Official Name: Republic of Rwanda
Established: 1 July 1962 (Independence from Belgium)
Population: 12,374,397 (2019 estimate)
Religion: 43.7% Catholic, 37.7% Protestant, 11.8% Seventh-day Adventists, 2% Muslim
Language(s): English, French, Kinyarwanda, Swahili
Order of Visit: Sixty-First
First Visit: 04 December 2017
Last Visit: 04 December 2017
Duration: 1 Day
Visit Highlights: Kigali Genocide Memorial, visiting the ‘Hotel Rwanda’, Belgian Soldier Memorial
Places Visited: Kigali
Rwanda Journal Entry
History and Geography
Rwanda is a landlocked country located in the African Great Lakes region and East Africa. Rwanda is located a few degrees south of the Equator and is bordered by Uganda (which is where I crossed into Rwanda), Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is highly elevated country and covers 26,338 square kms.
Archaeological excavations have revealed evidence of sparse settlement by hunter-gatherers in the late Stone Age, followed by a larger population of early Iron Age settlers, who produced dimpled pottery and iron tools. Between 700 BC and 1500 AD, a number of Bantu groups migrated into Rwanda, clearing forest land for agriculture.
By 1700 around eight kingdoms existed in present-day Rwanda. The Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by the Tutsi Nyiginya clan, became increasingly dominant from the mid-eighteenth century.
The Berlin Conference of 1884 assigned the territory to Germany as part of German East Africa, marking the beginning of the colonial era. Belgian forces took control of Rwanda and Burundi in 1916, during World War I, beginning a period of more direct colonial rule.
The Belgium simplified and centralised the power structure, and introduced large-scale projects in education, health, public works, and agricultural supervision, including new crops and improved agricultural techniques to try to reduce the incidence of famine.
Both the Germans and the Belgians promoted Tutsi supremacy, considering the Hutu and Tutsi different races. In 1935, Belgium introduced identity cards labelling each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised.
Tensions escalated between the Tutsi, who favoured early independence, and the Hutu emancipation movement, culminating in the 1959 Rwandan Revolution: Hutu activists began killing Tutsi and destroying their houses, forcing more than 100,000 people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.
In 1961 a referendum ended up abolishing the monarchy. Rwanda was separated from Burundi and gained independence on 1 July 1962. Cycles of violence followed, with exiled Tutsi attacking from neighbouring countries and the Hutu retaliating with large-scale slaughter and repression of the Tutsi. Rwanda’s population had increased from 1.6 million people in 1934 to 7.1 million in 1989, leading to competition for land.
In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group composed of nearly 500,000 Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda from their base in Uganda, initiating the Rwandan Civil War. President Habyarimana eventually signed the 1993 Arusha Accords with the RPF. However The cease-fire ended on 6 April 1994 when Habyarimana’s plane was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing him with the Rwandan genocide commencing within hours of his killing.
Over the course of approximately 100 days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed in well-planned attacks on the orders of the interim government.
The Tutsi RPF restarted their offensive, and took control of the country methodically, gaining control of the whole country by mid-July. When the RPF took over, approximately two million Hutu fled to neighbouring countries, in particular Zaïre, fearing reprisals. Within Rwanda, a period of reconciliation and justice began, with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
The current constitution places conditions on how political parties may operate. Article 54 states that “political organisations are prohibited from basing themselves on race, ethnic group, tribe, clan, region, sex, religion or any other division which may give rise to discrimination”. The government has also enacted laws criminalising genocide ideology, which can include intimidation, defamatory speeches, genocide denial and mocking of victims. Current President Paul Kagame has a strong grip on power in Rwanda.
What I experienced
I only got to spend one day in Rwanda but given it’s tragic recent history I did want to see a little of this country. Before going to Rwanda I imagined a very poor country with bad infrastructure but from entry at the Uganda-Rwanda border I mostly experienced paved roads. Th country was also very clean with not rubbish anywhere to be seen, it was explain the cleaning was part of release conditions for some former prisoners.
Visiting the Belgian Soldier Memorial highlighted the tragic deaths that occurred at the start of the Rwandan genocide. This is the place where ten of the Belgian UN blue beret soldiers were massacred who were deployed to guard the Rwandan prime minister.
Kigali Genocide Memorial was an emotional place to visit being the burial place for over 250,000 victims of the 1994 genocide out of the well over 1 million who died. It always hard to examine should places but necessary to not forget history.
I also spend a little time exploring Kigali and doing some shopping. Watching locals during my 14 hour visit it seemed like the genocide was a century ago and not just 24 years. My only regret with this visit was not staying overnight and exploring more of the countryside.