The Republic of Rwanda is a tiny, landlocked country in the east central part of Africa, known as “the country of thousands of hills” because of its mountains. People who have visited Rwanda can attest to its remarkable natural beauty – its flora and fauna; Virunga Volcano National Park, which is home to rare mountain gorillas; Nyungwe National Park with its wide range of primate species; and Akagera National Park. Rwandans say, “God sleeps in Rwanda,” because of the country’s beauty.
Maine is 3.5 times bigger than Rwanda, which only has an area of 10,169 square miles. The population is 12,735,177, and the median age is 19.6 years, with 61% of Rwandans under the age of 24. Rwandans are divided into three ethnic groups: Abahutu comprise 85% of the population, Abatutsi 14%, and Abatwa 1%. All three groups speak Kinyarwanda and share the same culture. French and English are also official languages. Most Rwandans are Christian, with Muslims a small minority. There are two seasons, the dry season and the rainy season.
Soon after the Ice Age, the first humans to live in the area were the Abatwa, followed by the Hutu and Tutsi. Rwandan history is rich and complex, and has been transmitted orally from generation to generation. In the 16th century, the inhabitants of present-day Rwanda lived in small kingdoms. During the 19th century, King Rwabugiri consolidated everyone, by force, into what is now Rwanda. The 1885 Berlin conference gave Germany control of Rwanda and Burundi; Germany ruled her colonies indirectly through King Uwami. After Germany lost World War I, the United Nations (U.N.) assigned Rwanda to Belgian rule, and cut off any power that remained with King Uwami. Belgium orchestrated serious divisions and conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi, and the conflict led to the infamous Rwandan revolution of 1959. The revolution led to the abolition of the Kingdom of Burundi and Rwanda and the removal of King Kigeri V, who was forced into exile in Uganda. The Belgians endorsed Hutu power. Throughout this period, thousands of Tutsis were killed; others were displaced. In 1962, Rwanda became an independent country, and Gregoire Kayibanda became the first Hutu leader of Rwanda.
After independence, Rwanda went through a turbulent era during which Tutsis were systematically targeted and massacred. In 1973, President Gregoire Kayibanda was overthrown by General Juvenal Habyarimana, and Tutsis continued to be targeted and murdered. Rebel forces comprised mainly of Tutsis, called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) Inkotanyi, was a Tutsi rebel movement that had been in exile for 30 years. In 1990, RPF Inkotanyi invaded Rwanda from Uganda. The fighting led to a violent civil war that ended in the 1994 genocide. The genocide started in April 1994 and eventually killed close to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus over a period of 100 days. An average of 10,000 people were murdered every day. This was one of the fastest-moving genocides in the history of mankind.
The genocide left behind in Rwanda a failed state, a nation of mass graves and unburied dead bodies, an injured and handicapped population; a devastated infrastructure; and completely decimated reserve funds. Millions of people fled Rwanda for neighboring countries. Rwanda was left a ghost country, but foreign support and the resilience of the people allowed Rwanda to gradually recover. On July 4, 1994, the new, RPF Inkotanyi-led government put in place a long-term recovery plan. Despite incredible challenges and trials, the RPF Inkotanyi has helped Rwanda recover socially, economically, and politically, beyond what most people could have imagined.
Rwanda now boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with a 7%-8% growth rate since 2003, and a $9.14 billion (USD) gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. According to the World Bank, millions of Rwandans now live above the poverty line, 79.5% of Rwandans are farmers,11.95% of the population has access to healthcare, and primary and secondary school are free. Women hold 64% of the seats in Rwanda’s parliament. The country is considered one of the easiest places in the world to start a business. The service and technology sectors have grown a great deal since 1994, and the hospitality industry has doubled. With RwandAir operating nationally and internationally, the aviation industry has become competitive in the region.
More than 1000 Rwandans live in Maine. Those who talked to Amjambo Africa! shared that April is an emotionally hard-hitting month for all Rwandans around the world. This April marked the 25th commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. Many survivors of genocide live here in Maine, and some face ongoing serious challenges. Some suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which causes them to withhold trust from society and from other people. Despite these challenges, Rwandans work hard and, thanks to incredible resilience, they have come a long way since the genocide. Hundreds of Rwandan students have graduated from prestigious universities including Yale University, Colby College, and Bowdoin College. Recently, Mike Mwenedata started an important business here in Maine: Rwanda Bean. (Mr. Mwenedata was profiled in the July 2018 issue of Amjambo Africa! See “Profiles” at
Our Rwandan sources expressed concern over the relationship between Rwanda and its neighboring countries, particularly Uganda and Burundi. Relations with these countries have been deteriorating in recent years. Our sources said Rwanda cannot afford to engage in civil war with any countries in the region because of its economic and geopolitical dependency. The risk of plunging Rwanda into a dark period again, after 25 years of the recovery process, is too great. Everyone hopes for durable peace in the region.