Humans moved into what is now Rwanda following the last ice age, either in the Neolithic period around ten thousand years ago, or in the long humid period which followed, up to around 3000 BC. Archaeological excavations have revealed evidence of sparse settlement by hunter gatherers in the late stone age, followed by a larger population of early Iron Age settlers, who produced dimpled pottery and iron tools. These early inhabitants were the ancestors of the Twas, a group of aboriginal pygmy hunter-gatherers who remain in Rwanda today. Between 700 BC and 1500 AD, a number of Bantu groups migrated into Rwanda, and began to clear forest land for agriculture. The forest-dwelling Twas lost much of their habitat and were forced to move on to the slopes of mountains. Historians have several theories regarding the nature of the Bantu migrations; one theory is that the first settlers were Hutus, while the Tutsis migrated later and formed a distinct racial group, possibly of Cushitic origin. An alternative theory is that the migration was slow and steady, with incoming groups integrating into rather than conquering the existing society. Under this theory, the Hutu and Tutsi distinction arose later and was a class distinction rather than a racial one.
The earliest form of social organisation in the area was the clan (ubwoko). Clans existed across the Great Lakes region, with around twenty that existed in the area that is now Rwanda. The clans were not limited to genealogical lineages or geographical area, and most included Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas. From the 15th century, the clans began to coalesce into kingdoms. By 1700, around eight kingdoms existed in present-day Rwanda, the largest ones being Bugesera, Gisaka, the northern part of the Kingdom of Burundi, and the early Kingdom of Rwanda. The Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by the Tutsi Nyiginya dynasty, became increasingly dominant from the mid-eighteenth century, as the Kings centralised power and expanded the kingdom militarily, taking control of several smaller kingdoms. The kingdom reached its greatest extent during the nineteenth century under the reign of King Kigeli Rwabugiri. Rwabugiri conquered a number of smaller states and expanded the kingdom west to the shores of Lake Kivu and north into what is now Uganda. He also initiated administrative reforms; these included ubuhake, a cattle clientship which allowed a small number of Hutus privileged status, and uburetwa, a system of Hutu forced labour. Rwabugiri's changes caused a rift to grow between the Hutu and Tutsi populations. The Twas were better off than in pre-Kingdom days, with some becoming dancers in the royal court, but their numbers continued to decline.
The Berlin Conference of 1884 assigned the territory to Germany as part of Ruanda-Urundi, marking the beginning of the colonial era. It was then united with the German territory of Tanganyika to form German East Africa. Explorer Gustav Adolf von Götzen, who later became Governor of German East Africa, was the first European to significantly explore the country in 1894; he crossed from the south-east to Lake Kivu and met the King. Germany appointed a Resident for Rwanda in 1907, and German missionaries and military personnel began to arrive in the country shortly thereafter. The Germans did not significantly alter the societal structure of the country, but exerted influence by supporting the King and the existing hierarchy and placing advisers at the courts of local chiefs. They also observed and perpetuated the ethnic divisions of the country; they favoured the Tutsis as the ruling class and aided the monarchy in putting down rebellions of Hutus who did not submit to Tutsi control. In 1916, during World War I (WWI), Belgian forces defeated the Germans and took control of Ruanda-Urundi.
In 1919, following the end of WWI, the League of Nations declared Rwanda a mandate territory under the control of Belgium. Belgium's involvement was far more direct than that of Germany; they introduced large-scale projects in education, health, public works, and agricultural supervision. As the population of the country grew, Belgium introduced new crops and improved agricultural techniques to try to reduce the incidence of famine. This was unsuccessful in preventing the Ruzagayura famine of 1943–1944, which claimed the lives of up to one-third of the population. Belgium also maintained the existing class system, promoting Tutsi supremacy. The Belgian authorities considered the Hutus and Tutsis different races and, in 1935, introduced identity cards labelling each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa. While it had previously been possible for particularly wealthy Hutus to become honorary Tutsis, the identity cards prevented any further movement between the classes.
