Rwanda, in east-central Africa, is surrounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi. It is slightly smaller than Maryland. Steep mountains and deep valleys cover most of the country. Lake Kivu in the northwest, at an altitude of 4,829 ft (1,472 m), is the highest lake in Africa. Extending north of it are the Virunga Mountains, which include the volcano Karisimbi (14,187 ft; 4,324 m), Rwanda's highest point.
The original inhabitants of Rwanda were the Twa, a Pygmy people who now make up only 1% of the population. While the Hutu and Tutsi are often considered to be two separate ethnic groups, scholars point out that they speak the same language, have a history of intermarriage, and share many cultural characteristics. Traditionally, the differences between the two groups were occupational rather than ethnic. Agricultural people were considered Hutu, while the cattle-owning elite were identified as Tutsi. Supposedly Tutsi were tall and thin, while Hutu were short and square, but it is often impossible to tell one from the other. The 1933 requirement by the Belgians that everyone carry an identity card indicating tribal ethnicity as Tutsi or Hutu enhanced the distinction. Since independence, repeated violence in both Rwanda and Burundi has increased ethnic differentiation between the groups.
Rwanda, which became a part of German East Africa in 1890, was first visited by European explorers in 1854. During World War I it was occupied in 1916 by Belgian troops. After the war, it became a Belgian League of Nations mandate, along with Burundi, under the name of Ruanda-Urundi. The mandate was made a UN trust territory in 1946. Until the Belgian Congo achieved independence in 1960, Ruanda-Urundi was administered as part of that colony. Belgium at first maintained Tutsi dominance but eventually encouraged power sharing between Hutu and Tutsi. Ethnic tensions led to civil war, forcing many Tutsi into exile. When Ruanda became the independent nation of Rwanda on July 1, 1962, it was under Hutu rule.
GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $8.4 billion; per capita $900. Real growth rate: 6%. Inflation: 9.4%. Unemployment: n.a. Arable land: 46%. Agriculture: coffee, tea, pyrethrum (insecticide made from chrysanthemums), bananas, beans, sorghum, potatoes; livestock. Labor force: 4.6 million (2000); agriculture 90%, industry and services 10%. Industries: cement, agricultural products, small-scale beverages, soap, furniture, shoes, plastic goods, textiles, cigarettes. Natural resources: gold, cassiterite (tin ore), wolframite (tungsten ore), methane, hydropower, arable land. Exports: $170.8 million f.o.b. (2007 est.): coffee, tea, hides, tin ore. Imports: $472.5 million f.o.b. (2007 est.): foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, steel, petroleum products, cement and construction material. Major trading partners: Indonesia, China, Germany, Kenya, Belgium, Uganda, France (2004).
Telephones: main lines in use: 22,000 (2005); mobile cellular: 290,000 (2005). Radio broadcast stations: AM 0, FM 3 (two main FM programs are broadcast through a system of repeaters and the third FM program is a 24 hour BBC program), shortwave 1 (2002). Radios: 601,000 (1997). Television broadcast stations: 2 (2004). Televisions: n.a.; probably less than 1,000 (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1,592 (2007). Internet users: 65,000 (2006).
Railways: 0 km. Highways: total: total: 14,008 km paved: 2,662 km unpaved: 11,346 km (2004). Waterways: Lac Kivu navigable by shallow-draft barges and native craft. Ports and harbors: Cyangugu, Gisenyi, Kibuye. Airports: 9 (2007).
Tutsi, Hutu, and other conflicting ethnic groups, associated political rebels, armed gangs, and various government forces continue fighting in Great Lakes region, transcending the boundaries of Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda to gain control over populated areas and natural resources - government heads pledge to end conflicts, but localized violence continues despite UN peacekeeping efforts.