U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Rwanda, June 1996
Bureau of African Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of Central African Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Rwanda
Area: 26,338 sq. km. (10,169 sq. km.); About the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Kigali (Pop 120,000 est.); 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: (1991) - 7.2 million, 1995 post-war estimate - 6.0 million.
Annual Growth rate: Over 3 % pre-war.
Ethnic groups: Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa 1%.
Religions: Christian 74%, Traditional African 25%, Muslim 1%.
Languages: French, English, Kinyarwanda.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--70% (pre-war).
Health: Infant Mortality Rate--117/1,000. Life expectancy--47 yrs.
Work force: Agriculture--92%. Industry and commerce, services and
Type: Republic. Independence: July 1, 1962.
Constitution: June 10, 1991.
Branches: Executive--President (chief of state), Prime Minister (head
of government). Broad based
government of national unity formed after the 1994 civil war for
transition to multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative--National
Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court,
Council of State, Court of Appeals.
Administrative subdivisions: 11 prefectures, 145 communes.
Political Parties: Five parties comprise the government: the Rwandan
Popular Front (RPF), the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR),
the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Liberal Party (PL), and
the Christian Democratic Party (PDC).
Suffrage: Universal adult.
Central Government Budget (1995 estimate, billions of Rwandan
francs): Revenues--61.6 billion (23.1
billion domestic, 38.5 billion grants), expenditures--69.5 billion.
Flag: Three vertical stripes--red, yellow, green--with a black "R"
centered on the yellow.
GDP (1995 estimate): dollars 1.1 billion.
Growth Rate (1995 estimate): 9.4%.
income: dollars 188.
Average inflation rate (1995
estimate, urban areas): 22.2%.
Natural Resources: cassiterite, wolfram, methane.
Agriculture (35% of GDP, 1995 estimate): Products--coffee, tea, cattle,
pyrethrum, cinchona. Arable land--48%, 90% of which is cultivated.
Industry (16% of GDP, 1995 estimate): Types--beer production, soft
drink, soap, furniture, shoes, plastic goods, textiles, cigarettes,
Trade (1995 estimates): Exports--Dollars 61.4 million: coffee, tea,
hides and skins, cassiterite, pyrethrum. Major markets--Germany,
Belgium, Netherlands, Pakistan. Imports--Dollars 234.5 million: food,
consumer goods, capital equipment, petroleum products. Major
suppliers--Belgium, U.S., Tanzania, Kenya, France.
Official exchange rate: Approx. 300 Rwandan Francs=US Dollars 1
Fiscal Year: Calendar year
Membership in International Organizations:
UN, Organization of African Unity (OAU), Economic Commission for
Africa (ECA), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
(COMESA), Central African Economic Community (CEEAC), Great
Lakes States Economic Community (CEPGI), Organization for the
Management and the Development of the Kagera River Basin
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 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 73 degrees F (23 degrees 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 inches) 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 (230 per sq. km.--590 per sq. mi.).
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 farmers of Bantu origin. The Tutsis (14%)
are a pastoral people, said to be of Nilotic origin, who arrived in the
area in the 15th Century. Until 1959, they formed the dominant caste
under a feudal system based on cattle holding. The Twa (1%) are a
Pygmoid people thought to be the remnants of the earliest settlers of
the region. About half of the adult population is literate, but not more
than 5% have received secondary education. During 1994-1995, most
primary schools and more than half of pre-war secondary schools
reopened. The national university in Butare reopened in April, 1995;
enrollment is over 4,000. rebuilding the educational system continues
to be a huge priority of the Rwandan government.
According to folklore, Tutsi cattle breeders 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-
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 Major General 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 and 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 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 multiparty 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 ceasefire accord was signed
July 12, 1992 in Arusha, Tanzania fixed a timetable for an end to the
fighting and political talks leading to a peace accord and power
sharing, and authorized a neutral military observer group under the
auspices of the Organization for African Unity. 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 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 a million 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 two 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. A million or so 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 U.S. 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.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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 constitution, the
Arusha Accords, and political declarations by the parties. The MRND
party was outlawed. Political organizing is banned until 1999.
