U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Rwanda's countryside is covered by grasslands and small farms extending over rolling hills, with areas of rugged mountains that extend southeast from a chain of volcanoes in the northwest. The divide between the Congo and Nile drainage systems extends from north to south through western Rwanda at an average elevation of almost 9,000 feet. On the western slopes of this ridgeline, the land slopes abruptly toward Lake Kivu and the Ruzizi River valley, which form the western boundary with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) and constitute part of the Great Rift valley. The eastern slopes are more moderate, with rolling hills extending across central uplands at gradually reducing altitudes, to the plains, swamps, and lakes of the eastern border region.
Although located only two degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda's high elevation makes the climate temperate. The average daily temperature near Lake Kivu, at an altitude of 4,800 feet (1,463 meters) is 73o F (23o C). During the two rainy seasons (February-May and September-December), heavy downpours occur almost daily, alternating with sunny weather. Annual rainfall averages 80 centimeters (31 in.) but is generally heavier in the western and northwestern mountains than in the eastern savannas.
Rwanda's population density, even after the 1994 genocide, is currently the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly every family in this country with few villages lives in a self-contained compound on a hillside. The urban concentrations are grouped around administrative centers. The indigenous population consists of three ethnic groups. The Hutus, who comprise the majority of the population (85%), are traditionally farmers of Bantu origin. The Tutsis (14%) are traditionally a pastoral people who arrived in the area in the 15th century. Until 1959, they formed the dominant caste under a feudal system based on cattle holding. The Twa (1%) are thought to be the remnants of the earliest settlers of the region. Over 70% of the adult population is literate, but not more than 5% have received secondary education. During 1994-95, most primary schools and more than half of prewar secondary schools reopened. The national university in Butare reopened in April 1995; enrollment is over 7,000. Rebuilding the educational system continues to be a high priority of the Rwandan Government.
According to folklore, Tutsi cattle breeders began arriving in the area from the Horn of Africa in the 15th century and gradually subjugated the Hutu inhabitants. The Tutsis established a monarchy headed by a mwami (king) and a feudal hierarchy of Tutsi nobles and gentry. Through a contract known as ubuhake, the Hutu farmers pledged their services and those of their descendants to a Tutsi lord in return for the loan of cattle and use of pastures and arable land. Thus, the Tutsi reduced the Hutu to virtual serfdom. However, boundaries of race and class became less distinct over the years as some Tutsi declined until they enjoyed few advantages over the Hutu. The first European known to have visited Rwanda was German Count Von Goetzen in 1894. He was followed by missionaries, notably the "White Fathers." In 1899, the mwami submitted to a German protectorate without resistance. Belgian troops from Zaire chased the small number of Germans out of Rwanda in 1915 and took control of the country.
After World War I, the League of Nations mandated Rwanda and its southern neighbor, Burundi, to Belgium as the territory of Ruanda-Urundi. Following World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a UN Trust Territory with Belgium as the administrative authority. Reforms instituted by the Belgians in the 1950s encouraged the growth of democratic political institutions but were resisted by the Tutsi traditionalists who saw in them a threat to Tutsi rule. An increasingly restive Hutu population, encouraged by the Belgian military, sparked a revolt in November 1959, resulting in the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy. Two years later, the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) won an overwhelming victory in a UN-supervised referendum.
During the 1959 revolt and its aftermath, more than 160,000 Tutsis fled to neighboring countries. The PARMEHUTU government, formed as a result of the September 1961 election, was granted internal autonomy by Belgium on January 1, 1962. A June 1962 UN General Assembly resolution terminated the Belgian trusteeship and granted full independence to Rwanda (and Burundi) effective July 1, 1962.
Gregoire Kayibanda, leader of the PARMEHUTU Party, became Rwanda's first elected president, leading a government chosen from the membership of the directly elected unicameral National Assembly. Peaceful negotiation of international problems, social and economic elevation of the masses, and integrated development of Rwanda were the ideals of the Kayibanda regime.
Relations with 43 countries, including the United States, were established in the first 10 years. Despite the progress made, inefficiency and corruption began festering in government ministries in the mid-1960s. On July 5, 1973, the military took power under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Juvenal Habyarimana, who dissolved the National Assembly and the PARMEHUTU Party and abolished all political activity.
In 1975, President Habyarimana formed the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) whose goals were to promote peace, unity, and national development. The movement was organized from the "hillside" to the national level and included elected and appointed officials.
