Rwanda Facts

Brief History

For centuries, Rwanda existed as a centralized monarchy under a succession of Tutsi kings from one clan, who ruled through cattle chiefs, land chiefs and military chiefs. The king was supreme but the rest of the population, Hutu, Tutsi and Twa, lived in symbiotic harmony. In 1899, Rwanda became a German colony and, in 1919, the system of indirect rule continued with Rwanda as a mandate territory of the League of Nations, under Belgium. From 1959, Tutsi were targeted, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and sending almost two million of them into exile. The First Republic, under President Gregoire Kayibanda, and the second, under President Juvenal Habyarimana, institutionalized discrimination against Tutsi and subjected them to period massacres.

The Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU) was formed in 1979 by Rwandan refugees in exile, to mobilize against divisive politics and genocide ideology, repeated massacres, statelessness and the lack of peaceful political exchange. In 1987, RANU became the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). On 1 October 1990, the RPF launched an armed liberation struggle that ultimately ousted the dictatorship in 1994 and ended the genocide of more than one million Tutsi and massacres of moderate Hutu who opposed the genocide.

After Kigali fell to RPA (RPF’s armed wing) on 4 July 1994, RPF formed a Government of National Unity headed by President Pasteur Bizimungu, bringing parties that did not participate in the genocide together.

In 2000, Parliament voted out President Pasteur Bizimungu and RPF appointed then Vice-President and Minister of Defense, Major General Paul Kagame as the President of the Republic to lead the coalition government. In 2003 President Paul Kagame was elected with landslide majority to serve a term of seven years. During those seven years, the country made unprecedented socio-economic and political progress and consolidated peace, stability as well as social cohesion among Rwandans. In 2010, President Paul Kagame was re-elected to serve a second term and on a platform of rapid development for the transformation of the lives of all Rwandans.

Brief Geography

Rwanda is a landlocked country situated in central Africa. Also known as ’the land of a thousand hills’, Rwanda has five volcanoes, twenty-three lakes and numerous rivers, some forming the source of the River Nile. The country lies 75 miles south of the equator in the Tropic of Capricorn, 880 miles ’as the crow flies’ west of the Indian Ocean and 1,250 miles east of the Atlantic Ocean – literally in the heart of Africa. Rwanda is bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south and the democratic republic of Congo to the west.

The watershed between the major Congo and Nile drainage basins runs from north to south through Rwanda, with around 80% of the country’s area draining into the Nile and 20% into the Congo via the Ruzizi River. The country’s longest river is the Nyabarongo, which rises in the south-west, flows north, east, and south-east before merging with the Ruvubu to form the Kagera; the Kagera then flows due north along the eastern border with Tanzania. The Nyabarongo-Kagera eventually drains into Lake Victoria, and its source in Nyungwe Forest is a contender for the as-yet undetermined overall source of the Nile.

Rwanda has many lakes, the largest being Lake Kivu. This lake occupies the floor of the Great Rift Valley along most of the length of Rwanda’s western border, and with a maximum depth of 480 metres (1,575 ft); it is one of the twenty deepest lakes in the world. Other sizeable lakes include Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi, Rweru, and Ihema, the last being the largest of a string of lakes in the eastern plains of Akagera National Park.

Mountains dominate central and western Rwanda; these mountains are part of a series of mountain chains which flank the Albertine branch of the Great Rift Valley; this branch runs from north to south along Rwanda’s western border. The highest peaks are found in the Virunga Mountains volcano chain in the north-west; this includes Mount Karisimbi, Rwanda’s highest point, at 4,507 metres (14,787 ft). This western section of the country, which lies within the Albertine Rift montane forests ecoregion, has an elevation of 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) to 2,500 metres (8,202 ft). The centre of the country is predominantly rolling hills, while the eastern border region consists of savanna, plains and swamps.

Anyone visiting ’the land of a thousand hills’ is in for a multitude of surprises. The loveliness and variety of the landscapes in this ’green country’ is dominated to the north by volcanoes and bordered by Lake Kivu to the west. In Rwanda the great animals of the wild are protected from poachers and roam free in the vast national parks. The Volcanoes National park in the Virunga volcanic mountains with its high altitude forests, are world famous for mountain gorillas – timid and passive family oriented giants – which is teeming with wildlife both large and small, while Lake Kivu to the west offers beautiful beaches, jutting peninsulas and an archipelago of islands.


