Rwanda—After the Genocide

Many people’s knowledge of Rwanda is limited to the 1994 genocide.
Since then, though, the country has undergone a remarkable transformation.

Twenty-three years after a genocide in which up to a million people were murdered in only a hundred days, Rwanda surprisingly shows only a few obvious scars from the tragedy. New construction is transforming the capital, Kigali, where there are now upscale hotels, a grand shopping mall, and a state-of-the-art convention center. Rwanda's standard of living is on the rise as the country has been experiencing steady economic growth for the past 15 years with crime and corruption at relative lows. To many, in some respects Rwanda is the envy of the continent.

Rwanda—Before the Genocide 

Rwanda is a landlocked country, approximately the size of Maryland. The country borders Tanzania, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Uganda. In 1961, Rwanda became a republic. The capital, Kigali, has a population of approximately 11.2 million. Christianity is the major religion, and the country has three official languages: French, English, and Kinyarwanda.

            The area encompassing present-day Rwanda was originally inhabited by the Twa and Hutu peoples. From the early 1300’s to the early 1900’s, the Tutsis migrated into the area. With roots in Ethiopia, the Tutsis are tall and thin in stature. By contrast, The Hutus are short and stocky. Although never good, the relationship between the Tutsis and Hutus started to deteriorate in 1916 when Belgium began its colonial control over the country. At that time, the Belgians introduced identity cards, which classified people based on their ethnicity. By most historical accounts, the Belgians considered the Tutsis superior to the Hutus. As a result, the Tutsis enjoyed better jobs and had more educational opportunities than the Hutus, creating economic and political inequality. This underlying inequality was, in turn, the root cause of constant conflicts between the two groups. The conflicts led to tens of thousands of Tutsis fleeing Rwanda to Uganda and other neighboring countries over several decades. In 1963, the tensions significantly escalated when approximately 20,000 Tutsis lost their lives. The fighting between the two groups continued intermittently over the next three decades.

            In April 1994, presidents Juvenal Hbyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi were returning from a meeting with Tutsi rebels to draft a peace treaty when their plane was shot down above the Kigali airport by Hutu extremists. Following this fatal crash, extremist Hutu groups began a one-hundred day frenzied killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. When the killings were over three months later, approximately one million people had been executed—most of them Tutsi.

Rwanda—Since the Genocide

Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame

After the genocide destroyed the already fragile economy, Rwanda experienced a period of relative political stability and impressive economic growth. Contributing to the economic growth were government infrastructure investments, humanitarian relief efforts from international organizations, and the implementation of various government humanitarian programs to help people rebuild their lives after the genocide.

Table 1

Table 1

            At the forefront of the Rwanda transformation is the current President, Paul Kagame. President Kagame, a Tutsi, whose family fled to Uganda before the Rwandan genocide, commanded the rebel office that was instrumental in ending the genocide. He then served as Vice President and Defense Minister from 1994 until 2000, when he was elected president. Since assuming the presidency in 2000, Kagame is credited with restoring political stability and turning around the economy of Rwanda. As President, Kagame has launched a number of programs aimed to transform the country into a middle-class nation by 2020. Based on economic indicators, Rwanda has improved in health care and education. Inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient has declined from 0.49 in 2011 to 0.45 in 2014. By 2006, Rwanda’s GDP had returned to its pre-genocide level, and from 2004 to 2015, the economy grew at average annual rate of 7%. Over the last few years, Rwanda has consistently made it to the list of “fastest growing economies in the world.”  (Table 1.) In 2016, Bloomberg’s Economist Intelligence Unit placed Rwanda at number eight in their list of top ten best economies.

            One of the major goals of the Kagame presidency has been to reduce poverty by investing in education, infrastructure, and both foreign and domestic markets. A number of innovative programs initiated by the government have led to a reduction in the poverty rate and an increase in the country’s GDP. The Girinika program is notable example. Launched in 2016, this government program provides every poor family in Rwanda with a milk cow. The goal of the program is to alleviate poverty, improve family nutrition, increase fertilizers for crops, and generate family income through the creation of small business opportunities from the sale of surplus milk.


The last Saturday of the month in Rwanda is a national day of community service called Umuganda. On Umuganda, everyone in the country is required to participate in some community service, including the President. The program has led to the building of schools, medical centers, and hydroelectric plants, the rehabilitation of wetlands, and the cleaning of Rwanda’s cities, towns, and villages—Kigali ranks as one of the cleanest cities in Africa. More importantly, Umuganda has been instrumental in healing the pains created by the genocide. It encapsulates the good that is in Rwanda.