Rwanda, landlocked republic lying south of the Equator in east-central Africa. Known for its breathtaking scenery, Rwanda is often referred to as le pays des mille collines (French: “land of a thousand hills”). The capital is Kigali, located in the centre of the country on the Ruganwa River.
Like Burundi, its neighbour to the south, Rwanda is a geographically small country with one of the highest population densities in sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda also shares with Burundi a long history of monarchical rule. Unlike what happened in Burundi, however, the demise of the Rwandan kingship came about through a grassroots Hutu-led upheaval that occurred before the country became independent in 1962. Ethnic strife between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi factions peaked in 1994. Civil war and genocide at that time left Rwanda’s economy and social fabric in shambles. (SeeRwanda genocide of 1994.) The years that followed have been characterized by reconstruction and ethnic reconciliation
Rwanda is bounded to the north by Uganda, to the east by Tanzania, to the south by Burundi, and to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa) and Lake Kivu.
The landscape is reminiscent of a tropical Switzerland. Its dominant feature is a chain of mountains of rugged beauty that runs on a north-south axis and forms part of the Congo-Nile divide. From the volcanoes of the Virunga (Birunga) Mountains in the northwest—where the Karisimbi reaches 14,787 feet (4,507 metres)—the elevation drops to 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) in the swampy Kagera(Akagera) River valley in the east. The interior highlands consist of rolling hills and valleys, yielding to a low-lying depression west of the Congo-Nile divide along the shores of Lake Kivu.
Except for the Ruzizi, through which the waters of Lake Kivu empty into Lake Tanganyika, most of the country’s rivers are found on the eastern side of the Congo-Nile divide, with the Kagera, the major eastern river, forming much of the boundary between Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.
Lake Kivu is one of the great lakes of East Africa. It lies between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.Kay Honkanen/Ostman Agency
Ruvubu RiverThe Ruvubu River at its confluence with the Akagera (Kagera) River, Rwanda.SteveRwanda
The best soils, formed from volcanic lavas and alluvium, are found, respectively, in the northwest and along the lower portions of the larger river valleys. Elsewhere the largely metamorphic bedrock has produced soils of generally poor quality. The combination of steep slopes, abundant rainfall, deforestation, and intensive farming has set in motion a process of extreme soil erosion that requires a burdensome investment of time and energy to curtail.
Elevation accounts for Rwanda’s generally mild temperatures, which average 70 °F (21 °C) year-round at Kigali, for example, in the interior highlands. There are significant variations, however, between the region of the volcanoes in the northwest, where heavy rainfalls are accompanied by lower average temperatures, and the warmer and drier interior highlands. The average annual rainfall in the latter is about 45 inches (1,140 millimetres), which is concentrated in two rainy seasons (roughly February to May and October to December).
Plant and animal life
Only a small percentage of the country is covered in natural forest vegetation. Reforestation programs have added eucalyptus trees to previously denuded hillsides and roadsides, though not on a scale sufficient to effectively counteract erosion. A lush Mediterranean-type vegetation covers the shores of Lake Kivu, which stands in stark contrast to the papyrus swamps of Rwanda’s eastern frontier and the dense bamboo forests of the Virunga Mountains to the north. There, among the volcanoes, lives Rwanda’s main tourist attraction: the mountain gorilla, protected in Parc National des Volcans (also known as Parc des Birugna). For sheer diversity of animal life, however, no other region can match the resources of the Akagera National Park. This picturesque park contains significant populations of buffalo, zebra, impala, and other range animals, as well as baboons, warthogs, lions, and hippopotamuses. Rare species, such as the giant pangolin (an anteater), are also part of Akagera’s diverse fauna.
mountain gorillaMountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), Virunga Mountains, Rwanda.Richard Gruggiero/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Rwanda: mountain gorillasFilming mountain gorillas in Rwanda
The country has three official languages: Rwanda (more properly, Kinyarwanda), English, and French. Rwanda, a Bantu languagebelonging to the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family, is spoken by virtually all Rwandans. It is closely related to Rundi, which is spoken in the neighbouring country of Burundi. English and French have traditionally been spoken by only a small fraction of the population, although English was designated the language of educational instruction in 2008. Swahili is widely spoken in the towns and is still the principal means of communication with Africans from neighbouring countries.
Nowhere in Africa has Christianity had a more decisive impact than in Rwanda. The Hutu revolution derived much of its egalitarian inspiration from the teachings of the European clergy, and Catholic seminaries served as recruiting grounds for Hutu leaders. More than two-fifths of the country’s population is Roman Catholic, more than one-third is Protestant, and more than one-tenth is Adventist. Muslims, the nonreligious, and members of Christian schismatic religious groups collectively account for less than one-tenth of the population.