· February, 2023

A reconstruction of the traditional King's palace at Nyanza, Rwanda. Image by Amakuru from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED).

A reconstruction of the traditional King's palace at Nyanza, Rwanda. Image by Amakuru from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED).

Nestled in the heart of Africa within the Great Rift Valley, where the African Great Lakes region and southeast Africa converge is Rwanda, a beautiful Central Africa nation which was founded by King Gihanga Ngomijana in the 11th century. Popularly referred to as the “land of a thousand hills,” Rwanda's captivating geography is characterized by mountains in the west and savanna to the southeast, with numerous lakes that grace the country's landscape.

The country shares borders with four African countries, including Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. With a population of over 14 million and a land area of 26,338 square kilometres (10,169 square miles), it is the most densely populated African country in the world, and it also boasts one of the world’s youngest populations. The capital and largest city in Rwanda is Kigali.

The people of Rwanda belong to a single cultural and linguistic group known as the Banyarwanda. Within this overarching group, there are three distinct subgroups: the Hutu, who make up 85 percent of the population, the Tutsi, who comprise about 14 percent, and the Twa, who make up 1 percent. The Twa are a forest-dwelling pygmy people and are often considered descendants of Rwanda's earliest inhabitants. 

The principal and national language is Kinyarwanda, spoken by native Rwandans, with English, French and Swahili serving as additional official foreign languages. 

Presently, Christianity stands as the predominant religion in Rwanda. Nevertheless, prior to the era of colonization, as highlighted by Hyacinthe Niyitegeka, Rwandans held a belief system centred around Imana (God), distinct from the Christian concept. Imana encompassed the roles of the creator, the essence of life, and the fertility of both the land and humanity. Their spiritual convictions revolved around the survival of ancestors after death, categorized into benevolent and malevolent entities. For instance, the Indigenous religion, “Guterekera”, was based on the belief in life after death and the connection between the living and the dead. It entailed the veneration of spirits capable of exerting both positive and negative influences on the living. “Kubanda” on the other hand, was a religious practice dedicated to an ancestor named Ryangombe, renowned for performing miracles. This religious system found favour among the ruling class, serving as a tool to uphold cultural dominance.

Recent years and the promise of a better Rwanda

Although 83.1 percent of Rwandans can now read and write, over 38 percent of Rwanda's population lives in poverty, and nearly one-fifth of the population is food insecure

Nevertheless, since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda has demonstrated resilience by achieving both political and economic stability.

According to the World Bank, Rwanda has successfully implemented significant economic and structural reforms, sustaining consistent economic growth rates for over a decade. However, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent impact posed a potential threat to this positive trajectory. Rwanda's economy primarily relies on subsistence agriculture, yet tourism and construction have emerged as rapidly growing sectors in the past decade and have contributed to the country's overall economic growth. As reported by Reuters, Rwanda's economy is expected to grow 6.6 percent this year, up from last year's figure of 6.2 percent.

In August 2018, after a constitutional amendment, Paul Kagame was allowed to run for a third term and was re-elected for a seven-year term. Meanwhile, as highlighted by the World Bank, in the September 2018 parliamentary elections, women gained 61 percent of the seats, with the Rwandan Patriotic Front maintaining an absolute majority, and two opposition parties, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda and Social Party, Imberakuri, securing two seats each.

Throughout its history, Rwanda has experienced centralized authoritarian governance. While the country exhibits low levels of corruption compared to neighbouring nations, international assessments rank it among the lowest in terms of government transparency, civil liberties, and overall quality of life. 

As Rwandans prepare to head to the polls to elect a new president this year, it remains crucial to observe how these historical and contemporary factors will influence the country's political trajectory and the welfare of its citizens. The upcoming election will shape Rwanda's future and redefine its standing on the global stage, offering an opportunity for both continuity and change in its governance and socio-political landscape.

Stories about Rwanda: The land of a thousand hills from February, 2023