Belgium continued to rule Rwanda as a UN Trust Territory after World War II, with a mandate to oversee independence. Two rival groups emerged, the Tutsi elite who favoured early independence under the existing system, and the Hutu emancipation movement led by Grégoire Kayibanda, which sought an end to "Tutsi feudalism". The Belgians dropped their long-standing support for the existing hierarchy by favouring the Hutu party. Tension between the two groups escalated through the 1950s, culminating in the 1959 Rwandan Revolution: Hutu activists began killing Tutsis, forcing more than 100,000 to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. In 1962, the now pro-Hutu Belgians held a referendum and elections in which the country voted to abolish the monarchy. Rwanda was separated from Burundi and gained independence under Kayibanda in 1962. Cycles of violence took place during the following years. Rebel exiled Tutsis attacked from neighbouring countries and Hutus retaliated with large-scale slaughter and repression of Tutsis within Rwanda.
In 1973 Juvenal Habyarimana, who claimed that the government had become too corrupt, ineffective, and violent, staged a military coup and became President. Several top-ranking officials were killed, including Kayibanda and his wife. In the years following the coup, Rwanda enjoyed relative economic prosperity and a lessened amount of violence against Tutsis, although pro-Hutu discrimination continued. The Twas remained marginalised, and by 1990 were almost entirely forced out of the forests by the government; many became beggars. Rwanda's population had increased from 1.6 million people in 1934 to 7.1 million in 1989, leading to competition for land.
In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group composed mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda from Uganda, initiating the Rwandan Civil War. The Rwandan government, supported by troops from France, was initially successful in suppressing the rebels, but the RPF regrouped and captured territory in the north; for the next year and a half, neither side was able to gain a decisive advantage. The war weakened Habyarimana's authority and in 1992 mass demonstrations forced him to enter a coalition with domestic opposition parties and seek peace with the RPF. Despite continuing ethnic strife, including Hutu displacement from RPF-controlled areas and violence against Tutsis in the south, the two sides agreed to a cease-fire in 1993 and negotiated a peace settlement in Arusha, Tanzania.
The cease-fire ended on 6 April 1994 when Habyarimana's plane was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing the President and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the President of Burundi. It is still unknown who launched the attack; each side blamed the other. The shooting down of the plane served as the catalyst for the Rwandan Genocide, which began within a few hours. Over the course of approximately 100 days, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed in well-planned attacks on the orders of the interim government. Many Twas were also killed, despite not being directly targeted. The Tutsi RPF restarted their offensive, and took control of the country methodically by cutting off government supply routes and encircling Kigali. The international response to the Genocide was limited, with major powers reluctant to strengthen the already overstretched UN peacekeeping force. The RPF took control of Kigali on 4 July and the whole country by 18 July 1994. A coalition government was sworn in under a transitional constitution with Pasteur Bizimungu as President.
The new regime faced immediate problems, with approximately two million Hutus having fled to neighbouring countries, in particular Zaire, fearing RPF reprisals for the Genocide. Thousands died in epidemics of diseases common in refugee camps, such as cholera. The Rwandan army launched a series of attacks on the camps in 1996 in retaliation to crossborder shelling from the camps by militia. Following these attacks most refugees returned to Rwanda. A period of reconciliation and justice began in late 1994, with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the reintroduction of Gacaca, a traditional village court system. During the 2000s the government replaced the flag, anthem, and constitution, re-drew the local authority boundaries, and the country joined the East African Community and the Commonwealth of Nations. Rwanda's economy and tourist numbers grew rapidly during the decade, and the country's Human Development Index grew by 3.3%, the largest increase of any country.
Rwanda is a presidential unitary republic, based upon a multi-party system. The current constitution was adopted following a national referendum in 2003, replacing the transitional constitution which had been in place since 1994. The President of Rwanda is the head of state and has broad, unilateral powers to create policy, administer government agencies, exercise the prerogative of mercy, command the armed forces, negotiate and ratify treaties, sign presidential orders, and declare war or a state of emergency. The President is elected by popular vote every seven years, and appoints members of the Prime Minister and all other members of Cabinet. The incumbent President is Paul Kagame, who took office under the transitional government arrangements in 2000 and won elections in 2003 and 2010.
The Parliament consists of two chambers. It makes legislation and is empowered by the constitution to oversee the activities of the President and the Cabinet. The lower chamber is the Chamber of Deputies, which has 80 members serving five-year terms. Twenty-four of these seats are reserved for women, elected through a joint assembly of local government officials; another three seats are reserved for youth and disabled members; the remaining 53 are elected by universal suffrage under a proportional representation system. Following the 2008 election, there are 45 female deputies, making Rwanda the only country with a female majority in the national parliament. The upper chamber is the 26-seat Senate, whose members are selected by a variety of bodies. A mandatory minimum of 30% of the senators are women. Senators serve eight-year terms.
