According to the PSTAIII, “In the long term, the goal is to move Rwandan agriculture from a largely subsistence sector to a more knowledge-intensive, market-oriented sector, sustaining growth and adding value to products.” To do so, in line with the document for EDPRS II, the GoR considers agriculture a catalyst sector and will promote the development of value chains with a stronger links with the private sector. The products of interest include coffee, dairy, and cereals among others.
The current population of Rwanda is 13.4 million based on World-o-meter elaboration of the latest United Nations data. The largest city is Kigali, bearing a population of 1.2 million. Most Rwandans speak Kinyarwanda. It is difficult to establish exactly what words like "Tutsi" and "Hutu" meant before the arrival of European colonists, because there was no written history. In the 21st century a number of Rwandans rejected the idea of sub-races and simply identify themselves as "Rwandans."
Rwanda's population density, even after the 1994 genocide, is among the highest in southern Africa at 590 people per square mile. The country has few villages, and nearly every family lives in a self-contained compound on a hillside. The urban concentrations are grouped around administrative centers. The indigenous population is com- prised of three ethnic groups —The Hutus, Tutsis, and Twa.
The Hutus are farmers of Bantu origin and comprise 85 percent of the population. The Tutsis are pastoral people, who arrived to the area in the 15th century. They comprised 14 percent before the genocide. Until 1959, they formed the dominant caste under a feudal system based on cattle holding. In 2022, the Tutsis are less than 10 percent of the population. The Twa or pygmies, thought to be the remnants of the earliest settlers of the region, today, account for less than 1 percent.
More than half of Rwandan adults are literate. Rwanda is one of the top-performing southern African nations in education. Ninety-eight per cent of children are enrolled in primary school. But there are still several challenges in education. Although nearly every child enrolls into primary school, only 71 per cent of children complete their primary education. Classrooms are often too crowded, with an average of 62 students for every qualified tea- cher. Only 70 per cent of children with disabilities in Rwanda are enrolled in primary school. There are no penalties if government schools refuse to accept children with disabilities, and many schools are not physically accessible for these children. Schools also lack appropriate classroom materials to cater to children with disabilities, and teachers lack understanding of differentiating learning plans for students’ various learning needs.
Just 18 per cent of children in Rwanda are enrolled in pre-primary education. There are too few pre-primary facilities, insufficient government budgeting for pre-primary education, and inadequately trained teachers.
The quality of education requires significant attention. Primary students score too low in numeracy and literacy exams. Teachers are also unable to teach in English, the official language of instruction, and rely too heavily on traditional, teacher-centered instruction. Although there are relatively equal numbers of boys and girls in class- rooms, girls are more likely to drop out of school. Boys also outperform girls in 26 of Rwanda’s 30 districts. Girls are also significantly under-enrolled in technical, vocational and tertiary education. From 1994-1995, most primary schools and more than half of pre-war secondary schools reopened. The national university in Butare reopened in April 1995 and enrollment exceeds 7,000. Rebuilding the educational system continues to be a high priority of the Rwandan government.
Most Rwandans (56.5 percent) are Roman Catholic. Other Christians make up another 37 percent. Muslims now comprise 14 percent of the population. Due to the widespread involvement of both Roman Catholic and Protes- tant clergy in the Rwandan genocide and the shelter and protection provided by Muslims to ethnic groups of all religions, widespread conversion occurred, increasing the Muslim population from 4-14 percent.
The family unit or inzu, is the most important unit in Rwandan culture. Usually its members live together on a rural homestead. Marriage has a high value, with many arranged by families. The groom's family must pay a dowry to the bride's family.
A rich oral tradition has been passed on through epic poetry, storytelling, and public speaking. Nearly every celebration has music and dancing.
Women weave mats and baskets, while men make drums, pipes, bowls, and other useful items out of wood. As a matter of etiquette, avoid asking about someone’s ethnicity or referring to someone as Hutu or Tutsi. Rwanda is a country whose deep wounds are healing, and the government is working hard to ensure that Rwandans heal together, so as to avoid another conflict in the future. To do so they have emphasized the idea that ethnicity no longer exists, that everyone is simply Rwandan.
Insofar as proper dress, Rwandans take pride in their appearance and tend to dress up. The proper advice is to dress appropriately. A cultural no-no: Do not wear shorts. Shorts are worn only by Rwandan schoolboys.
Film and cinema
In cinema, some notable Rwandan films include:
• Gorillas in the Mist (1988), a film dramatizing the work of American ethnologist Dian Fossey, who studied gorillas in Rwanda's mountain forests until her murder there in 1985.
• Hotel Rwanda (2004), a film dramatizing the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during the 1994 genocide.
• Shake Hands With the Devil, a film about the journey of Roméo Dallaire (2004), a documentary chronicling Canadian Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire's perspective on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda 10 years in the aftermath.
• Shooting Dogs (2005), a feature film based on the true story of a Catholic priest and a young idealistic English teacher caught in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
• Sometimes In April (2005), a film focusing on the experiences of an intermarried Hutu-Tutsi family during the 1994 genocide.
• Back Home (2006), a documentary directed by J. B. Rutagarama, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide and personal journey toward understanding the genocide and forgiving those who murdered his family.
Sport is supported by the Rwandan government's Sports Development Policy of October 2012, which promotes sports as beneficial offering a number of benefits, including bringing people together, improving national pride and unity, and improving health. The policy identifies challenges to the development of sport in the country, including limited infrastructure and financial capacity.
The nation’s avowed goal is to have "a higher percentage of population playing sport than in any other African nation" and to be ranked amongst the top three African countries in basketball, volleyball, cycling, athletics and paralympic sports, and the top 10 in soccer. Rwanda also aims to "foster increased participation of people in traditional sports.” According to research published by the University of the Western Cape's Interdisciplinary Centre of Excellence for Sport Science and Development, the most popular sports in Rwanda are association football (soccer), volleyball, basketball, and para-lympic sports.
Rwandan food is neither spicy nor hot. People eat simple meals made with locally grown ingredients. The Rwandan diet consists mainly of sweet potatoes, beans, corn, peas, millet, plantains, cassava, and fruit. The potato is now very popular, thought to have been introduced by German colonists.
Rwandans who live in rural areas rarely eat meat. Some families have cattle, but since cattle are considered a status symbol, people seldom slaughter them for meat. In urban areas meat is more plentiful. The most popular meats are beef and chicken. People who live near lakes may catch and eat fish. Tilapia and sambaza are raised on fish farms and are popular choices.
A traditional breakfast consists of sweet potatoes and porridge. Lunch and dinner may consist of boiled beans, bananas, sweet potatoes or cassava. Umutsima (a dish of cassava and corn), isombe (cassava leaves with eggplant and spinach) and mizuzu (fried plantains) are common dishes. Dinner is the heaviest meal. Between meals, Rwandans often snack on fruits, such as avocados, bananas, mangos, pineapple, and papaya, which are abundant in Rwanda. Roadside vendors in urban areas sell roasted corn and barbecued meat.
Many Rwandan men enjoy drinking beer, but women rarely drink alcohol in any form, preferring to drink tea with milk and sugar. 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.
Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License