Rwanda is a densely populated landlocked country in East and Central Africa. It borders with Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Tanzania. Because of its hilly landscape, Rwanda is also called the "land of a thousand hills". The main African watershed between the catchment areas of the Nile and the Congo runs on the national territory. From 1884 to 1916, Rwanda was a German colony as part of German East Africa. After the First World War it became a Belgian League of Nations mandate in 1919 and a UN trust territory after 1945. Independence followed in 1962.

Structural problems, high population density and ethnic conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi communities - culminating in the 1994 Tutsi genocide in which radical Hutus murdered around 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu - made the country one of the poorest in Africa . Since the end of the civil war, an economic reconstruction process has started, which has benefited from the exploitation of raw materials in the eastern Congo provinces, among other things. Paul Kagame has been President since 2000, ruling the country authoritarian in a kind of education and development dictatorship. The system of government has been criticized internationally for a lack of press freedom, suppression of the opposition, manipulation of elections and the destabilization of eastern Congo.

With an average annual economic growth rate of around 8 percent between 2001 and 2015, Rwanda has long been one of the African countries with the strongest economic growth. Large parts of the economy are controlled by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party. Another characteristic of Rwandan society is the high participation of women in economic and political power.


Rwanda borders Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Most of Rwanda is highland with an average altitude of 1500 meters. The total altitude range is from about 1000 meters to the 4507 meter high Karisimbi (Virunga volcanoes in the north). The main African watershed between the headwaters of the White Nile and the Congo runs from north to south at an altitude of 3000 to 4000 meters. Most of Rwanda's western border is formed by Lake Kivu, which is part of the East African Rift Valley system and is therefore very deep. In the border area to Congo and Uganda are the up to 4500 meter high Virunga volcanoes, on which the rare mountain gorillas live at medium altitude. To the east, the vast Akagera swamps and a long series of lakes form a natural border with present-day Tanzania. The country is 1200 kilometers away from the East African coast, but due to its good road network it still serves as a transit point for some exports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwanda is often called the "Land of a Thousand Hills" (French: Pays de Mille Collines) and indeed has a very hilly landscape, mainly in the western part of the country.

Due to the altitude, the climate is rather mild and humid despite the proximity to the equator. The hot equatorial diurnal climate is overlaid by the seasonal East African climate and moderated by the high altitude. The average daily temperature is 18 °C. There is not much variation in temperature throughout the year, but temperatures do vary with altitude. There are two rainy seasons corresponding to the East African monsoon rains, umuhindo roughly between September and December (average 27% of annual rainfall) and itumba between February and early June. 40% of annual precipitation falls between March and May. However, the climate and especially the precipitation show great irregularities. Abnormal droughts, excessive rain and hail repeatedly threaten crops and cause famine.

Rwanda drains into two major drainage basins. The land area is divided into ¾ into the Nile catchment area and ¼ into the Congo catchment area.

The country's defining Nile tributaries are the Nyabarongo, which has its source in the southwestern highlands (Nyungwe Forest Nature Park), and the border river in the east, the Akagera (Kagera). The Nyabarongo rises as Rukarara at 2700 meters above sea level near the watershed to the Congo and is the central river of the country. Like its tributary, the Mwogo, it initially flows from south to north before turning south-east to the capital, Kigali, not far from the Virunga volcanoes. This abrupt change in course explains the geology by tectonic displacements of the earth's crust in the formation of the East African Rift and the Virunga volcanoes.

South of Kigali, the Nyabarongo and the Akanyaru coming from the Burundi border area unite at about 1500 meters altitude. Depending on the source, the further course on the way to Lake Rweru is already referred to as Kagera or further as Nyabarongo. After leaving Lake Rweru, the Kagera flows first to the east, later to the north and forms the national border with Tanzania for about 250 kilometers. The river, which flows northwards at the border triangle with Tanzania and Uganda, finally bends sharply to the east again, later to flow into Lake Victoria.

The Congo catchment area is primarily characterized by Lake Kiwu and its outflow, the Ruzizi. The latter forms the southwestern border of Rwanda and flows to Lake Tanganyika.


The three large landscapes
Rwanda can essentially be divided into three large and several small landscapes: The (south)eastern depression, the central high plateau and the Congo-Nile watershed form three large landscapes.

In the center of Rwanda is the central high plateau. It is between 1500 and 2000 meters high and stretches between the Congo-Nile Divide and the Southeastern Depression. It is intersected by numerous watercourses and represents the proverbial "land of a thousand hills", especially in the ascent to the Congo-Nile watershed. Due to the good supply of surface water and rainfall, as well as the moderate temperatures and fairly fertile soil, it has been used intensively for agriculture for a long time. The original forest vegetation has disappeared for just as long.

The Virunga volcanoes in the north represent the highest elevations. They are joined by the Buberuka mountains and the volcanic area of north-western Rwanda. It is characterized by a damp and cool climate with sometimes extreme rainfall. The volcanic ash and cinder soils are very fertile and are used intensively for agriculture. Here is a center of potato cultivation in Rwanda. However, especially in the lava level, the water seeps away very quickly and only reappears at its edge as springs.

In addition to the Virunga volcanoes, the Congo-Nile watershed, which stretches from north to south along Lake Kivu in the west, reaches heights close to 3000 meters, in the middle part only up to 1200 meters and in the south again up to 2700 meters. It is characterized by rugged gorges and sharp peaks. The climate is damp in the east due to uphill rain, and somewhat reduced in the west due to foehn winds. In the past, the mountains were covered by tropical high-altitude rainforest. This was extremely reduced due to population growth. By the late 1990s, remnants of rainforest still existed in Gishwati (North), Mukura (Central) and Nyungwe (South). Gishwati and Mukura were almost completely destroyed after 1994 for the purpose of settlement, mainly by returning long-term refugees. The Nyungwe Forest, on the other hand, is still quite extensive. Small monkeys (colobas and others), small antelopes, formerly also forest elephants and numerous bird and small animal species live in all tropical high mountain cloud forests. The variety of plants is unique and large.

The shoreline of Lake Kiwu is characterized by deep bays and steep slopes. Due to foehn formation on the western slopes of the Congo-Nile watershed, precipitation here is lower than on the eastern side of the mountains. The water of Lake Kiwu is about 23.5 °C warm. The climate is characterized by mild temperatures. On the fertile soils in the south and north, intensive soil cultivation has been going on for a long time; On the other hand, on the less fertile soils near Kibuye (centre), cattle breeding traditionally predominated.

The south-west of Rwanda (Impara and Imbo) has partly very fertile soils, which allow intensive soil cultivation both in the hot low areas and in the cool mountains.

The eastern and southeastern depression, with elevations between 1000 and 1500 meters, extends west of the extensive Akagera River backwater marshes and numerous lakes. It is characterized by a dry, hot climate, porous soils and laterite crusts, as well as bush savannas. The climate, soil and the proliferation of tsetse flies make this landscape unsuitable for farming and animal husbandry. Again and again there are extended dry seasons, which lead to famine in the populated parts. In 1934, the Belgian administration set up the Akagera National Park as a game reserve in the sparsely populated area to the east. Hunting areas and private ranches adjoined to the south and west. These hunting areas and parts of the Akagera Park were released for settlement after July 1994 for returning (so-called long-term) refugees. In the south-eastern part, the Bugesera district, Tutsi from various parts of the country had been forcibly resettled since the end of the 1950s, and later Hutu from the north of the country were added.

The lowlands of the Mayaga region along the Akanyaru River and its papyrus swamps were formerly reserved for Tutsi cattle herds as grazing reserves during prolonged dry seasons. They were only used for soil construction in the course of the 20th century.