Rwanda's legal system is largely based on German and Belgian civil law systems and customary law. The judiciary is independent of the executive branch, although the President and the Senate are involved in the appointment of Supreme Court judges. Human Rights Watch have praised the Rwandan government for progress made in the delivery of justice including the abolition of the death penalty, but also allege interference in the judicial system by members of the government: politically motivated appointment of judges, misuse of prosecutorial power, and pressure on judges to make particular decisions. The constitution provides for two types of court—ordinary and specialised. Ordinary courts are the Supreme Court, the High Court, and regional courts, while specialised courts are military courts and the traditional Gacaca courts, which have been revived to expedite the trials of genocide suspects.
Rwanda has low corruption levels; in 2010, Transparency International ranked Rwanda as the 66th cleanest out of 178 countries in the world, and 8th out of 47 in Sub-Saharan Africa. The constitution provides for an Ombudsman, whose duties include prevention and fighting of corruption. Public officials (including the President) are required by the constitution to declare their wealth to the Ombudsman and to the public.
The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has been the dominant political party in the country since 1994. The RPF has maintained control of the presidency and the Parliament in national elections, with the party's vote share consistently exceeding 70%. The RPF is seen as a Tutsi-dominated party but receives support from across the country, and is credited with ensuring continued peace, stability, and economic growth. Human rights organisations claim that the government suppresses the freedoms of opposition groups by restricting candidacies in elections to government-friendly parties, suppressing demonstrations, and arresting opposition leaders and journalists.
Rwanda is a member of the UN, the African Union, and La Francophonie. Rwanda seeks closer ties with neighbouring countries in East Africa and with the English speaking world. To this end, Rwanda joined the East African Community in 2007, and the Commonwealth of Nations in 2009. Relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo remain tense following Rwanda's involvement in the First and Second Congo Wars. The Congolese army alleges Rwandan attacks on their troops, while Rwanda blames the Congolese government for failing to suppress Hutu rebels in North and South Kivu provinces.
Rwanda has been governed by a strict hierarchy since precolonial times. Before colonisation, the King (Mwami) exercised control through a system of provinces, districts, hills, and neighbourhoods. The current constitution divides Rwanda into provinces (intara), districts (uturere), cities, municipalities, towns, sectors (imirenge), and cells (utugari), with each subdivision and its borders established by Parliament.
The five provinces act as intermediaries between the national government and their constituent districts to ensure that national policies are implemented at the district level. The "Rwanda Decentralization Strategic Framework" developed by the Ministry of Local Government assigns to provinces the responsibility for "coordinating governance issues in the Province, as well as monitoring and evaluation." Each province is headed by a governor, appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. The districts are responsible for coordinating public service delivery and economic development. They are divided into sectors, which are responsible for the delivery of public services as mandated by the districts. Districts and sectors have directly elected councils, and are run by an executive committee selected by that council. The cells are the smallest political unit, providing a link between the people and the sectors. All adult resident citizens are members of their local cell council, from which an executive committee is elected. The city of Kigali is a provincial-level authority, which coordinates urban planning within the city.
The present borders were drawn in 2006 with the aim of decentralising power and removing associations with the old system and the genocide. The previous structure of 12 provinces centred around the largest cities was replaced with five provinces based primarily on geography. These are Northern Province, Southern Province, Eastern Province, Western Province, and Kigali Province in the centre.
At 26,338 square kilometres , Rwanda is the world's 148th-largest country. It is comparable in size to Haiti or the state of Maryland in the United States, and it is a little larger than Wales. The entire country is at high altitude: the lowest point is the Ruzizi River at 950 metres (3,117 ft) above sea level. Rwanda is located in Central/Eastern Africa, and is bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, and Burundi to the south. It lies a few degrees south of the equator and is landlocked. The capital, Kigali, is located near the centre of Rwanda.
The watershed between the major Congo and Nile drainage basins runs from north to south through Rwanda, with around 80% of the country's area draining into the Nile and 20% into the Congo via the Ruzizi River. The country's longest river is the Nyabarongo, which rises in the south-west, flows north, east, and south-east before merging with the Ruvubu to form the Kagera; the Kagera then flows due north along the eastern border with Tanzania. The Nyabarongo-Kagera eventually drains into Lake Victoria, and its source in Nyungwe Forest is a contender for the as-yet undetermined overall source of the Nile. Rwanda has many lakes, the largest being Lake Kivu. This lake occupies the floor of the Great Rift Valley along most of the length of Rwanda's western border, and with a maximum depth of 480 metres (1,575 ft), it is one of the twenty deepest lakes in the world. Other sizeable lakes include Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi, Rweru, and Ihema, the last being the largest of a string of lakes in the eastern plains of Akagera National Park.
