Rwanda is a small country in East Africa – sizewise as small as the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany but inhabited by 3 times as many people. An estimation of 2015 predicts a total number of 11.2 mio people and a density of 445 inhabitants per km2. Due to the horrible incidents of 1994, the population is rather young. The language spoken is Kinyarwanda, but basically you can communicate with people in English and French. My rule of thumb: French with elderly people and English with the young ones. Their currency is the Rwandan Franc.
Rwanda is also called the “land of a thousand hills“. And not without reason: Everywhere you go, you will see hills. Since I come from the low mountain range in Germany, that made me feel at home in some way. Its mean elevation is almost 1,600 m above sea level but you will still get enough oxygen, don’t worry!
For one year, I lived in a village called Nyarurema in Nyagatare District in the Eastern Province. Although, it may look close to the Ugandan border, I never actually made it there – but I got a glance of it from the small border river :)
I stayed at the local Parish there. The priests were really welcoming and it was not a problem for them that I don’t believe. I almost became like their daughter 🙂
Most of my time I spent at ETP Nyarurema, a private secondary school famous for focusing on Information and Communication Engineering (ICE). (Students do their A-levels there, but it lays the foundation for science oriented studies.) Half of its students come from the surrounding villages, another half from the big cities such as Kigali and Gisenyi. And if I wasn’t in my village, I probably was visiting a student at home.
It is important to realize what big role computer sciences or sciences in general play in such countries these days. This is the opportunity for Rwandans to make their country better off. Inevitably, the initiative for progress must come from the inhabitants themselves.
The Government of Rwanda strengthens this trend by supporting a free market economy. The president further puts a lot of effort in stopping corruption (and has been successful). In recent years, especially concerning the Millenium Development Goals, Rwanda has made remarkable progress. (For a glance at the capital’s vision of the future, see the video at the bottom.)
Nonetheless, the country is predominantly rural with 73 % of the employed population working in the agricultural sector. By contrast, in urban areas, 25 % of the working population set up their own businesses in non-agriculture sector and 52 % work as employees. (Status as of 2012)
Religion plays an important role in Rwanda. More than 90 % of the population is Christian (see chart on the left): in 2002, 56.9 % was Roman Catholic, 27.1% was Protestant (among them 11.1% Seventh-day Adventist), 4.6% was Muslim (mainly Sunni), 1.7% claims no religious affiliation, and 0.1% practices traditional indigenous beliefs. Priests achieve the highest level of education in Rwanda and thus are regularly asked for advice. The Roman Catholic church does many good things in the villages such as building Health Centers, AIDS centers and supporting poor families.
People believe in a gracious God that will make their life better and bring wealth to their families. The religious practices of the Protestants seem a bit odd for Western standards though: something looking like hypnosis is enjoying growing popularity. In general, the service includes much more dancing and clapping than what we can witness in Germany every sunday. Schism is very normal here. When two church leaders are not getting along any longer, they will just build up their own church. Sects are present as well.
Although Rwanda is not a widely known country, tourism is the second most important sector of the economy. The number of tourists is growing from year to year. Most people will come to visit the mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, join a safari trip through the Akagera National Park or hike through the Cloud Forest in Nyungwe. I love the country for the bright green colours everywhere and for its banana plants that look like palm trees. And of course, the people are warm-hearted, relaxed and love to make jokes.
As they don’t see many foreigners, Rwandans are very eager to talk to visitors and, at the same time, to improve their English. What you will need to learn is how to bargain on markets etc. And if you go to the country side, you will have to get used to people pointing at you and the surprised yelling of “umzungu“, meaning a white person.
See the Master Plan of the capital city of Kigali for 2020:
Some pictures in this article were taken from Neil Palmer, found on Flickr.
Learn more about Rwanda:
In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the art scene is flourishing. Let me present to you the art works of Tony Cyizanye from Rwanda who by now lives in the USA.
Let’s watch a video of a spiritual Rwandese song and its traditional dance.