Rwanda country profile - Overview
- 21 November 2014
- From the section Africa
Rwanda is a small landlocked country in east-central Africa which is in the process of recovering from major ethnic strife there in the mid-1990s.
The country has been beset by ethnic tension associated with the traditionally unequal relationship between the dominant Tutsi minority and the majority Hutus.
Although after 1959 the ethnic relationship was reversed, when civil war prompted around 200,000 Tutsis to flee to Burundi, lingering resentment led to periodic massacres of Tutsis.
The most notorious of these began in April 1994. The shooting down of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart near Kigali triggered what appeared to be a coordinated attempt by some Hutu leaders to eliminate the Tutsi population.
In response, the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched a military campaign to control the country. It achieved this by July, by which time at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been brutally massacred.
Some two million Hutus fled to Zaire, now the DR Congo. They included some of those responsible for the massacres, and some joined Zairean forces to attack local Tutsis. Rwanda responded by invading refugee camps dominated by Hutu militiamen.
Meanwhile, Laurent Kabila, who seized control of Zaire and renamed it the DR Congo, failed to banish the Hutu extremists, prompting Rwanda to support the rebels trying to overthrow him.
Rwanda withdrew its forces from DR Congo in late 2002 after signing a peace deal with Kinshasa. But tensions simmer, with Rwanda accusing the Congolese army of aiding Hutu rebels in eastern DR Congo. In 2012 the UN accused Rwanda of training rebel troops in eastern DR Congo, which Rwanda angrily denied. The US, Britain and the Netherlands withheld aid from Rwanda over the accusations.
Until 2012, Rwanda used traditional "gacaca" community courts to try those suspected of taking part in the 1994 genocide. But key individuals - particularly those accused of orchestrating the slaughter - appear before an International Criminal Tribunal in northern Tanzania.
The country is striving to rebuild its economy, with coffee and tea production being among its main sources of foreign exchange. Nearly two thirds of the population live below the poverty line.