Background Notes: Rwanda

Rwanda Official Info


Details of Background Notes: Rwanda, Rwanda Official Info
Details for Background Notes: Rwanda

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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.



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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 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 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-party 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 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.

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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.

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President--Pasteur Bizimunga
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).

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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 economic activity.

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 accountability.

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 is improved.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Ambassador--Robert Gribbin
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).



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