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Rwanda Country Information

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Silverback in RwandaThe tiny east african country of Rwanda occupies a disproportionate space in the African hall of horrors, this thanks largely to the genocide of 1994 that etched into popular consciousness the defining image of Africa as a morass of disease, poverty and endless cycles of war and violence.

Certainly the closing years of the 20th century were among the darkest in Central African history, but Rwanda has since then led something of a regional renaissance.

Although the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa is still as restless and brooding as the volcanoes of the Great Rift Valley, and although the damage to both the human and natural landscape has been catastrophic, signs of recovery are clear. One of the most vital of these signs has been a surge in eco-tourism inspired mainly by the struggle for the protection and survival of the last viable communities of Mountain Gorilla.

History

Rwandan GenocideIn 1962, under Prime Minister Gregoire Kayibanda, Rwanda became an independent republic, an attainment marred by frequent clashes between the newly dominant Hutu majority and historically more powerful Tutsi minority, culminating in the slaughter of an estimated 10,000 Tutsi civilians in late 1963.

In 1973, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana ousted the repressive Kayibanda regime, and over the next 20 years, the country's political situation became ever more complicated due to simmering ethnic tensions exacerbated by events in neighbouring states, several of which harboured significant numbers of Rwandan refugees.

On 6 April 1994, Habyarimana died in a mysterious plane crash, sparking an already planned genocide. Two days later, the exiled Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded the country, capturing Kigali on 4 July and forming a Government of National Unity under President Pasteur Bizimungu a fortnight later. Within three months, the genocide was all but over. An estimated one million Rwandans had died over that period, and twice as many had fled into exile.

Geography

The Rwandase Rwanda is a landlocked republic in Equatorial Africa, situated on the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift, a western arm of the Great Rift Valley, on the watershed between Africa's two largest river systems: the Nile and the Congo.

Much of the country's 26,338 km2 is impressively mountainous, the highest peak being Karisimbi (4,507m) in the volcanic Virunga chain protected by the Volcanoes National Park.

The largest body of water is Lake Kivu, but there areother numerous lakes around the country, notably Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi and Mugesera, some of which have erratic shapes following the contours of the steep mountains that enclose them.

Economy

Primarily a subsistence agriculture economy, Rwanda nonetheless produces for export some of the finest tea and coffee in the world.

Other industries include sugar, fishing and flowers for export.

Culture

The earliest known inhabitants of Rwanda were pygmoid hunter-gatherers, ancestral to the modern Twa people who today comprise only 0.25% of the national population. Some 2,000 years ago, agricultural and pastoralist migrants from the west settled in the area. Oral traditions recall that prior to the 15th century a ruler named Gihanga forged a centralised Rwandan state with similar roots to the Buganda and Bunyoro Empires in neighbouring Uganda. Comprised of a cattle- owning nobility and agriculturist serfdom majority - the precursors respectively of the modern-day Tutsi and Hutu - this powerful state was able to repel all early attempts at European penetration.

Rwanda became a German colony following the 1885 Berlin Conference, although it would be full decade before a permanent German presence was established there. In 1918, Rwanda was mandated to Belgium, which implemented a system of indirect rule that exploited and intensified the existing divisions between Tutsi and Hutu.

Music and dance plays an important role in the traditions of all Rwanda's peoples .The Rwandan people have a variety of music and dance which range from acts that demonstrate epics commemorating
Excellence and bravery, humorous lyrics to hunting root.

Traditional songs are often accompanied by a solitary lulunga, a harp-like instrument with eight strings. More celebratory dances are backed by a drum orchestra, which typically comprises seven to nine members, and collectively produce a hypnotic and exciting explosion set of intertwining rhythms.

Lucky visitors may chance upon spontaneous traditional performances in the villages of Rwanda. The finest exponent of Rwanda's varied and dynamic traditional musical and dance styles, however, is the Intore Dance Troupe. Founded several centuries ago, the Intore - literally 'The Chosen Ones' - once performed exclusively for the Royal Court, but today their exciting act can be arranged at short notice through the National Museum in Butare. A more modern form of Rwandan music is the upbeat and harmonious devotional singing that can be heard in any church service around the country.

