Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda (Kinyarwanda: Repubulika y’u Rwanda; French: République du Rwanda), is a sovereign state in central and east Africa. Located a few degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All of Rwanda is at high elevation, with a geography dominated by mountains in the west, savanna in the east, and numerous lakes throughout the country. The climate is temperate to subtropical, with two rainy seasons and two dry seasons every year.
The population is young and predominantly rural, with a density among the highest in Africa. Rwandans form three groups: the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. The Twa are a forest-dwelling pygmy people who descend from Rwanda’s earliest inhabitants, but scholars disagree on the origins of and differences between the Hutu and Tutsi; some believe that they are derived from former social castes, while others view them as being races or tribes. Christianity is the largest religion in the country, and the principal language is Kinyarwanda, which is spoken by most Rwandans. Rwanda has a presidential system of government. The president is Paul Kagame of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), who took office in 2000. Rwanda has low corruption compared with neighbouring countries, but human rights organisations allege suppression of opposition groups, intimidation, and restrictions on freedom of speech. The country has been governed by a strict administrative hierarchy since precolonial times; there are five provinces, which are delineated by borders drawn in 2006.
Hunter gatherers settled the territory in the stone and iron ages, followed later by Bantu settlers. The population coalesced, first into clans and then into kingdoms. The Kingdom of Rwanda dominated from the mid-eighteenth century, with the Tutsi kings conquering others militarily, centralising power, and later enacting anti-Hutu policies. Germany colonised Rwanda in 1884, followed by Belgium, which invaded in 1916 during World War I. Both European nations ruled through the kings and perpetuated pro-Tutsi policy. The Hutu population revolted in 1959, massacring a large number of Tutsi and ultimately establishing an independent Hutu-dominated state in 1962. The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front launched a civil war in 1990, which was followed by the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 500,000 to 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The RPF ended the genocide with a military victory.
Rwanda’s economy suffered heavily during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, but has since strengthened. The economy is based mostly on subsistence agriculture. Coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Tourism is a fast-growing sector and is now the country’s leading foreign exchange earner; Rwanda is one of only two countries in which mountain gorillas can be visited safely, and visitors are prepared to pay high prices for gorilla tracking permits. Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan culture, particularly drums and the highly choreographed intore dance. Traditional arts and crafts are produced throughout the country, including imigongo, a unique cow dung art.
At 26,338 square kilometres (10,169 sq mi), Rwanda is the world’s 149th-largest country. It is comparable in size to Haiti or the state of Maryland in the United States. The entire country is at a high altitude: the lowest point is the Rusizi River at 950 metres (3,117 ft) above sea level. Rwanda is located in Central/Eastern Africa, and is bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, and Burundi to the south. It lies a few degrees south of the equator and is landlocked. The capital, Kigali, is located near the centre of Rwanda.
The watershed between the major Congo and Nile drainage basins runs from north to south through Rwanda, with around 80 per cent of the country’s area draining into the Nile and 20 per cent into the Congo via the Rusizi River. The country’s longest river is the Nyabarongo, which rises in the south-west, flows north, east, and southeast before merging with the Ruvubu to form the Kagera; the Kagera then flows due north along the eastern border with Tanzania. The Nyabarongo-Kagera eventually drains into Lake Victoria, and its source in Nyungwe Forest is a contender for the as-yet undetermined overall source of the Nile. Rwanda has many lakes, the largest being Lake Kivu. This lake occupies the floor of the Albertine Rift along most of the length of Rwanda’s western border, and with a maximum depth of 480 metres (1,575 ft), it is one of the twenty deepest lakes in the world. Other sizeable lakes include Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi, Rweru, and Ihema, the last being the largest of a string of lakes in the eastern plains of Akagera National Park.
Mountains dominate central and western Rwanda; these mountains are part of the Albertine Rift Mountains that flank the Albertine branch of the East African Rift; this branch runs from north to south along Rwanda’s western border. The highest peaks are found in the Virunga volcano chain in the northwest; this includes Mount Karisimbi, Rwanda’s highest point, at 4,507 metres (14,787 ft). This western section of the country, which lies within the Albertine Rift montane forests ecoregion, has an elevation of 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) to 2,500 metres (8,202 ft). The centre of the country is predominantly rolling hills, while the eastern border region consists of savanna, plains and swamps.
Rwanda has a temperate tropical highland climate, with lower temperatures than are typical for equatorial countries because of its high elevation. Kigali, in the centre of the country, has a typical daily temperature range between 12 °C (54 °F) and 27 °C (81 °F), with little variation through the year. There are some temperature variations across the country; the mountainous west and north are generally cooler than the lower-lying east. There are two rainy seasons in the year; the first runs from February to June and the second from September to December. These are separated by two dry seasons: the major one from June to September, during which there is often no rain at all, and a shorter and less severe one from December to February. Rainfall varies geographically, with the west and northwest of the country receiving more precipitation annually than the east and southeast.
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