The biggest problem facing the government is rehabilitation of war
damage, reintegration of refugees returning from as long ago as 1959,
and attracting back the more than one million refugees camped on the
borders with Tanzania, Burundi, and most notably, Zaire. One problem
of particular urgency is the prison population, which swelled to 66,000
two years after the war. Trying this many suspects of genocide will tax
Rwanda's resources sorely.
Principal Government Officials
Vice President and Minister of Defense--Major General Paul Kagame
Prime Minister--Celestin Rwigema
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Anastase Gasana
Ambassador to the United States--Theogene Rudasingwa
Ambassador to the United States--Manzi Bakuramutsa
Rwanda maintains an embassy in the United States at 1714 New
Hampshire Avenue NW., Washington, D.C. 20009, Tel. 202-232-2882.
The Rwandan economy is based on the largely rain-fed agricultural
production of small, semi-subsistence, 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 which has ensured access to foreign exchange over the years,
farm size continues to decrease.
Pre-war population was growing at the high rate of 3% a year, and by
1994, farm size, on average, was smaller than one hectare, while
population density was over 450 persons per square kilometer of arable
In the 1960s and 1970s, Rwanda's prudent financial policies, coupled
with generous external aid and relatively favorable terms of trade,
resulted in sustained growth in per capita income and low inflation
rates. However, when world coffee prices fell sharply in the 1980s,
growth became erratic.
Compared to an annual GDP growth rate of 6.5% from 1973 to 1980,
growth slowed to an average of 2.9% a year from 1980 through 1985,
and was stagnant from 1986 to 1990. The crisis peaked in 1990, when
the first measures of an IMF structural adjustment program were
carried out. While the program was not fully implemented before the
war, key measures such as two large devaluations and the removal of
official prices were enacted. The consequences on salaries and
purchasing power were rapid and dramatic. This crisis particularly
affected the educated elites, most of whom were employed in civil
service or in state-owned enterprises. During the five years of civil war
that culminated in the 1994 genocide, GDP declined in three out of five
years, posting a dramatic decline estimated at more than 40% in 1994,
the year of the genocide. The 9% increase in real GDP for 1995, the
first post-war year, signaled the resurgence of economic activity. The
government of Rwanda has set a goal of 14% annual growth in real
GDP for 1996-1998 through improved collection of tax revenues,
accelerated privatization of state enterprises to stop their drain on
government resources, and continued improvement of export crop and
food production. In 1995, food production levels reached 67% of 1990
levels, and should continue to improve as more farmers displaced by
the years of civil war return and put land back into cultivation.
Tea plantations and factories continue to be rehabilitated and coffee,
always a smallholder's crop, is being more seriously rehabilitated and
tended as the farmers' sense of security returns. However, the road to
recovery will be slow; coffee production of about 21,500 tons in 1995
compares to a normal variation between 35,000 and 40,000 tons, while
1995 tea production reached only 5,800 tons, compared to a normal
year's production of 13,000 tons. Rwanda's natural resources are
limited. A small mineral industry provides about 5% of foreign
exchange earnings. Concentrates of the heavy minerals cassiterite, C
lumbite-tantalite, and wolframite are most important, followed by small
amount of gold and sapphires. Production of methane from Lake Kivu
began in 1983, but to late has been used only by a brewery. Depletion
of the forests will eventually pressure Rwandans to turn to fuel
resources other than charcoal for cooking and heating. Given the
abundance of mountain streams and lakes, the potential for
hydroelectric power is substantial. Rwanda is exploiting its these
natural resources through joint hydroelectric projects with Burundi and
Rwanda's manufacturing sector contributes about 15% of GDP and is
dominated by the production of import substitutes for internal
consumption. The larger enterprises produce beer, soft drinks,
cigarettes, hoes, wheelbarrows, soap, cement, mattresses, plastic pipe,
roofing materials and textiles. By the end of 1995, up to 40% of the
factories functioning before the war had made enough repairs of war
damage to return to production, at an average of 75% of their capacity.
Investments in the industrial sector in the immediate post-war period
have been limited to the repair of existing industrial plants. Retail trade,
devastated by the war, has revived quickly, with many new small
businesses established by Rwandan returnees from Uganda, Burundi
Industry received little external assistance from the end of the war
through 1995. For 1996-98, the government is committed to helping
the industrial sector continue to restore production through technical
and financial assistance, including loan guarantees, economic
liberalization, and the privatization of state-owned enterprises.
