Located in Central Africa, Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in the continent. The picturesque nation is famous for its mountain gorillas, coffee, and tea exports. Sadly, it’s also known for one of the bloodiest murders in history – the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
1. About 1 million perished in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying then-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down. Nobody knows who launched this attack – but what is known is it helped start the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
The mass murder started with military officers and policemen killing the Tutsis. Later on, these officials encouraged Hutus to take up arms to kill their Tutsi neighbors. Should they refuse, they were threatened to be murdered as well.
Sexual abuse was also prevalent during the genocide. As much as 500,000 women were raped and abused. Most of them even developed HIV as their perpetrators were infected with the disease.
From April 7 to July 15, about 1 million people were killed – mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus. It is said that the genocide resulted in the loss of as much as 70% of the Tutsi population. It only ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Forces (RPF) captured the capital of Kigali.
The international community, especially the countries of the United Kingdom, the United States, and Belgium were criticized for turning a blind eye on the murders.
2. Before the Genocide, there was the Rwandan Civil War.
Violence has been brewing in Rwanda for years, a sad fact about Rwanda. Before the onset of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, there was the Civil War. The cause is the same for both events: the centuries-old dispute between the Hutu and Tutsi groups.
The civil war started on October 1, 1990, when the RPF army marched into the northeastern border of the country. Even with all the fighting, there was no clear winner for several years.
After much pressure, then-President Habyarimana began peace negotiations – the output of which was the 1993 Arusha Accords. This peace did not last long though, as the 1994 genocide forced the RPF (who are mostly Tutsis) to resume the war. This would eventually lead to the capture of the capital, which helped put an end to the horrific genocidal killings.
3. The country was colonized by Germany, and later on, Belgium.
In 1884, Rwanda was annexed as part of German East Africa. The colonists did not modify much of the country’s social structure, even allowing local chiefs to rule over their tribes, an interesting fact about Rwanda. This ended in 1916 when Belgium took over and exercised a stricter colonial rule.
The Pro-Tutsi Belgians helped improve the country’s infrastructures, health, and education. They also introduced the national ID card system that stated the person’s tribe. While it was initially helpful, this card would, later on, be used by genocidaires in identifying the Tutsis to be killed.
4. Rwanda is known in French as “Pays des mille collines.”
In English, this moniker translates to “Land of a thousand hills.” This is truly befitting, as the country is flanked by mountainous regions. The western area features part of the Albertine Rift Mountains. The northwest, on the other hand, has the Virunga Volcano Chain. Such includes the country’s highest point, Mount Karisimbi. In the center are rolling hills that are not as big but are just as picturesque.
5. It is 1 of 3 countries where mountain gorillas can be visited.
Mountain gorillas are an endangered species. They can only be seen in three countries: Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda. In Rwanda, these Eastern gorilla subspecies can be spotted in the Volcanoes National Park. Because of the rarity of mountain gorillas, many people pay to visit as much as $1,500 them, an interesting Rwanda fact.
Eco-tourism in Volcanoes National Park and other areas has boomed so much that it has become one of the country’s top sources of income. Rwanda was said to earn as much as $19 million in 2019 because of this form of tourism.
More than helping the economy, the tourist stream has helped the national parks pay better ranger salaries. It even allowed the administration to improve security with new high-tech equipment.
6. Rwanda has diverse flora and fauna.
Apart from the popular mountain gorilla, there are also other unique animals living within the borders of Rwanda. Most of them are kept safe in three national parks, which are designated as heritage sites by the government.
The Akagera is a savannah that plays home to elephants and giraffes. In the Nyungwe Forest live begonias, orchids, and thirteen types of primates, including the Ruwenzori colobus and the common chimpanzee. Volcanoes National Park, which is teeming with moorland and bamboo trees, plays host to as much as 1/3 of all the mountain gorillas in the world.
7. The nation has four official languages.
Although Kinyarwanda is spoken by most citizens, it is only one of the four official languages of the country. Swahili, the lingua franca of East African countries, is another. French, which was introduced by the Belgian colonists, is the third official dialect. English is also widely spoken in the country, mainly due to the return of refugees from English-speaking nations.
8. Rwanda is home to the Twa, the oldest surviving people of the Great Lakes Region.
The Twa are pygmy hunter-gatherers who have descended from Rwanda’s iron age settlers. As the oldest living tribe in the area, they used to live in the forests. Clearing projects, however, drove them to live on the mountain slopes. Currently, some of the 80,000 Twa can be found in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe Forest, an interesting fact about Rwanda.
Despite being the first one to occupy the lands, the Twa are relegated to the bottom of the Rwandan caste. This means limited education for the children and minimal participation for the Twa in the political system.
9. The flag and national anthem are relatively new.
To break away from the violent past, Rwanda has changed many of its national symbols. The flag, which was previously red, yellow, and green with an ‘R’ in the middle – was replaced with a banner of sky blue, yellow, and green, flanked with the image of the sun.
As for the national anthem, in 2002 it was changed to “Rwanda Nziza.” This was the winning entry of composer Vedaste Munyaneza. It replaced the “Rwanda Rwacu,” which was the country’s hymn since its independence from Belgium in 1962.
Despite its bloody history, Rwanda has become a relatively safe area to view endangered wildlife. With its beautiful mountains and ancient lakes, the country has become one of the top places to travel in Africa – and the entire world.
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