Population

12,777,907 inhabitants (2019).

Official language

Kinyarwanda, French and English.

Languages spoken

Kinyarwanda (Bantu family) is the first language of 98% of the population and there are numerous dialects. Many Rwandans also speak Swahili, French or English.

People

Since the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, the government has sought to recognise one main ethnicity: Rwandan, rather than belonging to the Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. However, it is estimated that in 1996, the populations of Hutu stood at 80% and the Tutsi at 19%, yet these figures are not wholly accurate since it’s estimated 25% of Rwandans are Hutu and Tutsi grandparents. The Twa (pygmy) represent 0.5% of the population (they have particularly suffered from the genocide). There’s also the small ethnic groups of the Banyenkombo, Bagogwe and Banyambo.

Religion

93.6% of Rwandans are Christian (2006): 56.5% are Catholic and 37.1% are Protestant. There has been a shift towards neo-evangelicalism since the genocide of 1994 during the Rwandan Civil War. Muslims are estimated at around 4.6% (especially in Kigali). 0.1% of residents still claim the traditional animism.

National Holiday

1 July: Anniversary of Independence (1962).

Holiday Schedule

  • January 1: New Year's Day.
  • February 1: Day of Heroes.
  • March 8: Women's Day.
  • March-April: Easter (Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays).
  • April 7: Genocide Remembrance Day.
  • May 1: Labour Day.
  • 1 July: National Day.
  • July 4: Liberation Day.
  • August 15: Assumption.
  • October 1: Day Patriotism.
  • November 1: All Saints Day.
  • 25 (and 26) December: Christmas.

History

Historically, the Hutu and the Twa lived side by side in what is now present-day Rwanda until the 1300s when the Tutsis migrated in and formed a kingdom. In 1858, British explorer Hanning Speke was the first European to visit the area, and by 1899, the country was absorbed by German East Africa after being penetrated by Gustav Adolf von Götzen. Rwanda then became a state organised into 20 clans and the German military moved into Kigali (1907). By 1916, the Belgians expelled the Germans and in 1922, Belgium was made a protectorate of Rwanda and governed the country which was ruled indirectly through the Tutsi kings. In the 1950s, the independence movement gathered momentum and the Tutsis formed a political party – the Union Nationale Rwandaise – and in 1957, the Hutu political parties were formed, in a move to change Rwanda’s power structure. In 1959, a Hutu revolt forced Tutsi King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa (born 1935) and 200,000 of his followers into Uganda.

On 26 October 1961, Rwanda was declared a republic and Belgium granted its independence in 1962. The country elected its first president, Grégoire Kayibanda, a Hutu. In 1963, following an attempted coup by rebel groups, thousands of Tutsi were massacred and their numbers in Rwanda continued to dwindle. In 1973, General Juvénal Habyarimana Hutu (born in 1937) took power through a coup and a period of military rule followed until 1978 when Habyarimana became President. Thousands more Tutsi fled to Uganda or Burundi, and those remaining were subject to violence, discrimination and humiliation. Around this time, the Habyarimana dictatorship was being established. In 1987, Rwandan refugees in exile (including both Tutsi and Hutu members) formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and in 1990, the rebel forces invaded Rwanda from Uganda. The regime called for multiparty democracy and the integration of the RPF into national politics.

In early 1993, the RPF conducted major military operations in Rwanda. Talks were held with the exiles, which led to the Arusha Accords (August 1993) – the Peace Agreement (or power-sharing agreement) between the RPF and the State of Rwanda. UN peacekeepers arrived to monitor the agreement. On 6 April 1994, Habyarimana and the Burundian president were killed as their plane was shot down – the death triggered the genocide, where extremist Hutu militia launched the systematic massacre of Tutsis. It lasted until the RPF took Kigali on July 4, 1994. The UN estimates that 800,000 people were massacred – mainly all Tutsis, or those who were associated with Tutsis, or were Hutus opposed of the killings. The first post-genocide president was a Hutu, Pasteur Bizimungu (born 1950) and his vice president a Tutsi, Paul Kagame (born 1957). Rwandan refugees flooded the border regions (especially in Zaire) creating large Hutu refugee camps – which ultimately fell under the control of extremist Hutu militias who were responsible for the genocide. From 1995, a number of people responsible for the atrocities were tried at a UN-appointed international tribunal. In 1997, the Zairean regime was overthrown and the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 2002, Rwanda and the DRC agreed that Rwanda would withdraw its troops, and the DRC would help disarm Hutu militia.

