“All of a sudden, I feel projected into an animated book,
filling my eyes with images and colours.
At first, I am less surprised by the surroundings, than I am in awe.
There is life everywhere.
I see people all over walking along the roads,
working or resting in the fields,
selling various items, women carrying baskets on their heads,
I see old cars driving fast and honking, over-loaded bikes,
apparent chaos, cows and goats in the middle of the way,
I notice people’s looks, the green of the banana trees,
the roads and the houses are made of red earth.
The country of a thousand small and rounded hills all dressed in green …”
These were Alex’s very first impressions about Rwanda.
They remain as vivid today as they were then, in October 2001.
Read about our project on the Centre Ubuntu website
Brief account of Rwanda
Rwanda is a small country in Eastern Africa, widely populated (now more than 10 millions inhabitants for 26’340 square kilometres with a quick growth rate). It is a landlocked country and is bordered by Uganda to the North, Tanzania to the East, Burundi to the South and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the West. With its 5 volcanoes and numerous hills ranging from 1000 to 4500 metres, Rwanda is known as the “land of a thousand hills”. Rwanda has also 23 lakes, lies 75 miles South of the Equator and is beautifully green. A large part of the people of Rwanda still make their living from agriculture, mostly tea and coffee, as well as manioc, beans, sweet potato, sorghum, maize, to name but a few.
According to the mythology, Rwanda is home to Imana, the God whose actions shape the world. Busy during the day, he never fails to come back home in the evening. Imana has three sons, who have given birth to the three groups known as Tutsis, Hutus and Twas.
At the Berlin Conference in 1884, the kingdom of Ruanda-Urundi (now Rwanda and Burundi) was “given” to Germany’s authority. Until then, the Rwandan society had been built on a social structure composed of cattle owners (traditionally the Tutsis), farmers (Hutus) and craftsmen (Twas), with a Tutsi king, the Mwami.
A few key dates for the 20th Century are:
1916 Belgium invaded Rwanda…
1935 The “ethnic identity card” was established… That was an idea that came from the colonisers, emphasising the differences between the people of Rwanda
1959 Creation of the Parmehutu (Hutu emancipation party) and first killings of Tutsis…
1961 The last king of Rwanda was arrested and expelled by the Belgians…
1962 Rwanda became independent…
60s and 70s Various episodes of fights, killings, vast migrations…
1994 The genocide took place and Rwanda became suddenly heard of in western countries… The killings were extensive and within three months, between 800,000 and 1 million people lost their lives in terrible circumstances. Added to the number who flew the country, the population of Rwanda was reduced by approximately one third.
Rwandan history teaches us that things don’t happen out of the blue… Behind the apparently sudden tragedy there is a long historical background.
Since then, this country has made a remarkable recovery but there is still a lot to be done to bring people back together and reconstruct the country. It will take a very long time for members of the Rwandan population to heal from this terrible page of their history, and to find inner peace.
See the Wikipedia article on Rwanda to read more information.