However, possibilities for expansion are limited by inadequate
infrastructure and transport and the small available market in this
predominately subsistence economy.
Existing foreign investment is concentrated in commercial
establishments, mining, tea, coffee, and tourism. Minimum wage and
social security regulations are in force, and the four pre-war
independent trade unions are back in operation. The largest union,
CESTRAR, was created as an organ of the government, but became
fully independent with the political reforms introduced by the 1991
constitution. As security in Rwanda improves, the country's nascent
tourism sector expand. Centered around the attractions of a population
of mountain gorillas and a game park, tourism has potential as a source
of foreign exchange, if the country's tourism infrastructure is improved.
In the immediate post-war period, mid-1994 through 1995, emergency
humanitarian assistance of over USD 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 is expected to shift to reconstruction and
development assistance. The United States, Belgium, Germany,
Netherlands, France, China, the World Bank, the UN Development
program, and the European Development Fund will continue to
account for substantial aid. Rehabilitation of government infrastructure,
in particular the justice system, is an international priority, as is the
continued repair and expansion of infrastructure, health facilities and
Rwanda's government-run radio broadcasts fifteen 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 several independent newspapers, mostly in
Kinyarwanda, that publish on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis.
Several Western nations, including the U.S., are working to encourage
freedom of the Press, the free exchange of ideas, and responsible
The military establishment is comprised of an army and a paramilitary
gendarmerie. Defense spending continues to represent a
disproportionate share of the national budget, largely due to continuing
security problems along the frontiers with Zaire and Burundi in the
aftermath of the war. The government has launched an ambitious plan
to demobilize thousands of soldiers. Under the International Military
and Training Program (IMET), the U.S. has provided professional
training for Rwandan military officers, especially in civil-military
relations and respect for human rights.
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 6
peacekeeping operation, involved personnel from over a dozen
countries. Most of the UN development and humanitarian agencies
have had a large presence here.
At the height of the emergency, more than 200 non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) were carrying out humanitarian operations.
Several Western European and African nations, Canada, China, Egypt,
Libya, Russia, The Vatican, and the European Union maintain
diplomatic missions in Kigali.
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. A major focus of bilateral relations is the Agency for
International Development's (AID) "transition" program, which aims to
promote internal stability and to increase confidence in the society.
To achieve this, USAID is trying to 1) strengthen and improve systems
necessary for an environment of rule of law, and 2) support
reintegration and economic recovery at the community level. The
mission is currently implementing projects in humanitarian assistance
and rehabilitation, improved food security, public sector capacity-
building, HIV/STD prevention, women's support initiatives, and the
administration of justice.
The US Information Service maintains an American 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 1990-1993, have exceeded $40 million in 1994 and 1995.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Eugene Tuttle
Director AID program--George Lewis
Public Affairs Officer--Alice Lemaistre
The U.S. embassy is located on Boulevard de la Revolution, P.O. Box
28, Kigali (Tel. 250-75601/02, Fax 250-77228).
Entry Requirements: a passport, a visa and evidence of yellow fever
immunization are required. Airport visas are not available. Travelers
should obtain the latest information and details from the embassy of
the Republic of Rwanda, 1714 New Hampshire Ave., N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20009, Tel: 202-232-2882. The Rwandan Franc is
freely exchangeable for hard currencies in exchange bureaus and
banks. Credit cards are acceptable only at a few hotels in Kigali; and
travelers should expect to handle most expenses in cash.
Medical Facilities: Medical facilities are extremely limited and trained
medical personnel are in short supply. Travelers generally bring their
own medicines. Information on health conditions are precautions may
be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
International Travelers Hotline at 404-332-4559.
Telecommunications: Cable service, long-distance telephone and
telefax service are available in Kigali, but in only a few of the larger
towns outside of the capital.
Transportation: Several flights weekly are available from African and
European cities (Nairobi, Entebbe, Brussels and Paris). Rwanda has no
railways and no reliable public transportation service outside of Kigali.
National Holidays: Businesses and the U.S. embassy may be closed on
the following Rwandan national
New Year's Day--January 1
End of Ramadan--#
Labor Day--May 1
National Day--July 1
Rwandan Liberation Day--July 4
Republic Day--September 25
All Saints Day--November 1
Christmas Day--December 25
# = Date varies each year
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