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Rwanda History, Language and Culture

History of Rwanda

To set Rwanda's more recent history in context, you need to go as far back as the late 13th century when pastoral Tutsi tribes arrived from the south and conquered the Hutu and Twa inhabitants of Rwanda, establishing a feudal kingdom.

A unified state was established by King Kigeri Rwabuguri during the 19th century, but this lasted only until 1890 when Rwanda was annexed as a province of German East Africa. When the Belgians came in 1916 (after what turned out to be a brief occupation by Germany), they embarked on an aggressive campaign to divide the population into three different groups.

In an act that helped sow the seeds of genocide, the Belgians sponsored the dominance of the Tutsi minority at the expense of the Hutu, but were forced, in the 1960s, to concede independence under majority Hutu rule. Violence between Hutus and Tutsis started to flare up, culminating in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994: a 100-day period of carnage during which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered, while the international community looked on.

Today, peace prevails in Rwanda. While the genocide cannot be forgotten (obvious by the number of memorials scattered around the country), there have been efforts to heal divides, with talk of ethnicity outlawed. This period of calm has helped Rwanda grow into one of Africa's most progressive nations. Throughout the 21st century, there has been a higher percentage of women in parliament in Rwanda than any other county on Earth, and the country has implemented a number of pioneering conservation initiatives, including the banning of plastic bags in 2008.

In the last decade tourist numbers have drastically risen, bolstering Rwanda's growing economy further. At the same time, the government has embarked on a campaign to improve infrastructure: roads have been resurfaced, an ambitious large-scale railway project is in the works, and a 10,000-seat Kigali Arena was inaugurated in 2019 – developments that, it is hoped, will help in the forging of a new, positive identity for modern Rwanda.

Did you know?
• Once a month Rwandans participate in Umuganda – a day of national housekeeping where everyone, including the president, undertakes community service.
• Rwanda was one of the first countries in the world to ban plastic bags.
• Lions were successfully reintroduced to the country in 2015 after an absence of 15 years.

Rwanda Culture

Religion in Rwanda

Roman Catholic 44%, Protestant 38%, Adventist 12%, Islam 2%, Atheist 3%, other 1%.

Social Conventions in Rwanda

Rwanda has a tough stance on corruption, making it one of the least corrupted countries in Africa. There is a dedicated phone number (tel: 2641) for members of the public to report acts of corruption.

Begging is strongly discouraged by the government and you are advised not to give money to children who ask.

During the last Saturday of every month, Rwandan citizens engage in Umuganda, essentially community work that could include litter picking, tree planting, building houses for the vulnerable, and more. Visitors are warmly encouraged to participate in Umuganda.

Avoid talking about ethnicity or referencing the genocide, as this remains a very sensitive subject. Pointing with one finger is considered rude. When pointing, use all five fingers. Eating and smoking in the street is also considered rude.

Language in Rwanda

The official languages of Rwanda are Kinyarwanda, French and English. Swahili is also spoken in cities.


Basic phrases in Kinyarwanda:
Good Morning: Mwaramutse
Good Afternoon: Mwiriwe
Good evening: Mwiriwe
Thank you: Urakoze
Yes: Yee
No: Oya
Excuse me: Mbabarira

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