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Rwanda History, Language and Culture

History of Rwanda

To set Rwanda's recent history in a 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.

The Rwandan population was originally made up of 18 different tribes and the terms Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa were largely socio-economic groupings with the Tutsis as the wealthiest, the Hutus as the farmers and the Batwa pygmies as the marginalised group.

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 the 1920s (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 days of carnage during which some one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered, while the international community looked on.

Nowadays, peace prevails in Rwanda. The distinctions between Hutus and Tutsis have been resigned to the history books: everyone is simply Rwandan. Rather than being haunted by its bloody past, Rwanda has moved on to become one of Africa’s most progressive nations. In 2013 there were more women in parliament here than any other county on Earth and the country is embarking on a series pioneering conservation and environmental initiatives.

Justice is still being served. UN war tribunals are still bringing the architects of the genocide to justice, while an intense programme of education continues to ensure ethnic violence never occurs here again.

Did you know?
• Once a month Rwandans participate in Umuganda – a day of national housekeeping where everyone, including the president, cleans the streets.
• 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 16 years.

Rwanda Culture

Religion in Rwanda

Roman Catholic 57%, Protestant 26%, Adventist 11%, Islam 5%, indigenous beliefs 0.1%, none 2%

Social Conventions in Rwanda

Unlike other African countries, Rwanda does not tolerate corruption and you are unlikely to encounter it. You will cause offence if you offer a bribe. Begging is strongly discouraged by the government and you are advised not to give money or plastic bottles to children who ask. You will not see street children in Kigali because there is a rehabilitation centre where they are sent to learn vocational skills. You will also not see litter anywhere in the country and dropping litter is frowned upon. Once a month there is a national clean-up day dedicated to the maintenance of shared areas. Eating and smoking in the street is also considered rude.

Language in Rwanda

The official languages are Kinyarwanda, French and English. Kiswahili is used for trade and commerce.