Under MRND aegis, Rwandans went to the polls in December 1978, overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution, and confirmed President Habyarimana as president. President Habyarimana was re-elected in 1983 and again in 1988, when he was the sole candidate. Responding to public pressure for political reform, President Habyarimana announced in July 1990 his intention to transform Rwanda's one-party state into a multi-party democracy.
On October 1, 1990, Rwandan exiles banded together as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and invaded Rwanda from their base in Uganda. The rebel force, composed primarily of ethnic Tutsis, blamed the government for failing to democratize and resolve the problems of some 500,000 Tutsi refugees living in the diaspora around the world. The war dragged on for almost 2 years until a cease-fire accord was signed July 12, 1992, in Arusha, Tanzania, fixing a timetable for an end to the fighting and political talks, leading to a peace accord and power sharing, and authorizing a neutral military observer group under the auspices of the Organization for African Unity. A cease-fire took effect July 31, 1992, and political talks began August 10, 1992.
On April 6, 1994, the airplane carrying President Habyarimana and the President of Burundi was shot down as it prepared to land at Kigali. Both presidents were killed. As though the shooting down was a signal, military and militia groups began rounding up and killing all Tutsis and political moderates, regardless of their ethnic background.
The prime minister and her 10 Belgian bodyguards were among the first victims. The killing swiftly spread from Kigali to all corners of the country; between April 6 and the beginning of July, a genocide of unprecedented swiftness left up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands of organized bands of militia--Interahamwe. Even ordinary citizens were called on to kill their neighbors by local officials and government-sponsored radio. The president's MRND Party was implicated in organizing many aspects of the genocide.
The RPF battalion stationed in Kigali under the Arusha accords came under attack immediately after the shooting down of the president's plane. The battalion fought its way out of Kigali and joined up with RPF units in the north. The RPF then resumed its invasion, and civil war raged concurrently with the genocide for 2 months. French forces landed in Goma, Zaire, in June 1994 on a humanitarian mission. They deployed throughout southwest Rwanda in an area they called "Zone Turquoise," quelling the genocide and stopping the fighting there. The Rwandan Army was quickly defeated by the RPF and fled across the border to Zaire followed by some 2 million refugees who fled to Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi. The RPF took Kigali on July 4, 1994, and the war ended on July 16, 1994. The RPF took control of a country ravaged by war and genocide. Up to 800,000 had been murdered, another 2 million or so had fled, and another million or so were displaced internally.
The international community responded with one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever mounted. The United States was one of the largest contributors. The UN peacekeeping operation, UNAMIR, was drawn down during the fighting but brought back up to strength after the RPF victory. UNAMIR remained in Rwanda until March 8, 1996.
Following an uprising by the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge people in eastern Zaire in October 1996, a huge movement of refugees began which brought more than 600,000 back to Rwanda in the last 2 weeks of November. This massive repatriation was followed at the end of December 1996 by the return of another 500,000 from Tanzania, again in a huge, spontaneous wave. Less than 100,000 Rwandans are estimated to remain outside of Rwanda, and they are thought to be the remnants of the defeated army of the former genocidal government, its allies in the civilian militias known as Interahamwe, and soldiers recruited in the refugee camps before 1996.
In 2001, the government began implementation of a grassroots village-level justice system, known as gacaca, in order to address the enormous backlog of cases. Despite periodic prison releases, including the most recent January 2006 release of approximately 7,000 prisoners, tens of thousands of individuals remain in the prison system, some scheduled to face the traditional court system, some awaiting trial by gacaca courts, some convicted by gacaca courts and returned to serve their sentences. By the end of 2006, 818,000 genocide suspects had been identified by the gacaca courts. These courts hope to complete their caseload by the end of 2008.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
After its military victory in July 1994, the RPF organized a coalition government similar to that established by President Habyarimana in 1992. Called "The Broad Based Government of National Unity," its fundamental law is based on a combination of the June 1991 constitution, the Arusha accords, and political declarations by the parties. The MRND Party was outlawed. In April 2003, the transitional National Assembly recommended the dissolution of the Democratic Republican Party (MDR), one of eight political parties participating in the Government of National Unity since 1994. Human rights groups noted the subsequent disappearances of political figures associated with the MDR, including at least one parliamentarian serving in the National Assembly. On May 26, 2003, Rwanda adopted a new constitution that eliminated reference to ethnicity and set the stage for presidential and legislative elections in August and September 2003. The seven remaining political parties endorsed incumbent Paul Kagame for president, who was elected to a 7-year term on August 25, 2003. Rwanda held its first-ever legislative elections September 29 to October 2, 2003. A ninth political party formed after these 2003 elections. In the spring of 2006, the government conducted local non-partisan elections for district mayors and for sector and cell executive committees.
