Rwanda positioned in the East – Central Africa is neighbored by Uganda in the north, Democratic Republic of Congo in the west, Tanzania in the west and Burundi in the east. Rwanda is relatively smaller in size than Maryland and it a hilly country with steep hills and deep valleys. Rwanda has the highest lake in Africa – Lake Kivu at an altitude of 4,829ft (1,472m). The nation of Rwanda also shares the Virunga Mountains in the north with Mount Karisimbi (4,324m) being the highest point in Rwanda.
Politically, Rwanda is a Republican government with a functioning parliament and a constitution and is headed by an elected President.
Traditionally, the indigenous people of Rwanda were the Pygmy (Twa) who apparently forms only 1% of the population. Though the Hutu and Tutsi are usually considered to have separate ethnic origins, various scholars have asserted that they speak the similar language, possess intermarriage history, and share a range of cultural characteristics.
Traditionally, occupation made the differences between these two tribes rather than ethnic backgrounds. This is because the agriculturalists were regarded as Hutu and Pastoralists were considered as Tutsis. Physically, the Tutsis are tall and thin while the Hutu are short and square though it was a bit challenging for the colonialists to distinguish the two. Thus in 1933, the Belgian colonialists required all the people to carry their identity cards showing their tribal identity which in turn enhanced their differences.
Rwanda was part of the German East Africa in 1890 and it received the first European explorers on 1854. It was later occupied by the Belgian troops during World War I in 1916 and after the war it became a Belgian League of Nations mandate together with Burundi under the umbrella of Ruanda-Urundi. It later became a UN trust territory in 1946 and till the independence of Belgian Congo; Ruanda–Urundi was rules as part of the colony.
The Belgians initially promoted Tutsi dominancy though they later resorted to power sharing between the Hutu and the Tutsi. The differences in ethnicity and disunity resulted in 1959 Rwandan revolution which left many Tutsis in exile and at the time of independence in July 1, 1962, Rwanda was under Hutu leadership.
The Rwanda Patriotic Front formed by the Tutsi rebels who were in exile in Uganda invaded Rwanda in Oct, 1990 on a move to overthrow the Hutu government. This led to the Peace accords that were signed in Aug.1993 to allow the coalition government between the Tutsi and the Hutu. However, this did not last when the Presidential plane FALCON 50 was brought down in April 1994 leading to the death of the two Presidents including; Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his colleague the Burundian President. Though the cause of this plane clash is unclear, it is alleged that the Hutu extremists who were annoyed with the initiative of power sharing plotted the move. Whatever the cause, it can be noted to any Rwanda safari undertaker, that the tragedy led to the eruption of overwhelming ethnic violence with the presidential guard starting off the killing of the Tutsi opposition leaders while the army and the police hatched the plan to exterminate the Tutsi ethnic from the Land of a thousand hills – Rwanda.
It is extremely sad to note that in a period of 100 days, about 800,000 Tutsis and Moderate Hutus were massacred cold blood. A force of 30,000 Hutu militia named Interahamwe spearheaded the massacre and with the influence of Radio Propaganda, the ordinary Hutus also joined the move to exterminate their fellow citizens. A number of genocide memorial sites are scattered all over Rwanda and can be encountered while undertaking safaris in Rwanda to testify this horror.
As a result of this, the Rwanda Patriotic Front fought hurriedly and in 14 week civil war the Hutu government was ousted and quite alarming is that despite of this horrific genocide, no country came in to save the Tutsis and further to note is that the United Nations force withdrew from Rwanda in the early stages of genocide when 10 of its soldiers were killed.
After the genocide, about 1.7 million Hutus fled into exile to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and interestingly to note is that the Tutsis allowed the Pasteur Bizimungu – a Hutu to become the president in a bid to foster national unity. The rebel leader Paul Kagame became the Vice President though he later rose to the Presidential position.
Though Rwanda continued to receive attacks from the Hutu rebels from Congo, it has relatively stabilized politically and the efforts to bring the genocide ring leaders to justice were put in place with Jean Kambanda – the former Rwandan Prime Minister being the first person in history to be convicted of genocide charges as per the 1948 Genocide Convention. The economy is quick progress and is considered one of the fastest growing economies in East Africa while the social cohesion is alive. All this combine to make safaris to Rwanda memorable.