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This small landlocked and mountainous country sits south of the equator in central Africa, bordering Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Ethnic identity has played a persistent role in national politics since independence in 1962, with substantial violence between the minority Tutsis and the majority Hutus culminating in the 1994 genocide which left 800,000 dead in just 100 days. The present government, led by a former Tutsi rebel army leader, has seen economic growth but continues to suppress freedom of the press and political opponents and has invaded the neighbouring DRC.
Rwanda is a small land-locked and mountainous country just south of the equator in central Africa. It shares borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. The capital city is Kigali.
Population and language
Rwanda has a population of 11 million people. This figure has risen rapidly and has doubled over the past 30 years, despite the 1994 genocide during which an estimated 800,000 citizens died and around 2 million people fled the country.
The national language is Kinyarwanda, but French and English are both widely spoken and recognised as official languages by the Constitution.
History and politics
Rwanda gained its independence in 1962 following uprisings and violence between the two main ethnic groups in the country: the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. Ethnic identity has played a persistent role in national politics since Independence, with substantial violence between Tutsi rebels and the Hutu government in Rwanda.
The violence culminated in 1994 following the deaths of the Rwandan and Burundian Presidents when their plane was shot down over Kigali. The ensuing genocide led to the deaths of an estimated 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans, over a period of 100 days. Following the genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) became dominant in the Transitional Government and has remained so since. Paul Kagame of the RPF became President in 2003 with 95 per cent of the vote and was re-elected for a second term in 2010. In Parliamentary elections, the RPF have maintained a significant majority since 1994, gaining more than 70 per cent of the vote.
Internationally, post-1994 relations have been dominated by conflict in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to which many of the leaders of the genocide fled. Rwanda invaded the country in 1996 removing the dictator Mobutu Seko from power and replacing him with Laurent Kabila. Hostilities continued, however, when Kabilia refused to expel the Hutu militias from his country and it was not until 2009, when the DRC launched joint military operations with Rwanda, that relations between the two countries began to thaw.
The economy of Rwanda has shown substantial growth in recent years, indeed the World Bank rated the country as the top-performer in its Doing Business 2010 and 2011 reports. The services industry became the largest contributor to GDP in 2006, overtaking agriculture, and industrial services are making an increasing contribution to the economy. Aid, however, accounts for 40 per cent of government spending and 10 per cent of GDP. The state is committed to privatisation schemes that encompass the telecommunications, water, electricity and gas companies as well as mining para-statals.
Poverty remains a significant problem in the country: national figures indicated that as much as 56.8 per cent of the population lived under the poverty line in 2006. Taking account of Rwanda's annual population growth rate of 2.7 per cent, the World Bank has estimated that the country would need to achieve GDP growth of 8 per cent per annum to make a significant dent in poverty, an ambitious target. Other challenges facing the country include the large proportion of the workforce that is unskilled, and the 90 per cent of the population who lack education beyond the primary level.
Media and civil society
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) rated Rwanda 169 out of 178 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, identifying the country as among the most hostile to press freedom. Amnesty has reported on the chilling effect that laws on “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” have had on the Rwandan press, while RWB has highlighted a range of restrictions on press freedom and state actions hostile towards the press. RWB has particularly criticised the press restrictions during the 2010 presidential elections, throughout which the regime-controlled Media High Council shut down Umuseso and Umuvugizi, the country's two leading newspapers. RWB has also been highly critical of the State's imprisonment of journalists and highlighted allegations that the government was involved in the death of Jean-Léonard Rugambage, the deputy editor of a leading national newspaper.
Human rights and children's rights
The violence of 1994 represents a high water mark in human rights violations in the country, and the situation has undeniably dramatically improved since. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up by the UN Security Council in 1994 to try the leaders and planners of the genocide, but has only rendered 69 judgements to date. In 2002, Gacaca, or community courts, were set up to hear cases in response to the scale of the workload facing the ordinary courts, and have so far heard more than 1 million cases. The abolition of the death penalty and the high number of women involved in the political system, Rwanda has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians in the world, are among the other more notable post-1994 human rights achievements.
Among the criticisms of the State's approach to children's rights, however, include the “appalling prison conditions”, the poor standard of education, and reported deaths of women and children in the post-1994 operations of the Rwandan Patriotic Army.
- The Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, Article 5
- BBC, "Rwanda President Kagame wins election with 93 per cent of the vote" 11 August 2010
- African Elections Database, "Elections in Rwanda"
- World Bank, "Doing Business 2010"
- World Bank, "Doing Business 2011"
- Republic of Rwanda Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, "Rwanda Vision 2020"
- Amnesty International, "Rwanda: Safer to stay silent: The chilling effect of Rwanda's laws on 'genocide ideology' and 'sectarianism'" 2010
- Reporters Without Borders, "Rugambage murder trial- one defendant gets 10 years, other acquitted" 21 September 2011
- International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: Status of Cases
- Amnesty International, "Rwanda abolishes death penalty" 8 October 2007
- BBC, "Women to rule Rwanda Parliament" 17 September 2008
- See CRIN, "RWANDA: Children's Rights in UN Treaty Body Reports"
- OHCHR, Rwanda Homepage
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Country Profiles: Rwanda
- World Bank, Country Brief: Rwanda
- UNICEF, Statistics: Rwanda
- Reporters Without Borders, World Report: Rwanda
- BBC, Country Profile: Rwanda