Challenges facing the government include promoting further democratization and judicial reform; prosecuting hundreds of thousands of individuals for crimes relating to the 1994 genocide, either by the regular court system or the gacaca system; preventing the recurrence of any insurgency among ex-military and Interahamwe militia who remain in eastern Congo; and the continuing work on medium- and long-term development planning.
Principal Government Officials
Rwanda maintains an embassy in the United States at 1714 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-232-2882).
The Rwandan economy is based on the largely rain-fed agricultural production of small, semi-subsistence, and increasingly fragmented farms. It has few natural resources to exploit and a small, uncompetitive industrial sector. While the production of coffee and tea is well suited to the small farms, steep slopes, and cool climates of Rwanda, farm size continues to decrease, especially in view of government ownership of all land and the resettlement of displaced persons. Agribusiness accounts for 37.6% (2005 est.) of Rwanda’s GDP and 70% of exports. Tea accounts for 60% of export earnings, followed by coffee and pyrethrum (whose extract is used in insect repellant). Mountain gorillas serve as a potentially important source of tourism revenue, but Rwanda’s tourism and hospitality sector requires further development. Rwanda is a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Some 34% of Rwanda’s imports originate in Africa, 90% from COMESA countries. The genocide continues to impact Rwanda’s economy; as of 2003, 30% of the Rwanda Development Bank’s outstanding non-performing loans originated from the period of 1994 genocide. The Government of Rwanda has sought to privatize several key firms. Rwandatel, the government fixed-line provider and the country’s second-largest mobile phone provider, was sold to American-led Terracom in 2006. The government in the last several years also sold off several government-owned tea estates, and made great strides in completing privatization of the banking sector. Electrogaz, the utility monopoly, remains to be privatized, as do several other parastatals.
During the 5 years of civil war that culminated in the 1994 genocide, GDP declined in 3 out of 5 years, posting a dramatic decline at more than 40% in 1994, the year of the genocide. The 9% increase in real GDP for 1995, the first postwar year, signaled the resurgence of economic activity, due primarily to massive foreign aid.
In the immediate postwar period--mid-1994 through 1995--emergency humanitarian assistance of more than $307.4 million was largely directed to relief efforts in Rwanda and in the refugee camps in neighboring countries where Rwandans fled during the war. In 1996, humanitarian relief aid began to shift to reconstruction and development assistance.
Since 1996, Rwanda has experienced steady economic recovery, thanks to foreign aid (averaging $200 million to over $400 million per year) and governmental reforms. Since 2002, the GDP growth rate has ranged from 3%-9% per annum, and inflation had ranged between 2%-8%. Rwanda depends on significant foreign imports ($243-$300 million per year). Export rates remain weak at $135.4 million per year. Private investment remains below expectations despite an open trade policy, a favorable investment climate, cheap and abundant labor, tax incentives to businesses, stable internal security, and crime rates that are comparatively low. Investment insurance also is available through the Africa Trade Insurance Agency or the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. The weakness of exports as well as low domestic savings rates have had a negative impact on the current account for Rwanda, thus requiring a recent currency devaluation and debt restructuring measures.
The Government of Rwanda remains committed to a strong and enduring economic climate for the country. To this end the government focuses on poverty reduction, infrastructure development, privatization of government-owned assets, expansion of the export base, and liberalization of trade. The implementation of a value added tax of 18% and improved tax collections are having a positive impact on government revenues and thereby services rendered. Banking reform and low corruption also are favorable current trends. Agricultural reforms, improved farming methods, and increased use of fertilizers are improving crop yields and national food supply. Moreover, the government is pursing educational and healthcare programs that bode well for the long-term quality of Rwanda’s human resource skills base.
Many challenges remain for Rwanda. Rwanda is dependent on significant foreign aid. Exports continue to lag far behind imports and will continue to affect the current account. Inflation may become a problem should the government resort to over-printing currency for short-term gains. The persistent lack of economic diversification beyond the production of tea, coffee, and coltan keeps the country vulnerable to market fluctuations. Rwanda’s landlocked situation necessitates strong highway infrastructure maintenance, and good transport linkages to neighboring countries, especially Uganda and Tanzania, are critical. Transportation costs remain high and, therefore, burden import and export costs. Rwanda has no railway system for port access in Tanzania, although the nearest railhead from Kigali is 380 kilometers away at Isaka, Tanzania. The development of small manufacturing and service industries is needed, and the tourism industry has far greater potential given the current stability, travel infrastructure, and available animal parks as well as other potential tourist sites. In 2006, Rwanda completed the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative and the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) debt initiative, significantly lowering its foreign debt load.
