Rwanda

Driving Directions Rwanda

RWANDA is a small, landlocked republic in the heart of central Africa. Its predominant feature is a central high plateau with an average eleva­tion of about 2,000 meters or 6,000 feet from which streams flow west to the River Congo and east to the River Nile.

High mountains rising to 4,507 meters or 14,786 feet dominate the north and west of the coun­try sloping downwards to the basin of Lake Kivu on the western border. East of the plateau, the land drops downwards to a region of marshes and lakes surrounding the River Kagera.

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Although lying in the tropical zone, temperatures in Rwanda are moderated by the high altitude of most of the country, making it warm rather than extremely hot. Temperatures can be cold in the mountains, especially at night, and rainfall comes mainly in two rainy seasons.

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The country was once thickly forested, but much of this has now been cleared and is confined to the mountain slopes. Wildlife is varied, but it has suffered from the effects of human activity and warfare.

The soils are not fertile, and subsistence agriculture dominates the economy. Staple food crops are sweet potatoes, cassava, dry beans, sorghum, and vegetables. Soil erosion, overgrazing, and drought leading to famine make the country very dependent on foreign aid. The main cash crops are Arabic coffee, tea, and pyrethrum. There are significant reserves of natural gas under Lake Kivu in the west, but these are mostly unexploited.

Rwandans comprise three ethnic tribes: the Hutu (90 percent), the Tutsi (9 percent – a ruling, élite class), and the Twa (1 percent – believed to be the original people of the country). The Hutu had settled in Rwanda by the Middle Ages, but themselves came to be dominated by the Tutsi, who conquered the region a short time later.

The Tutsi society organized around an absolute monarch, supported by several subordinate chiefs, each in charge of a kingdom. It was a feudal system in which the Hutu eventually became a subclass of serfs – a situation that also existed in Burundi. In the late 19th century, Rwanda became a German-administered territory and later passed to the Belgians after the First World War. Independence gained in 1962, but throughout much of the 20th century, there have been severe ethnic divisions between the Hutu and Tutsi and many acts of violence.

Matters came to a head once more in 1994 with the outbreak of a civil war, which caused thousands of deaths (mainly of the Hutu) in a series of massacres. Many other Rwandans fled to neighboring Zaire and Tanzania, living in refugee camps in appalling conditions that swamped the international community’s capacity to help. Although the war is now over, Rwanda faces enormous problems in restoring stability.

The UN War Crimes Tribunal is seeking to bring to trial those accused of war crimes and, in the long term, progress depends upon the Rwandan people being able to coexist peacefully together.

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