In prehistoric times montane forest occupied one third of the territory of present-day Rwanda. Naturally occurring vegetation is now mostly restricted to the three National Parks, with terraced agriculture dominating the rest of the country. Nyungwe, the largest tract of forest, contains 200 species of tree as well as orchids and begonias. Vegetation in the Volcanoes National Park is mostly bamboo and moorland, with small areas of forest. Akagera, by contrast, has a savanna ecosystem in which acacia is the dominant flora. Some plant species are endemic to Akagera.

The greatest diversity of large mammals is found in the three National Parks, which are designated conservation areas.

Akagera contains typical savanna animals such as giraffes and elephants, while Volcanoes is home to an estimated one third of the worldwide mountain gorilla population. Nyungwe Forest boasts thirteen primate species including chimpanzees and Ruwenzori Colobus arboreal monkeys; the Ruwenzori Colobus move in groups of up to 400 individuals, the largest troop size of any primate in Africa.

There are more than 670 bird species in Rwanda, with variation between the east and the west. Nyungwe Forest, in the west, has 280 recorded species, of which 26 are endemic to the Albertine Rift; endemic species include the Ruwenzori Turaco and Handsome Francolin. Eastern Rwanda, by contrast, features savanna birds such as the Black-headed Gonolek and those associated with swamps and lakes, including storks and Pied Kingfishers.

Rwanda Cuisine

The cuisine of Rwanda is based on local staple foods produced by subsistence agriculture such as Sweet potatoes, Beans, Cassava (manioc), Ugali (a paste made from maize and water, to form a porridge-like consistency that is eaten throughout East Africa),  Isombe (made from mashed cassava leaves), Matoke (a dish made from baked or steamed plantains),  Ibihaza ( pumpkins cut into pieces), Ground nuts paste, and umustima w’uburo  (made from boiling water and Millet flour paste mixed to a porridge like consistency). In Kigali and big towns, there is a variety of international cuisine as well as; Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Italian, and African. In other cities and towns, the cuisine is simpler, often consisting of chicken, fish, goat, beef or steak served with rice, Smashed or fried potatoes, spaghetti, or French fries.


The popular drinks in Rwanda include Sodas, fruit juices, wine and beer. Commercial beers drunk in Rwanda include Primus, Müztig, Heineken, Turbo king, Skol, Virunga mist, Guinness, Amstel Senator and other East African beers such as Tusker, Pilsner and Chairman. In some rural areas; urwagwa (local beer made from the fermented bananas juice that has been mixed with roasted sorghum flour),  Ikigage (an alcoholic beverage made from sorghum flour mixed with yeast) and  and Ubuki (made from fermented honey and has an alcohol content of about 12 per cent)

Rwanda Culture

Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan ceremonies, festivals, social gatherings and storytelling. The most famous traditional dance is a highly choreographed routine consisting of three components: the umushagiriro, or cow dance, performed by women; the intore, or dance of heroes, performed by men; and the drumming, also traditionally performed by men.

Traditionally, music is transmitted orally, with styles varying between the social groups. Drums are of great importance; the royal drummers enjoyed high status within the court of the King (Mwami). Drummers play together in groups of varying sizes, usually between seven and nine in number. The country has a growing popular music industry, influenced by East African, Congolese, and American music. The most popular genre is hip hop, with a blend of rap, raga, R&B and dance-pop.

Traditional arts and crafts are produced throughout the country, although most originated as functional items rather than purely for decoration. Woven baskets and bowls are especially common. Imigongo, a unique cow dung art, is produced in the southeast of Rwanda, with a history dating back to when the region was part of the independent Gisaka kingdom. The dung is mixed with natural soils of various colours and painted into patterned ridges to form geometric shapes. Other crafts include pottery and wood carving.