Mountains dominate central and western Rwanda; these mountains are part of a series of mountain chains which flank the Albertine branch of the Great Rift Valley; this branch runs from north to south along Rwanda's western border. The highest peaks are found in the Virunga Mountains volcano chain in the north-west; this includes Mount Karisimbi, Rwanda's highest point, at 4,507 metres (14,787 ft). This western section of the country, which lies within the Albertine Rift montane forests ecoregion, has an elevation of 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) to 2,500 metres (8,202 ft). The centre of the country is predominantly rolling hills, while the eastern border region consists of savanna, plains and swamps.
Rwanda has a temperate tropical highland climate, with lower temperatures than is typical for equatorial countries due to the high altitude. Kigali, in the centre of the country, has a typical daily temperature range between 12 °C (54 °F) and 27 °C (81 °F), with little variation through the year. There are some temperature variations across the country; the mountainous west is generally cooler than the lower-lying east. There are two rainy seasons in the year; the first runs from February to June and the second from September to December. These are separated by two dry seasons: the major one from June to September, during which there is often no rain at all, and a shorter and less severe one from December to February. Rainfall varies geographically, with the west and northwest of the country receiving more precipitation annually than the east and southeast.
In prehistoric times montane forest occupied one third of the territory of present-day Rwanda. Naturally occurring vegetation is now mostly restricted to the three National Parks, with terraced agriculture dominating the rest of the country. Nyungwe, the largest tract of forest, contains 200 species of tree as well as orchids and begonias. Vegetation in the Volcanoes National Park is mostly bamboo and moorland, with small areas of forest. Akagera, by contrast, has a savanna ecosystem in which acacia is the dominant flora. Some plant species are endemic to Akagera.
The greatest diversity of large mammals is found in the three National Parks, which are designated conservation areas. Akagera contains typical savanna animals such as giraffes and elephants, while Volcanoes is home to an estimated one third of the worldwide mountain gorilla population. Nyungwe Forest boasts thirteen primate species including chimpanzees and Ruwenzori colobus arboreal monkeys; the Ruwenzori colobus move in groups of up to 400 individuals, the largest troop size of any primate in Africa.
There are 670 bird species in Rwanda, with variation between the east and the west. Nyungwe Forest, in the west, has 280 recorded species, of which 26 are endemic to the Albertine Rift; endemic species include the Ruwenzori Turaco and Handsome Francolin. Eastern Rwanda, by contrast, features savanna birds such as the Black-headed Gonolek and those associated with swamps and lakes, including storks and Pied Kingfishers.
Rwanda's economy suffered heavily during the 1994 Genocide, with widespread loss of life, failure to maintain the infrastructure, looting and neglect of important cash crops. This caused a large drop in GDP and destroyed the country's ability to attract private and external investment. The economy has since strengthened, with per-capita GDP (PPP) estimated at $1,284 in 2011, compared with $416 in 1994. Major export markets include China, Germany and the United States. The economy is managed by the central National Bank of Rwanda and the currency is the Rwandan franc; in June 2010, the exchange rate was 588 francs to the United States dollar. Rwanda joined the East African Community in 2007 and there are plans for a common East African shilling, which could be in place by 2012.
Rwanda is a country of few natural resources, and the economy is based mostly on subsistence agriculture by local farmers using simple tools. An estimated 90% of the working population farms, and agriculture comprised an estimated 42.1% of GDP in 2010. Since the mid 1980s, farm sizes and food production have been decreasing, due in part to the resettlement of displaced people. Despite Rwanda's fertile ecosystem, food production often does not keep pace with population growth, and food imports are required.
