Country Profile

Country profile: Rwanda.

Where is Rwanda? Scattered across Emelienne’s garden lie her husband’s law books, neatly annotated in the margins. On the floor of an empty room is a child’s shoe. The roof is smashed in, doors and windows are ripped out – hallmarks of the Interahamwe militia who in April 1994 launched the genocide of Rwanda’s Tutsis.

Three of Emelienne’s children and her husband were macheted to death by assailants who included neighbours and family friends. An estimated million people, including many Hutus opposed to the genocide, met similar deaths.

Rwanda has a history of bloodletting, rooted in the colonial promotion of the Tutsi minority as a ruling élite. In 1959, out of political expediency, the Belgians denounced their protégés as feudal overlords. Hutus seized power, massacring some 20,000 people. The Belgians abandoned the chaos and independence came in 1962.

Incursions by Tutsis who had fled to Uganda provoked further massacres and outflows of Tutsis. It was they, who with some moderate Hutus, finally returned in 1994 as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to depose the genocidal regime, driving the national army along with two million Hutu refugees into Zaire and Tanzania.

Life is returning to the capital, Kigali. Amid the grief of survivors, long-term refugees are coming home as victorious celebrants, moving into the jobs and homes left empty by the dead and the fled. But can Rwanda escape its curse of violence?

‘Our political training,’ said a former RPF soldier, now a gendarme, ‘was that our target was national unity, not revenge. I cannot kill my parents’ murderers. I arrest people who do just that.’

The Army is reputedly well disciplined. Some 700 soldiers have been jailed for taking the law into their own hands. But Hutus will take much convincing that the Government wants reconciliation or that hardliners may not grab the steering wheel of power.

The Kibeho Massacre, when 2,000 Hutus were killed as the Army cleared a refugee camp, will not have eased their fears. Yet what is surprising is not that there have been serious human-rights violations since the genocide but that there have been relatively few – though human-rights monitoring is not yet fully restored.

Fundamental to reconciliation are the acknowledgement of guilt, the establishment of justice and public re-education. All are formidable tasks. In Kigali Court – refurbished not by governments but by the British aid agency, Christian Aid – 5 judges (of an original 24) try 100 cases a month. Some 11,000 genocide suspects await trial in Kigali Jail alone, and this before any mass return of refugees. ‘If we charge everyone forced to staff a road block,’ said a rights activist, ‘we will have to try a million people.’

What is impressive, when there is everything to do, is that much is being done. Schools, businesses and agricultural production are being restored. Magistrates are being trained, laws changed and plans are afoot to release prisoners who could not be successfully prosecuted.

Is there optimism? ‘That is no question to ask here yet,’ I was told. All hangs on how many Rwandans of good will remain.

Anthony Swift


LEADER: President Pasteur Bizimungu (a Hutu heading a Tutsi-dominated regime)

ECONOMY: GNP per capita US$210, prior to the war and genocide (South Africa $2,980)
Monetary unit: Rwandese Franc
Main exports: Coffee (82% of export revenue), tea (12%), tungsten and tin ore (5%)
Main imports: food (15%), machinery and tools (14%), transport equipment (12%)
External debt: $992m (1992)
The main food crops are plantain, sweet potatoes, beans, cassava, maize and sorghum. The 1994 fighting caused the loss of 60% of the cereal and pulse crop.

PEOPLE: 7.8 million prior to the genocide. More than a million people are thought to have died in the genocide and the war. There are about two million Rwandan refugees outside the country.

HEALTH: Infant mortality in 1994 was 80 per 1,000 live births (UK 6 per 1,000), but the health service is having to be rebuilt from scratch.

CULTURE: Hutus (90% of the population), Tutsis and Twa pygmies (less than 1%). Cultural differences between the two main groups are said to be greatly exaggerated and the Government discourages any reference to ethnic identity.
Religion: Catholic, Anglican and others
Languages: Kinyarwanda, French, English

Sources: New Africa Year Book 1995-6; State of the World’s Children 1996, UNICEF; The World of Information Africa Review 1996; Rwanda and Genocide in the 20th Century, Alain Destexhe, Pluto Press; Amnesty International; Christian Aid.

Previously profiled May 1985


[image, unknown] INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
90 per cent of the population live on small family farms, under subsistence crops. Members of the élite were targeted in the genocide.
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[image, unknown] LITERACY [image, unknown]
Adult literacy prior to 1994 was 54% but the educated classes were prime targets. Primary-school enrolment was 77%.
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[image, unknown] SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown]
A major aid recipient before the war, Rwanda will need billions of dollars in aid if it is to recover.
1985 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] FREEDOM [image, unknown]
The media are state controlled. From colonial times Rwandans have had to survive in a climate of impunity. Multi-party elections are due in June 1999.
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[image, unknown] POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
The role of women is changing as a result of the massacres – they are no longer so confined to the domestic duties.
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[image, unknown] LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown]
47 years (Canada 77 years). Survivors of the genocide speak of having been condemned to life.
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[image, unknown] NI ASSESSMENT [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
The Government is making all the right noises in support of national unity and reconciliation, but how it will achieve them is not yet clear. There is a profound divide of mistrust and misconception between the two major groups to be overcome. The danger is that hardliners on either side will win the day.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996