American business interest in Rwanda, other than in tea and telecommunications, is weak, and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has yet to make a significant impact in Rwanda. Energy needs will stress natural resources in wood and gas, but hydroelectric power development is underway, albeit primarily in the planning stages. Rwanda does not have nuclear power or coal resources. Finally, Rwanda’s fertility rate--averaging 5.43 births (2006 est.) per woman--will continue to stress services, and diseases such as AIDS/HIV transmission, malaria, and tuberculosis will have a major impact on human resources.
Rwanda's government-run radio broadcasts 15 hours a day in English, French, and Kinyarwanda, the national languages. News programs include regular re-broadcasts from international radio such as Voice of America, BBC and Deutsche Welle. There is one government-operated television station. In addition to government-operated Radio Rwanda, there are nine independent FM radio stations. There are few independent newspapers; most newspapers publish in Kinyarwanda on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. Several Western nations, including the United States, are working to encourage freedom of the press, the free exchange of ideas, and responsible journalism.
The military establishment is comprised of a well-trained army and a small, rotary-wing air force. Defense spending continues to represent a disproportionate share of the national budget, largely due to continuing security problems along the frontiers with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi in the aftermath of the war. Following withdrawal of Rwandan Armed Forces from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in October 2002, the government completely restructured the military and launched an ambitious plan to demobilize thousands of soldiers. At end state, Rwanda will have a small, well-equipped army of 25,000 soldiers.
Rwanda is an active member of the international community and has remained in the international spotlight since the genocide. Rwanda is an active member of the UN, having presided over the Security Council during part of 1995. The UN assistance mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), a UN Chapter Six peacekeeping operation, involved personnel from more than a dozen countries. Most of the UN development and humanitarian agencies have had a large presence in Rwanda. At the height of the humanitarian emergency, more than 200 nongovernmental organizations were carrying out humanitarian operations. In addition to receiving assistance from the international community, Rwanda has also contributed to international peacekeeping missions. They have sent peacekeeping forces to many hotspots on the African continent. In 2004, Rwanda deployed 392 peacekeepers in support of the UN Mission to the Sudan. In 2005, Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) deployed 1,898 soldiers in support of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS).
Several west European and African nations, including Canada, China, Egypt, Libya, Russia, the Vatican, and the European Union maintain diplomatic missions in Kigali.
In 1998, Rwanda, along with Uganda, invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) to back Congolese rebels trying to overthrow then-President Laurent Kabila. Rwandan troops pulled out of the D.R.C. in October 2002, in accordance with the Lusaka cease-fire agreement.
In the fall of 2006, Rwanda broke diplomatic relations with France, following a French judge’s indictment of senior Rwandan officials on charges of having participated in the shooting down of the presidential jet in 1994. Rwanda rejects these charges. Rwanda, along with Burundi, will join the East African Community in 2007.
In the post-crisis period, U.S. Government interests have shifted from strictly humanitarian to include the prevention of renewed regional conflict, the promotion of internal stability, and renewed economic development.
The United States was the principal donor for Rwanda’s humanitarian demining program, providing over $11 million to help remove the scourge of landmines. As of October 2003, one million square meters of landmines were estimated to remain in Rwanda, 80% of which lay in two identified minefields.
A major focus of bilateral relations is the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) "transition" program, which aims to promote internal stability and to increase confidence in the society. To achieve this, USAID is trying to achieve three strategic objectives under an integrated strategic plan:
The mission currently is implementing activities in humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation--women's income-generating initiatives, shelter, family relocation for children, administration of justice, increased local government capacity, improved health service delivery, AIDS and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention, and enhanced food security.
The State Department’s Public Affairs section maintains a cultural center in Kigali, which offers public access to English-language publications and information on the United States. American business interests have been small; currently, private U.S. investment is limited to the tea industry. Annual U.S. exports to Rwanda, under $10 million annually from 1990-93, exceeded $40 million in 1994 and 1995, but decreased to only $10.2 million in 2005.
Principal U.S. Officials
The U.S. Embassy is located on Boulevard de la Revolution, P.O. Box 28, Kigali (tel. 250-505-601/2/3; fax 250-572-128).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jun. 2007