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.
In 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 a 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.
The horrors were recently highlighted in the film Hotel Rwanda and today you can visit the hotel featured and also a Memorial. Another moving British film is ‘Shooting Dogs’, both should be seen by intending travelers.
In addition to the indigenous language of Kinyarwanda, French and English are official languages. French is widely spoken throughout the country. In the capital and other tourist centres, many people speak English.
Climate and When to Visit
A combination of tropical location and high altitude ensures that most of Rwanda has a temperate year-round climate. Temperatures rarely stray above 30 degrees Celsius by day or below 15 degrees Celsius at night throughout the year. The exceptions are the chilly upper slopes of the Virunga Mountains, and the hot low-lying Tanzania border area protected in Akagera National Park. Throughout the country, seasonal variations in temperature are relatively insignificant. Most parts of the country receive in excess of 1,000mm of precipitation annually, with the driest months being July to September and the wettest February to May.
Rwanda can be visited year round. The drier months are easier from a trekking point of view.
When it is noon in New York it is 7pm in Rwanda. It is one hour head of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Parks and Reserves
Akagera National Park
Set at a relatively low altitude on the border with Tanzania, Akagera National Park could scarcely be more different in mood to the breezy cultivated hills that characterise much of Rwanda. Dominated scenically by the labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River, the most remote source of the Nile, this is archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia woodland interspersed with open grassland.
Nyungwe National Park
Extending for 1,000 square kilometres across the majestic hills of southeast Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park is the largest block of montane forest in East or Central Africa, and one of the most ancient, dating back to before the last Ice Age. A uniquely rich centre of floral diversity, the forest has more than 200 different types of tree, and a myriad of flowering plants including the other-worldly giant lobelia and a host of colourful orchids.
Nyungwe is most alluring for its primates: 13 species in all, including humankind’s closest living relative the chimpanzee, as well as the handsome L’Hoest’s monkey and hundred-strong troops of the delightfully acrobatic Angola colobus. The most important ornithological site in Rwanda, Nyungwe harbours almost 300 bird species of which two dozen are restricted to a handful of montane forests on the Albertine Rift.
Park des Volcans
In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat,” wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, “are great, old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest – the Virungas”. Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, the Parc des Volcans protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range – home of the rare mountain gorilla – and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.
Rwanda has one international airport at Kigali. It is served by a small number of regional airlines such as Air Kenya, Rwandair Express and Brussels Airlines providing service a few times a week direct to Europe.
Money can be exchanged at airports and border crossing points. Outside of Kigali there are limited facilites. The unit of currency is the Rwanda franc. The US dollar is the hard currency of preference. It may be impossible to exchange travellers’ cheques away from the capital. Credit cards are usually only accepted at the major hotels in Kigali.
Credit cards are usually only accepted at the major hotels in Kigali.
Rwanda has an excellent cell phone network covering almost the entire country.
International phone calls can be made easily. Appropriate SIM cards for the network are readily available everywhere, even in remote towns, and cell phones can be purchased or rented from major shops in Kigali. Most towns of any size will have several Internet cafes and computer centres.
Experience shows that your European phone will work nicely, but your American one won’t!
A certificate of yellow-fever vaccination is required. Much of Rwanda lies at too high an elevation for malaria to be a major concern, but the disease is present and prophylactic drugs are strongly recommended. It is advisable not to drink tap water. Bottled mineral water can be bought in all towns. Hospitals are located in all major towns.
Point of Interest – unlike most of the rest of East Africa in Rwanda they drive on the right which makes for an interesting time at the border. However our experience is that its not much of a problem is there is next to no traffic anyway!
What to Wear
Dress codes are informal. Daytime temperatures are generally warm, so bring lots of light clothing, supplemented by light sweaters for the cool evenings and heavier clothing for the Parc des Volcans and Nyungwe. When tracking gorillas, wear sturdier clothing to protect against stinging nettles, and solid walking shoes. A hat and sunglasses provide protection against the sun, and a waterproof jacket may come in handy in the moist mountains.