Crops grown in the country include coffee, tea, pyrethrum, bananas, beans, sorghum and potatoes. Coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export, with the high altitudes, steep slopes and volcanic soils providing favourable conditions. Reliance on agricultural exports makes Rwanda vulnerable to shifts in their prices. Animals raised in Rwanda include cows, goats, sheep, pigs, chicken and rabbits, with geographical variation in the numbers of each. Production systems are mostly traditional, although there are a few intensive dairy farms around Kigali. Shortage of land, water shortage, insufficient and poor quality feed and regular disease epidemics with insufficient veterinary service are major constraints that restrict output. Fishing takes place on the country's lakes, but stocks are very depleted, and live fish are being imported in an attempt to revive the industry.
The industrial sector is small, contributing 14.3% of GDP in 2010. Products manufactured include cement, agricultural products, small-scale beverages, soap, furniture, shoes, plastic goods, textiles and cigarettes. Rwanda's mining industry is an important contributor, generating US$93 million in 2008. Minerals mined include cassiterite, wolframite, gold and coltan, which is used in the manufacture of electronic and communication devices such as mobile phones.
Rwanda's service sector suffered during the late-2000s recession as banks reduced lending and foreign aid projects and investment were reduced. The sector rebounded in 2010, becoming the country's largest sector by economic output and contributing 43.6% of the country's GDP. Key tertiary contributors include banking and finance, wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants, transport, storage, communication, insurance, real estate, business services and public administration including education and health. Tourism is one of the fastest-growing economic resources and is now the country's leading foreign exchange earner, generating US$214 million in 2008, up by 54% on the previous year. Despite the Genocide, the country is increasingly perceived internationally as a safe destination; 980,577 people visited the country in 2008, up from 826,374 in 2007. The country's most popular tourist activity is the tracking of mountain gorillas, which takes place in Volcanoes National Park. Other attractions include Nyungwe Forest, home to chimpanzees, Ruwenzori colobus and other primates, the resorts of Lake Kivu, and Akagera, a small savanna reserve in the east of the country.
The largest radio and television stations are state-run. Most Rwandans have access to radio and Radio Rwanda is the main source of news throughout the country. Television access is limited mostly to urban areas. The press is tightly restricted and newspapers routinely self-censor to avoid government reprisals. Restrictions were increased in the run-up to the Rwandan presidential election of 2010, with two independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, being suspended for six months by the High Media Council.
Rwandatel is the country's oldest telecommunications group, providing landlines to 23,000 subscribers, mostly government institutions, banks, Non Government Organisations and embassies. Private landline subscription levels are low. As of 2011, mobile phone penetration in the country is 35%, up 1% on the previous year. The leading provider is MTN, with around 2.5 million subscribers, followed by Tigo with 700,000. A third mobile phone service, run by Rwandatel, had its licence revoked in April 2011 by the industry regulator, following the company's failure to meet agreed investment commitments. Internet penetration is low but rising rapidly; in 2009 there were 4.5 internet users per 100 people, up from 2.1 in 2007. In 2011, a 2,300 kilometres (1,400 mi) fibre optic telecommunications network was completed, intended to provide broadband services and facilitate electronic commerce. This network is connected to SEACOM, a submarine fibre-optic cable connecting communication carriers in southern and eastern Africa. Within Rwanda the cables run along major roads, linking towns around the country. Mobile provider MTN also runs a wireless internet service accessible in most areas of Kigali via pre-paid subscription.
The Rwandan government prioritised funding of water supply development during the 2000s, significantly increasing its share of the national budget. This funding, along with donor support, caused a rapid increase in access to safe water; in 2008, 73% of the population had access to safe water, up from about 55% in 2005. The country's water infrastructure consists urban and rural systems which deliver water to the public, mainly through standpipes in rural areas and private connections in urban areas. In areas not served by these systems, hand pumps and managed springs are used. Despite rainfall exceeding 100 centimetres (39 in) annually in many areas, little use is made of rainwater harvesting. Access to sanitation remains low; the United Nations estimates that in 2006, 34% of urban and 20% of rural dwellers had access to improved sanitation. Government policy measures to improve sanitation are limited, focusing only on urban areas. The majority of the population, both urban and rural, use public shared pit latrines for sanitation.
Rwanda's electricity supply was, until the early 2000s, generated almost entirely from hydroelectric sources; power stations on Lakes Burera and Ruhondo provided 90% of the country's electricity. A combination of below average rainfall and human activity, including the draining of the Rugezi wetlands for cultivation and grazing, caused the two lakes' water levels to fall from 1990 onwards; by 2004 levels were reduced by 50%, leading to a sharp drop in output from the power stations. This, coupled with increased demand as the economy grew, precipitated a shortfall in 2004 and widespread loadshedding. As an emergency measure, the government installed diesel generators north of Kigali; by 2006 these were providing 56% of the country's electricity, but were very costly. The government enacted a number of measures to alleviate this problem, including rehabilitating the Rugezi wetlands, which supply water to Burera and Ruhondo and investing in a scheme to extract methane gas from Lake Kivu, expected to increase the country's power generation by a factor of twenty. Only 6% of the population had access to electricity in 2009.
