Rwanda was controlled by both Germany and Belgium during the Colonial era. German explorers visited in the late 1800’s, and from 1885 to 1919 it was German East Africa. After the First World War, Belgium took control. They intended for the colony to be profitable and introduced coffee as a cash crop.
After decades of Belgian rule, elections were held and, in 1961, Rwanda became a republic. This began a tumultuous period, with significant racial tensions and civil war. This culminated in the genocide against the Tutsi’s in 1994. In 100 days, from April to June, 1 million or more Tutsis were systematically murdered.
In the last two decades, Rwanda has made great strides in forgiveness and healing. There is also significant economic growth, with economic growth year over year for the last five years, making it one of the more vibrant economies in Africa.
Despite economic gain, Rwanda remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The GDP per capita is only about $700 , compared to $55,000 for the United States. Small in size, with 12 million residents, it is the most densely populated country in Africa. This increases the competition for scarce resources.
Rwanda has the highest primary school enrollment rate in Africa, with a goal of universal access. There is gender equality in enrollment, in fact enrollment for girls, at 98%, is slightly higher than for boys. In contrast, only 28% of students go on to secondary education. The enrollment for preschools is even lower, at only 13%. The preschools that are being established by the Anglican Church are critical in giving more students a head start.
Despite economic progress, Rwanda remains a poor country. About 90% of the population survives as subsistence farmers. There are few natural resources. The major products exported are coffee and tea, which represent growing markets. Agriculture accounts for 33% of the economy in Rwanda.
Tourism is another growing sector. Rwanda has been rated one of the safest countries in Africa. It is also home to mountain gorillas, making it a popular tourist destination.
Despite economic growth, malnutrition is a large problem. 37% of children under five suffer from malnutrition. In the Northern and Western areas, stunting from malnutrition is a staggering 60%. 36% of households are headed by women or orphans.
Rwanda has approximately 12 million people. 60% of those are under 24 years old. Life expectancy is around 60 years. Only 2.5% of the population is over 65, versus about 15% for the United States. Population growth rate is 2.7%, compared to less than 1% for the United States.