About Rwanda

History & Economy

A land of pre-colonial kingdoms and powerful, cattle-owning dynasties, this tiny Central African country escaped the ravages of the slave trade but was subsequently colonised, first by the Germans and then the Belgians. Independence arrived in 1962 but Rwanda's post-colonial history has been a chequered one. The 1994 genocide was the nadir but since then the country has gone from strength to strength and punches well above its weight in regional affairs.

Contributing 40% of GDP and occupying 90% of the workforce, agriculture dominates the economy but it's mostly subsistence farming with little surplus. Cash crops such as tea and coffee do generate foreign revenue as does mining for rare metals but tourism is the greatest foreign exchange earner.

People & Culture

A green and fertile country, Rwanda has long been settled. With over 11 million people crammed into an area smaller than Belgium, it is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Its earliest inhabitants were the pygmoid Twa, hunter-gatherers who were subsequently displaced by migrating Hutu farmers who now make up over 80% of the population. Next to arrive were the cattle-raising Tutsis who dominated traditional power structures until independence. Note that as a consequence of its history, modern Rwanda tends to ignore such ethnic labels.

A young population (over 40% is aged under 15) the majority of Rwandans are Catholics with Protestants close behind. The country's official languages are Kinyarwanda, French and English and Rwanda is generally seen as an easy, safe and friendly country to travel around. Music (particularly drumming) and dance dominate the cultural scene and there is a strong oral tradition ranging from poetry to folk stories.

Landscape & Wildlife

Known as the 'Land of a Thousand Hills', landlocked Rwanda sits literally at the heart of Africa. A country of volcanoes, thickly forested mountain ranges, lakes and rivers, its position on the Albertine Rift Valley puts it at the heart of one of the most bio-diverse environments in the world although much of Rwanda's hill country and grasslands have been turned over to terraced agriculture and the country's large animals are restricted to its three reserves.

Most famous of these reserves is the Volcanoes National Park, home to half the continent's remaining mountain gorillas and Rwanda's famous gorilla trekking industry. Nyungwe Forest is a haven for other primates including chimpanzees while the little-visited Akagera National Park in Rwanda's flatter and hotter east is the country's sole savannah reserve. Birdlife is prolific throughout the country with around 670 species recorded.

Monique Wolstenholme

Africa Safari Expert

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