U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Republic of Rwanda, March 1998
Released by the Office of Central African Affairs, Bureau of African
Area: 26,338 sq. km. (10,169 sq. km.); about the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Kigali (est. pop. 236,000). 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 (1997 est.): 7.6 million.
Annual growth rate: Over 3%.
Ethnic groups: Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa 1%.
Religions: Christian 80%, traditional African 10%, Muslim 10%.
Languages: French, English, Kinyarwanda.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--70% (prewar). Literacy--50%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--123/1,000. Life expectancy--49 yrs.
Work force: Agriculture--92%. Industry and commerce, services and
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 multi-party parliamentary democracy.
Legislative--National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional
Court, Council of State, Court of Appeals.
Administrative subdivisions: 12 prefectures, 154 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).
Central government budget (1997 est.--billions of Rwandan francs):
Revenues--50 billion . Expenditures--62 billion, excluding an estimated
80 billion in capital expenditures financed by donors.
GDP (1996 est.): 425 billion Rwandan francs.
Real GDP growth rate (1996 est. ): 13%.
Per capita income (1997 est.): $234.
Average inflation rate (1996 est. ): 9%.
Natural resources: Cassiterite, wolfram, methane.
Agriculture (1996 est.): 35% of GDP. Products--coffee, tea, cattle,
hides and skin, pyrethrum. Arable land--48%, 90% of which is cultivated.
Industry (1996 est.): 17% of GDP. Type--beer production, soft drink,
soap, furniture, shoes, plastic goods, textiles, cigarettes,
Trade (1996 est.): Exports--$68 million: coffee, tea, hides and skins,
cassiterite, pyrethrum. Major markets--Germany, Belgium, Netherlands,
Pakistan. Imports--$275 million: food, consumer goods, capital
equipment, petroleum products. Major suppliers--Belgium, U.S., Tanzania,
Official exchange rate: Approx. 300 Rwandan francs=U.S.$1 (fluctuates
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
People's Democratic Republic of 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
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 north western mountains than in the
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 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. About 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
4,000. Rebuilding the educational system continues to be a high 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-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
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-
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 two 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 power-sharing, 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 to1 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. 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 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.
Following an uprising by the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge people in Eastern
Zaire in October 1996, a huge movement of refugees began which brought
over 600,000 back to Rwanda in the last two 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 in late 1997, and they are thought to be the remnants of the
defeated army of the the former genocidal government and its allies in
the civilian militias known as Interahamwe.
With the return of the refugees, a new chapter in Rwandan history began.
The government began the long-awaited genocide trials, which got off to
an uncertain start in the closing days of 1996 and inched forward in
1997. 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.
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 problems facing the government are reintegration of more
than 2 million refugees returning from as long ago as 1959; the end of
the insurgency and counter-insurgency among ex-military and Interahamwe
militia and the Rwandan Patriotic Army, which is concentrated in the
northwest; and the shift away from crisis to medium- and long-term
development planning. The prison population will continue to be an
urgent problem for the foreseeable future, having swelled to over
100,000 in the three 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--Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame
Prime Minister--Celestin Rwigema
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Anastase Gasana
Ambassador to the United States--Theogene Rudasingwa
Ambassador to the United Nations--Gedeon Kayinamura
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 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 and has ensured access to foreign exchange over the years, farm
size continues to decrease.
Prewar population was growing at the high rate of 3% a year. By 1994,
farm size, on average, was smaller than one hectare, while population
density was more than 450 persons per square kilometer of arable land.
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 elite, most
of whom were employed in civil service or 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 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
The Government of Rwanda posted a 13% GDP growth rate in 1996 through
improved collection of tax revenues, accelerated privatization of state
enterprises to stop their drain on government resources, and continued
improvement in export crop and food production. It is estimated that in
1997 that food production levels will reach 81% of prewar levels, and
should continue to improve as more returned refugees continue to 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 15,000 tons in 1996
compares to a pre-civil war variation between 35,000 and 40,000 tons,
while 1996 tea production reached 11,000 tons, compared to prewar
production of about 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, columbite-tantalite, and
wolframite are most important, followed by small amounts of gold and
sapphires. Production of methane from Lake Kivu began in 1983, but to
date has been used only by a brewery. Depletion of the forests will
eventually pressure Rwandans to turn to fuel sources 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 these natural resources through joint hydroelectric projects
with Burundi and the People's Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rwanda's manufacturing sector contributes about 15%-18% 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 mid-1997, up to 70% of the factories
functioning before the war had returned to production, at an average of
75% of their capacity. Investments in the industrial sector continue to
mostly be 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, and
the People's Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Industry received little external assistance from the end of the war
through 1995. In 1996-97, the government has become increasingly active
in helping the industrial sector to restore production through technical
and financial assistance, including loan guarantees, economic
liberalization, and the privatization of state-owned enterprises. In
early 1998, the government will set up a one-stop investment promotion
center and implement a new investment code that should create an
enabling environment for foreign and local investors. An autonomous
revenue authority should also begin operation, improving collections and
Possibilities for economic expansion, however, are limited by inadequate
infrastructure and transport and the small available market in this
predominantly 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 prewar 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 may 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
In the immediate postwar period--mid-1994 through 1995--emergency
humanitarian assistance of over U.S. $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.
The United States, Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Holland,
France, China, the World Bank, the UN Development Program and the
European Development Fund will continue to account for the 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 schools.
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 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 journalism.
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 the People's Democratic Republic of
the Congo 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, 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, a UN chapter 6 peace-keeping 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 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 (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 immuno-deficiency
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 U.S. Information Service 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, have exceeded $40 million in 1994 and 1995.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Wanda L. Nesbitt
Director USAID 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 250-72128).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100.
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is
required). The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication).
This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings;
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published annually by the U.S.
Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of
State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign
policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent
of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954,
Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202)
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is
available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the
NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
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