Traditional housing styles make use of locally available materials; circular or rectangular mud homes with grass-thatched roofs (known as nyakatsi) are the most common. The government has initiated a programme to replace these with more modern materials such as corrugated iron.Rwanda does not have a long history of written literature, but there is a strong oral tradition ranging from poetry to folk stories. Many of the country’s moral values and details of history have been passed down through the generations.

Clothing was traditionally made from barkcloth and animal skins. Traditional female dress, called the mushanana, consists of a floor-length skirt with a sash draped over one shoulder, worn over a tank top or bustier. A traditional hairstyle consists of a bun decorated with beads and tied in place by two ribbons that pass across the forehead and over the bun, crossing above the ear.

A comb is placed above one ear beneath the crossing point of the ribbons. This costume is often worn by female dancers in Intore dance troupes. It is no longer common daily wear but may be worn at weddings, church services and other formal events.

Demographic and Health

The Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) provides data to monitor the population and health situation in Rwanda. Specifically, the survey collects information on a broad range of demographic, health, and social issues such as household characteristics, maternal and child health, breastfeeding practices, early childhood mortality, maternal mortality, nutritional status of women and young children, fertility levels, marriage, fertility preferences, awareness and use of family planning methods, sexual activity, and awareness and behavior regarding AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

The government of Rwanda conducted the 2010 Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey (RDHS) to gather up-to-date information for monitoring progress on healthcare programs and policies in Rwanda, including the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and Vision 2020.
The 2010 RDHS is a follow-up to the 1992, 2000, 2005, and 2007-08 RDHS surveys. Each survey provides data on background characteristics of the respondents, demographic and health indicators, household health expenditures, and domestic violence. The target groups in these surveys were women age 15-49 and men age 15-59 who were randomly selected from households across the country. Information about children age 5 and under also was collected, including the weight and height of the children.

Rwanda Economy

Rwanda has achieved impressive development progress since the 1994 genocide and civil war. It is now consolidating gains in social development and accelerating growth while ensuring that they are broadly shared to mitigate risks to eroding the country’s hard-won political and social stability.

Rwanda’s long-term development goals are embedded in its Vision 2020 which seeks to transform Rwanda from a low-income agriculture-based economy to a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy by 2020. In order to achieve the long-term development goals, the government of Rwanda has formulated a medium-term strategy. The Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2)’s highest priority is growth acceleration and poverty reduction through its four thematic areas: economic transformation, rural development, productivity and youth employment, as well as accountable governance.

The EDPRS 2 aims to achieve the following goals by 2018: (i) increasing GDP per capita to $1,000, (ii) reducing the poverty rate to below 30% and (iii) the reducing extreme poverty rate to below 9%. An underlying macroeconomic assumption is to accelerate annual GDP growth to 10% over the period 2013-2018.

These goals build on remarkable development success over the last decade including high growth, rapid poverty reduction and, since 2005, reduced inequality. Between 2001 and 2012, real GDP growth averaged 8.1% per annum. The poverty rate dropped from 59% in 2001 to 45% in 2011 while inequality reduced from 0.52 in 2005 to 0.49 in 2011.

Poor infrastructure and the lack of access to electricity and limited generation capacity are some of the major constraints to private investment. Some reforms have been implemented successfully to improve the business environment and reduce the cost of doing business. As a result, the country was named top performer in the Rwanda Doing Business 2014   report, among the ten most improved economies in 2013 and Rwanda is now ranked as the second easiest place to do business in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, reducing the country dependency on foreign aid (40% of the current budget) through a mobilization of domestic resources is critical. While Rwanda has been effectively using aid for development, the country remains vulnerable to fluctuations in aid flows. Starting in mid-2012, Rwanda experienced a sudden and sharp decline in aid. Through appropriate fiscal and monetary policies, high growth and stability prevailed throughout 2012 (economic growth was 7.3 percent and inflation below 6 percent). However, starting mid-2013, Rwanda experienced lagged impact of foreign aid shortfall, causing economic growth to decelerate to 4.6 percent. The government has successfully increased the domestic revenues to GDP ratio in the past several years, but the level is still far below the regional average. 

Rwanda Health

Yellow fever vaccine is required to enter Rwanda. Remember to take your Malaria medication.

Malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness. Humans get malaria from the bite of a mosquito infected with the parasite. Prevent this serious disease by seeing your health-care provider for a prescription ant malarial drug and by protecting yourself against mosquito bites. Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a hat outdoors while in the parks and Sleep in beds covered by mosquito treated nets.

Be Careful about Food and Water, Diseases from food and water are the leading cause of illness. Do not eat food purchased from street vendors, Make sure food is fully cooked; Drink only bottled or boiled water and Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes

Rwanda Infrastructure

Rwanda understands the importance of infrastructure in the development of a competitive private sector. To this end the government continues to invest heavily in infrastructure. Almost a tenth of Rwanda’s annual budget is committed to transport and other infrastructure. To develop a vibrant private sector, Rwanda is investing in Roads, Rail and water transport infrastructure with the intent of dramatically reducing the cost of transport to businesses and individuals.
In addition the transformation of Rwanda’s economy works hand in hand with a greater urbanization of the country. The current percentage of population leaving in urban settlements is of 15% and this number shall increase to 35% by 2017. The shift has already started and more urban settlement will be developed as well as secondary cities in combination with Kigali.

Investment opportunities

Roads: The major road infrastructures open for investments are both located in the rural and urban areas.

Kibungo-Ngoma-Nyanza (130Kms): This road aims to connect the South East to South West part of Rwanda.

Nyagatare-Byumba-Base (130Kms) located in the North West and North east of the country.

Kigali Ring Road (80Kms): This project could be developed through a Public Private Partnership.

New Bugesera Airport Expressway: The road will connect the new airport to Kigali City (40Kms).

Feeder Roads are rural roads that connect farmers to local markets.

Urban roads shall be developed in Kigali and in every secondary city.

Air transport

The project is to develop a new modern international airport at Bugesera.

This airport will provide both extra capacity for passenger transport and also will develop the cargo freight.

The New Bugesera International Airport target is to become an international hub in East Africa and beyond.

This project will also increase significantly the land value in the airport area and attract more private investment and urban development.


Rwanda wants to develop two major regional lines.

The Dar-es-Salaam- Isaka Kigali railway project is estimated to 5 billion US dollars. The project is composed of the line rehabilitation in Tanzania and of the construction of the new Isaka-Kigali line of 494 kms in length (355km in Tanzania, 139km in Rwanda).

The Mombasa–Nairobi-Kampala-Kigali is the other railway route to unlock Rwanda and provide direct connection to the Indian Ocean. The project cost estimate is of 13 billion USD.

Inland Water Transport

The idea is to develop the inland water transport for the transportation of goods and passengers on the Kivu Lake.

The waterway will connect the cities of Rubavu, Karongi and Rusizi with the construction of new terminals and equipment of new ships.

Public transportation

With the economic development there is an urgent need to develop a modern Public Transportation System.

In Kigali the public transportation system shall be organized around a new Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) composed of 43Kms of dedicated bus lanes.

Also the Government of Rwanda is in the process to restructure its public transport operator ONATRACOM to make it a private company


Rwanda Mountain gorillas

Gorilla Permits are the single most demanded item in Rwanda. Purchase of Gorilla Permits needs to be arranged well in advance through your local tour operator. The Single sales agent for permits is the Rwanda Development Board/ Tourism and Conservation Department at the Gishushu headquarters or at Rwanda Development Board Sales offices located at Grand Pension Plaza in Kigali down town.


Rwanda Religion

The majority of Rwandans are Catholic, but there have been significant changes in the nation’s religious demographics since the Genocide, with many conversions to Evangelical Christian faiths and Islam. As of 2006, Catholics represented 56.5% of the population, Protestants 37.1% (of whom 11.1% were Seventh Day Adventists) and Muslims 4.6%. 1.7% claimed no religious beliefs. Traditional religion, despite officially being followed by only 0.1% of the population, retains an influence. Many Rwandans view the Christian God as synonymous with the traditional Rwandan God Imana.


Kinyarwanda (official, universal Bantu vernacular), English (official), French (official), Swahili (used in commercial centres)

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