The government has increased investment in the transport infrastructure of Rwanda since the 1994 Genocide, with aid from the United States, European Union, Japan and others. The transport system centres primarily around the road network, with paved roads between Kigali and most other major cities and towns in the country. Rwanda is linked by road to other countries in East Africa, such as Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Kenya, as well as to the eastern Congolese cities of Goma and Bukavu; the country's most important trade route is the road to the port of Mombasa via Kampala and Nairobi. The principal form of public transport in the country is share taxi. Express routes link the major cities and local service is offered to most villages along the main roads. Coach services are available to various destinations in neighbouring countries. The country has an international airport at Kigali that serves one domestic and several international destinations. As of 2011 the country has no railways, although funding has been secured for a feasibility study into extending the Tanzanian Central Line into Rwanda. There is no public water transport between the port cities on Lake Kivu, although a limited private service exists.
2010 estimates place Rwanda's population at 11,055,976. The population is young: an estimated 42.7% are under the age of 15, and 97.5% are under 65. The annual birth rate is estimated at 40.2 births per 1,000 inhabitants, and the death rate at 14.9. The life expectancy is 56.8 years (58.1 years for females and 55.4 years for males), which is the 33rd lowest out of 224 countries and territories. The sex ratio of the country is relatively even.
At 408 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,060 /sq mi), Rwanda's population density is amongst the highest in Africa. Historians such as Gérard Prunier believe that the 1994 genocide can be partly attributed to the population density. The population is predominantly rural, with a few large towns; dwellings are evenly spread throughout the country. The only sparsely populated area of the country is the savanna land in the former province of Umutara and Akagera National Park in the east. Kigali is the largest city, with a population of around one million. Its rapidly-increasing population challenges its infrastructural development. Other notable towns are Gitarama, Butare, and Gisenyi, all with populations below 100,000. Rural to urban migration, which was very low before 1994, now stands at 4.2% per year.
Rwanda has been a unified state since pre-colonial times with only one ethnic group, the Banyarwanda; this contrasts with most modern African states, whose borders were drawn by colonial powers and did not correspond to ethnic boundaries or pre-colonial kingdoms. Within the Banyarwanda people, there are three separate groups, the Hutus (84% of the population as of 2009), Tutsis (15%) and Twas (1%). Unlike the disparate ethnic groups of neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania, these three groups share a common culture and language and are classified as social groups rather than tribes. The Tutsis were traditionally the ruling class, from whom the Kings and the majority of chiefs were derived, while the Hutus were agriculturalists. The Twas are a pygmy people thought to descend from Rwanda's earliest inhabitants. The current government discourages the Hutu/Tutsi/Twa distinction, and has removed the classification from identity cards.
The country's principal language is Kinyarwanda, which is spoken by most Rwandans. The major European language introduced during colonialism was French. The influx of former refugees from Uganda and elsewhere has created a linguistic divide between the English-speaking population and the French-speaking remainder of the country. Kinyarwanda, English and French are all official languages. Kinyarwanda is the language of government and English is the primary educational medium. Swahili, the lingua franca of East Africa, is also widely spoken, particularly in rural areas.
The people of Rwanda form one ethnic group, the Banyarwanda, who have a shared language and cultural heritage dating back to the pre-colonial Kingdom of Rwanda. Eleven regular national holidays are observed throughout the year, with others occasionally inserted by the government. The week following Genocide Memorial Day on 7 April is designated an official week of mourning. The last Saturday of each month is umuganda, a national day of community service, during which most normal services close down.
Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan ceremonies, festivals, social gatherings and storytelling. The most famous traditional dance is a highly-choreographed routine consisting of three components – the umushagiriro, or cow dance, performed by women; the Intore, or dance of heroes, performed by men; and the drumming, also traditionally performed by men, on drums known as Ingoma. The best known dance group is the National Ballet, established by President Habyarimana in 1974, which performs nationally and internationally. Traditionally, music is transmitted orally, with styles varying between the social groups. Drums are of great importance; the royal drummers enjoyed high status within the court of the King (Mwami). Drummers play together in groups of varying sizes, usually between seven and nine in number; the soprano drum leads, with others of various pitches providing back up. The country has a growing popular music industry, influenced by East African, Congolese and American music. The most popular genre is hip hop, with a blend of rap, ragga, R&B and dance-pop.
