Rwanda - The Country

It was the largest genocide in the 20th century. At least 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda in just 100 days in the spring of 1994. The genocide, which was carried out before the eyes of the world, continues to impact the East African country today. Although memorials throughout the country serve as a reminder of these atrocious events, the conditions in Rwanda today remain far from democratic.  

Credit: Sarel Kromer / CC BY-SA

Land of Genocide

 Rwanda – officially the Republic of Rwanda – is a small state in the middle of Africa. More than 12 million people (as of 2018) live here on an area of 26,000 square kilometers. This makes Rwanda one of the most densely populated countries in all of Africa. More than half of the population is Roman Catholic, about a third is Protestant and at least five percent is Muslim. Throughout the world the country is remembered most for the genocide in 1994.

The conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis has deeply affected the country over the last 50 years. The majority of the population, currently about 85 percent, belongs to the Hutu ethnic group. Less than ten percent are Tutsis, who were traditionally the more prosperous group. The first massacres and expulsions of Tutsis by Hutus occurred after the death of King Mutara III in 1959. Following independence in 1962, approximately 20,000 Tutsis were murdered in the former German and later Belgian colony under Hutu president Grégoire Kayibanda; about 30,000 fled abroad. The extremist Hutus gained importance under his successor, Juvénal Habyarimana, who came to power through a coup in 1973.

Representatives of the approximately 600,000 Tutsis who lived outside of Rwanda founded the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in Uganda in 1985. In 1990 they initiated a civil war against the Hutu government. In the following years some 2,000 Tutsis and many oppositional Hutus were murdered. When the airplane of the Rwanda president was shot down on April 6,1994, it marked the beginning of the large-scale genocide. In just 100 days about 75 percent of the Tutsis living in Rwanda were killed, more than half by machetes and clubs. Both armed units as well as some 200,000 civilians participated in the genocide. Between 800,000 and a million people were murdered within 100 days. The victims also included moderate Hutus such Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana as well as ten Belgian Blue Helmet soldiers.

The genocide ended with the advance of the RPF, which is also estimated to have killed at least 25,000 civilians. Its leader, Paul Kagame, initially vice president, became president in 2000. Under his authoritarian rule, as many as 140,000 people, including 5,000 teenagers, were imprisoned for allegedly participating in the genocide. Additionally, from 1995 to 2014, an International Criminal Court in Tanzania held hearings against high-ranking organizers of the genocide. This court issued judgements in only 75 cases, but by 2004, Rwandan courts had passed some 10,000 additional sentences. In order to cope with the plethora of proceedings, some 10,000 lay courts called Gacaca also convened from 2005 to 2012, during which lay judges handed down rulings (as of April 2020).

Republic of Rwanda

Area:

26,338 km²

Inhabitants:

12.2 Mio. (2018, estimate)

Population growth:

2.5 % annually (2016, estimate)

Population density:

468 inhabitants per km²

Seat of government:

Kigali

Official languages:

Kinyarwanda, French, English, Swahili

Political system:

Presidential system

Head of state:

President Paul Kagame (since 2000)

Head of government:

Prime Minister Édouard Ngirente (since 2017)

Freedom status:

34/100

GDP per capita:

2,287 USD (adjusted for purchasing power, 2018)

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