In 2007, the two countries signed a peace agreement, under which the DRC was to hand over people involved in the genocide to Rwanda. Since then, the country continues to evolve, legislating progressive policies (abolition of the death penalty), releasing opponents (including former President Bizimungu, guilty of corruption) and getting involved in conflict resolution in Africa (Darfur in particular). Diplomatic relations with France, which were broken off in 2006, were restored in November 2009.

Policy

Rwanda is a presidential republic. The executive is headed by the President of the Republic, elected by national vote for a term of five years; he appoints the Prime Minister. The parliament is bicameral National Assembly (80 deputies, five-year term); Senate (26 senators, term of eight years). Members are elected or named in such a way that no group is excluded from the representation. The Supreme Court judicial crowns the building, whose base is formed by the gacaca traditional community courts.

Famous Rwandans

  • Scholastique mukasonga (born 1956) is an acclaimed Rwandan author who lived in a refugee camp but settled in France two years before the genocide of the Tutsi – which killed 27 members of her family. Her first book – which kickstarted her prestigious writing career – was an autobiographical account, Inyenzi ou les Cafards, ‘Cockroaches’, and her first novel, Notre-Dame du Nil, ‘Our Lady of the Nile’, won multiple awards.
  • Nyungura Cornelius (born in 1977) is a Canadian singer of Rwandan origin who performs under the name Corneille. Aged 17, he witnessed the assassination of his parents and his three brothers and sisters, and fled to Germany before heading to Canada. There he honed his music career, and today, his music has strong and distinctive soul and funk influences.
  • American conservationist and eminent primatologist Dian Fossey (1932-1985) studied Rwandan mountain gorillas for 20 years and her famous book, Gorillas in the Mist, gave an in-depth account of her scientific studies. It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1988. Fossey was found murdered in her Rwandan cabin in 1985 – and her death remains a mystery, though her legacy lives on, having dispelled myths around gorillas and transformed the way we think about these gentle giant primates.
  • German explorer, Gustav Adolf von Götzen (1866-1910) first visited Rwanda in 1894 and became the first European to cross the entire length of Rwanda. Later he was the first governor of German East Africa and was forced to face the Maji Maji Rebellion (1905).
  • Yuhi Musinga V (died 1944), was a king of Rwanda from 1896 to 1931. He was deposed by the colonial administration, having refused to embrace Christianity, in favour of his eldest son. He was exiled to Kamembe in Rwanda and then to southeastern Congo.

Good manners

Tipping is at your discretion. For all locals who work with us, you have our assurance that tips will never replace the salary. Nevertheless, tipping is very gratefully received. For drivers, we recommend a minimum of around £3-£5 per person per day; double this amount for guides. At hotels, the standard is £1 per bag for porters. It’s best to align your tip with the economy of the place: estimate the amount by comparing with the price of a beer or of a tea to ensure it fits with the standard of living. Always refrain from handing out money or items to people, especially children, in the streets – this just encourages begging. If you want to help by providing school supplies, clothing or medicine, it’s best to give them directly to the school principal, the village chief or the nearest clinic, which will to benefit the poor and needy.

Purchase

Rwandan crafts are high quality and worth seeking out are the agaseke – small conical baskets sold in markets and street stalls. Rutongo embroideries - crafted by self-taught artisans - are distinguished by their unique portrayals of Rwandan culture. Richly decorated pottery is widely sold, as is imigongo – an art form with a focus on geometric designs using cow dung. Looking for something small? There’s homegrown tea, coffee or orchids.

Food

The fish (tilapia) and grilled chicken are wildly popular across Rwanda, with sides of rice, plantain, peas and beans, sautéed in pepper and palm oil. Chips are everywhere - potato, cassava or sweet potato, and fast food-wise, you must try a goat kebab with chips. National dishes include igisafuriya – bubbling chicken or goat stews with plantain or zingalo (tripe).

Drink

Tap water is unfit for consumption, so always go for bottled mineral water, ensuring the cap hasn’t been broken. Avoid ice cubes too. The brewer, Bralirwa, is the biggest employer in the country; it produces the brands Primus, Mutzig and Amstel, though many people make their foam themselves at home. Two types of beer can be distinguished: the amarwa (or ikigage), based on the sorghum plant, and urwagwa, made from the fermentation of mashed bananas. And if you like sweet milk, you’ve come to the right place.

Useful information

Practical Guide

Rwanda in Context

Contact one of our Rwanda specialists