Rwanda map

Rwanda flag

Flag description: three equal vertical bands of red (hoist side), yellow, and green with a large black letter R centred in the yellow band; uses the popular pan-African colours of Ethiopia; similar to the flag of Guinea, which has a plain yellow band.

Location: Central Africa, east of Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Geographic coordinates: 2 00 S, 30 00 E.

Climate: temperate; two rainy seasons (February to April, November to January); mild in mountains with frost and snow possible.

Independence: 1 July 1962 (from Belgium-administered UN trusteeship).

Nationality: Rwandan(s).

Capital City: Kigali.

Population: 7,229,129

Head of State: President Maj. Gen. Paul KAGAME.

Area: 26,338 sq km.

Type of Government: republic; presidential, multiparty system.

Currency: 1 Rwandan franc (RF) = 100 centimes.

Major peoples: Hutu 84%, Tutsi 15%, Twa (Pygmoid) 1%

Religion: Roman Catholic 65%, Protestant 9%, Muslim 1%, indigenous beliefs and other 25%.

Official Language: Kinyarwanda, universal Bantu vernacular, French, English.

Principal Languages: Kinyarwanda universal Bantu vernacular, French, English, Kiswahili (Swahili) used in commercial centres.

Major Exports: coffee, tea, hides, tin ore.

History: Rwanda's first inhabitants were the forest-dwelling Twa tribes.

The region developed into a highly centralized kingdom ruled by the pastoral Tutsi minority, which arrived in the 14th to 16th centuries.

The agricultural Hutu majority, which reached the area in the 7th to 10th centuries, served the Tutsi in exchange for protection and the use of cattle.

The first European to visit Rwanda was the British explorer John SPEKE, in 1858. The area was a German protectorate from 1899 to 1916. It subsequently was part of Belgian-administered RUANDA-URUNDI, first as a League of Nations mandate and later as a UN trust territory.

The Belgians sharpened class differences by reclassifying Tutsi with less than ten cows as Hutu and imposing forced labour, supervised by the Tutsi, on the Hutu. Until the early 1950s, educational opportunities were available only to Tutsi. In the 1940s, however, many Tutsi were driven from Rwanda by the Belgians for advocating independence.

The moderate King Kigari V, who had ruled for nearly three decades, died in 1959, and more ethno-centric Tutsi seized power. This contributed to a series of rebellions by Hutu demanding equal rights in which tens of thousands of Tutsi perished. In 1961, with the support of the Belgian colonists, the Hutu majority took control of the government, abolishing the Tutsi monarchy and declaring Rwanda a republic. Rwandan independence was not internationally recognized until July 1, 1962, when Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi formally gained independence as separate countries.

More than half of Rwanda's Tutsi fled the country between 1959 and 1964. Maj. Gen. Juvenal Habyarimana took power in a bloodless coup in 1973, during another period of ethnic conflict and remained president under a new constitution approved by voters in 1978. Under this constitution the sole legal political party was the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND). The president and members of the legislature were elected for 5-year terms. Habyarimana, who also served as head of the MRND and (until April 1992) as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, was re-elected in 1983 and 1988.

An October 1990 invasion from Uganda by Rwandan exiles demanding political reform, led to the adoption of a revised constitution in 1991. It provided for a multiparty system headed by a premier, prohibited political activity by the armed forces, and limited the president to two 5-year terms.

As efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting continued, a transitional cabinet formed in April 1992 granted a majority of cabinet posts to opposition parties, although the MRND still held the key posts. Later that year the government, which had long refused to allow Rwandan exiles to return home on the grounds that the country was already overpopulated, agreed in principle that all Rwandan refugees could be repatriated.

The rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and the government signed a cease-fire in July 1992, and multiparty elections were scheduled to be held in 1993. In February 1993, however, heavy fighting was renewed between the government and the RPF, and an estimated 1 million people fled combat areas in the north, and moved south toward the capital.