Facts & Geography of Rwanda

Also known as ’The Land of a Thousand Hills’, Rwanda is a landlocked country situated in East Africa, bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south and the democratic republic of Congo to the west.

About Rwanda Facts photo

Land Area:  26,340Km²
Population: 11.78 million
Average Temperature: 24.6 – 27.6ºc. Hottest months: August, September. Rainy seasons: March – May and October – November
Altitude: 1000-4500m above sea level.
Main water bodies: Lake Kivu, Lake Muhazi, Lake Ihema, Lake Bulera, Lake Ruhondo, Lake Mugesera.
Highest point: Karisimbi volcano (4,507m)

Languages: English, French, Swahili, Kinyarwanda

Rwanda’s History

Pre-colonial Rwanda was a highly centralised Kingdom presided over by Tutsi kings who hailed from one ruling clan. The king ruled through three categories of chiefs: cattle chiefs; land chiefs; and military chiefs. The chiefs were predominantly, but not exclusively, Batutsi, especially the cattle and military chiefs. While the relationship between the king and the rest of the population was unequal, the relationship between the ordinary Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa was one of mutual benefit mainly through the exchange of their labour. The relationship was symbiotic. A clientele system called “Ubuhake” permeated the whole society.


In 1899 Rwanda became a German colony. After the defeat of the Germans during WW1, subsequently in 1919 Rwanda became a mandate territory of the League of Nations under the administration of Belgium. The Germans and the Belgians administered Rwanda through a system of indirect rule. During this colonial era, a cash crop economy was introduced in Rwanda, and this was administered through harsh methods that further alienated the King and his chiefs from the rest of the population.

In 1935 the Belgian colonial administration introduced a discriminatory national identification on the basis of ethnicity. Banyarwanda who possessed ten or more cows were registered as Batutsi whereas those with less were registered as Bahutu. At first, the Belgian authorities, for political and practical reasons, favoured the King and his chiefs, who were mostly a Batutsi ruling elite. When the demand for independence began, mainly by a political party – Union Nationale Rwandaise (UNAR) – formed by people from the aforementioned ruling elite, the Belgian authorities hastily nurtured another party called PARMEHUTU that was founded on a sectarian ethnic ideology. Under the Belgian supervision, the first massacres of Batutsi at the hands of the PARMEHUTU occurred in 1959. With Belgian connivance, PARMEHUTU abolished the monarchy amidst widespread violence. On 1st July 1962 Belgium granted formal political independence to Rwanda.

The first massacres in Rwanda took place in 1959. Thereafter, almost in a regular manner, killings of the Batutsi became a common practice. In the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s massacres of Batutsi were common. Between April and July 1994, over 1 million Rwandese people, mainly Batutsi and some Bahutu opposition were killed by the genocidal regime. Many people were involved in the killings. Those who planned and organised the genocide include the late President, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, top government officials, including members of the so-called Provisional Government, the Presidential Guard, the National Gendarmerie, the Rwanda Armed Forces (FAR), the MRND-CDR militia (Interahamwe), local officials, and many Bahutu in the general population.

Preparation to carry out genocide by these groups involved the training of the militia, the arming of both the militia and some sections of the population, the establishment and widespread use of a hate radio called Radio Television Libre De Mille Collines (RTLM), and the distribution of lists of those targeted from elimination. Repeatedly, these groups prevented the establishment of the Arusha Peace Accords.

When the genocide began, the United Nations had a peacekeeping force – the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) – in Rwanda of about 2500 troops. The first reaction of the United Nations, and indeed of other nations that had their own nationals in Rwanda, was to withdraw their troops and their nationals respectively. Under the circumstances the RPF had to fight again in order to stop the genocide.

On 4th July 1994, the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali, fell to the forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA), the armed wing of the RPF. The members of the so-called Provisional Government, the armed groups, and many people who were involved in genocide, fled mainly to the DRC and Tanzania. Over three million refugees fled to Tanzania and the DRC.

On 19th July, 1994, the RPF established the Government of National Unity with four other political parties – the Liberal Party (PL), the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), and the Republican Democratic Movement (MDR). Weeks later a 70-member Transitional National Assembly was formed consisting of representatives of the RPF, the four other original parties plus three other smaller parties, namely, the Islamic Party (PDI), the Socialist Party (PSR), and the Democratic Union for Rwandese People (UDPR), as well as six representatives of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA)

For more facts about the Genocide Against the Tutsi, commemoration activities around the world and the Fight against Genocide, visit: http://kwibuka.rw and http://www.cnlg.gov.rw/