A wide range of traditional handicrafts is produced in rural Rwanda, ranging from ceramics and basketry to traditional woodcarvings and contemporary paintings. A good selection of crafted artifacts can be viewed in the main market or street stalls in Kigali, while an excellent place to peruse and purchase modern art works is the capital's Centre for the Formation of Arts.

A distinctively Rwandan craft is the cow dung 'paintings' that are produced by a local co-operative in the village of Nyakarimbi near the Rusumo Falls border with Tanzania. Dominated by black, brown and white whorls and other geometric abstractions, these unique and earthy works can be bought in Kigali, but it's worth diverting to source to see how the paintings are reflected in local house decorations.

Dance

Music and dance plays an important role in the traditions of all Rwanda's peoples .The Rwandan people have a variety of music and dance which range from acts that demonstrate epics commemorating excellence and bravery, humorous lyrics to hunting root. Traditional songs are often accompanied by a solitary lulunga, a harp-like instrument with eight strings. More celebratory dances are backed by a drum orchestra, which typically comprises seven to nine members, and collectively produce a hypnotic and exciting explosion set of intertwining rhythms.

Lucky visitors may chance upon spontaneous traditional performances in the villages of Rwanda. The finest exponent of Rwanda’s varied and dynamic traditional musical and dance styles, however, is the Intore Dance Troupe. Founded several centuries ago, the Intore - literally ‘The Chosen Ones’ - once performed exclusively for the Royal Court, but today their exciting act can be arranged at short notice through the National Museum in Butare.

A more modern form of Rwandan music is the upbeat and harmonious devotional singing that can be heard in any church service around the country.

Why Travel to Rwanda

Central Africa, for all its propensity for trauma and suffering, is the beating heart of Africa, and in an inexplicable way it is that very overlay of tragedy that gives the region so much of it’s vitality. While it would be an injustice to the gravity of the episode to call it a tourist attraction, it is nonetheless a fact that the standing memorials to the Rwandan Genocide, and the many intangible residues that continue to surround it, are a strong draw for visitors to the region. While many people have begun to flock to Rwanda principally to visit the iconic Gorilla parks, the Genocide is ultimately what lingers in the mind’s eye as an image of a past that should not, and cannot be forgotten.

Rwanda is situated in the middle of the Great Rift Valley, and just a few degrees south of the equator, and is part of the divide between the westward flow of the Congo River and the northern flow of the Nile. It is a heavily populated region that defines more acutely than perhaps anywhere else the traditions of African highlands and montane society. It is a coffee growing region with the equatorial imagery of clustered thatch and adobe homesteads hedged in by banana groves and awash with tropical fruits like mangoes, pineapples and avocado. For an intensely human and cultural experience Rwanda cannot be equalled. It is a kaleidoscope of life, colour, sound and taste that could not possibly be confused with anywhere but Africa.

Over all of this brood the defining geographic feature of the highlands, and the cluster of eight volcanoes, five of which are in Rwanda, and all of which are shared between the Rwandan Parc National des Volcans and the Virunga National Park in the democratic Republic of Congo. Here it is possible, on both sides, so track and observe the few remaining mountain gorilla. The newest national park in Rwanda is the Ngungwe Forest National Park, established in 2004, and small by comparison to its regional cousins, but notable for the presence of wild chimpanzees, a growing rarity in Africa, and ten other primate species.

When to Visit Rwanda

As with anywhere else in the East African equatorial zone, Rwanda experiences an annual long and short wet season. The long rains are a time to avoid, and occur from mid-March to mid-May, with the short rains occurring between mid-October to mid-December, which also is period worth avoiding.
 

Feedback From Clients

Pam and Mark Payne


We are back without scratches, or bites!!! I just wanted to let you know how much we loved our trip to Rwanda. It was clean, beautiful, safe, friendly, and breathtaking views. If you need a referral, or anyone wants to know what it is like I would be glad to talk to them. Thanks for putting up with me as always. We truly enjoyed our visit with Cristina and Carol as well. 850 plus miles on the car, wine, elephants, monkeyland, ocean, birds, and great company. If you ever make it to Michigan, you must look us up. I referred two friends of mine to you. Her name is Bunny. She wants to gorilla trek next year. She will be in touch I think. Best to you and your family for 2008!

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