The cuisine of Rwanda is based on local staple foods produced by subsistence agriculture such as bananas, plantains (known as ibitoke), pulses, sweet potatoes, beans, and cassava (manioc). Many Rwandans do not eat meat more than a few times a month. For those who live near lakes and have access to fish, tilapia is popular. The potato, thought to have been introduced to Rwanda by German and Belgian colonialists, is very popular. Ugali (or bugali) is a paste made from cassava or maize and water to form a porridge-like consistency that is eaten throughout East Africa. Isombe is made from mashed cassava leaves and served with dried fish. Lunch is usually a buffet known as melange, consisting of the above staples and sometimes meat. Brochettes are the most popular food when eating out in the evening, usually made from goat but sometimes tripe, beef or fish. In rural areas, many bars have a brochette seller responsible for tending and slaughtering the goats, skewering and barbecuing the meat, and serving it with grilled bananas. Milk, particularly in a fermented form called ikivuguto, is a common drink throughout the country. Other drinks include a traditional beer called urwagwa, made from sorghum or bananas, which features in traditional rituals and ceremonies. Commercial beers brewed in Rwanda include Primus, Mützig and Amstel.
Traditional arts and crafts are produced throughout the country, although most originated as functional items rather than purely for decoration. Woven baskets and bowls are especially common. Imigongo, a unique cow dung art, is produced in the south east of Rwanda, with a history dating back to when the region was part of the independent Gisaka kingdom. The dung is mixed with natural soils of various colours and painted into patterned ridges to form geometric shapes. Other crafts include pottery and wood carving. Traditional housing styles make use of locally-available materials; circular or rectangular mud homes with grass-thatched roofs are the most common. The government has a programme to replace these with more modern materials such as corrugated iron.
Rwanda does not have a long history of written literature, but there is a strong oral tradition ranging from poetry to folk stories. Many of the country's moral values and details of history have been passed down through the generations. The most famous Rwandan literary figure was Alexis Kagame (1912–1981), who carried out and published research into oral traditions as well as writing his own poetry. A number of films have been produced about the Rwandan Genocide, including the Golden Globe-nominated Hotel Rwanda and Shooting Dogs, which was filmed in Rwanda, and featured survivors as cast members.
The Rwandan government provides free education in state-run schools for nine years – six years in primary and three years following a common secondary programme. President Kagame announced during his 2010 re-election campaign that he plans to extend this free education to cover the final three secondary years. Many poorer children still fail to attend school due to the necessity of purchasing uniforms and books and commitments at home. There are many private schools across the country, some church-run, which follow the same syllabus but charge fees. A very small number offer international qualifications. From 1994 until 2009, secondary education was offered in either French or English; due to the country's increasing ties with the East African Community and the Commonwealth, only the English syllabuses are now offered. The country has a number of higher establishments, with the National University of Rwanda (UNR), Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) being the most prominent. In 2009, the gross enrolment ratio for tertiary education in Rwanda was 5%. The country's literacy rate, defined as those aged 15 or over who can read and write, was 71% in 2009, up from 38% in 1978 and 58% in 1991.
The quality of healthcare is generally low, with one in five children dying before their fifth birthday, often from malaria. There is a shortage of qualified medical professionals in the country, and some medicines are in short supply or unavailable. 87% have access to healthcare but there are only two doctors and two paramedics per 100,000 people. The government is seeking to improve the situation as part of the Vision 2020 development programme. In 2008, the government spent 9.7% of national expenditure on healthcare, compared with 3.2% in 1996. It also set up training institutes including the Kigali Health Institute (KHI) and started a social service scheme. Prevalence of some diseases is declining, including the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus and a sharp reduction in malaria morbidity, mortality rate and specific lethality, but Rwanda's health profile remains dominated by communicable diseases. HIV/AIDS seroprevalence in the country is classified by the World Health Organization as a generalized epidemic; an estimated 7.3% of urban dwellers and 2.2% of rural dwellers, aged between 15 and 49, are HIV positive.