A land locked African nation bordered by Ugand a on the N, Burundi on the S, Tanzania on the E, and the Congo on the W, with its capital at Kigali. The grassy upland s and hills of Rwanda have been intensively grazed for centuries. Now the most densely populated nation in Africa, Rwanda suffers from severe erosion and soil exhaustion. Originally the home of the pygmy Twa people, Rwanda was settled by a Bantu people named the Hutu, who had migrated from the Congo Basin. By the 15th century the Hutu had become the feudal underlings of the Tutsi (Watusi), an extremely tall warrior people who may have originated in Ethiopia. The Tutsi maintained their exploitative domination unchallenged until 1885, when Germany claimed the region. In 1916 Belgian forces from the Congo overthrew the German colonial forces, and after World War I the country became part of the Belgium-administered League of Nations mand ate of Ruand a-Urundi.
Belgian rule did little to affect the Tutsi hold on power. The rise of African nationalism in the 1950s, however, brought to the subjugated Hutu a desire for freedom from minority rule. From 1955 to 1958 Tutsi repression was extreme and sought to thwart the growing Hutu movement. In 1959 a massive and bloody Hutu uprising put an end to the Tutsi monarchy and forced 120,000 Tutsi to flee the country. In 1962 Rwanda was granted full independence. A year later the exiled Tutsi attempted to reconquer the country but were repulsed, resulting in the massacre of 12,000 resident Tutsi.
In 1973 a military clique led by Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, a moderate Hutu, seized power. In 1978 a new constitution was ratified and Habyarimana was elected president; he was reelected in 1983 and 1988. In 1990 Tutsi rebels unsuccessfully invaded from Ugand a, but Habyarimana agreed to a new multiparty constitution in 1991. In 1993 there was rioting by Hutus in Kigali over power sharing with the Tutsis in government. Tutsi rebels again invaded and a UN peacekeeping force was sent to keep order. In 1994 Habyarimana and Burundi’s president were killed in a suspicious plane crash. Civil war erupted and Rwandan military and Hutu gangs slaughtered an estimated 500,000–1 million people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front took control of the country, and more than two million Rwandans, mostly Hutus, fled the country.
To soothe Hutu fears, the RPF named Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president and Tutsi, Paul Kagame, as vice president and defense minister. There were some reprisal against Hutus by the now Tutsidominated army. In refugee camps in the Congo, Tanzania, and Burundi, many died through disease, hunger, and violence. In 1995 a UN-appointed court, based in Tanzania, began indicting and trying a number of higher-ranking people for genocide in the Rwandan genocides, but few were found and only 17 were convicted in 10 years. Others were tried in Rwandan courts, where 5,000 were convicted out of 120,000 suspects. More than a million Hutu refugees returned to the country in 1996, and by 1997 there was again civil war between the Rwandan army and Hutu guerrilla bands.
In 1998 Rwanda began aiding antigovernment rebels in the Congo who were attempting to overthrow the Congolese president, Laurent Kabila. President Bizimungu resigned in 2000, and Kagame became the first Tutsi to be president of Rwanda. Rwanda continued to make incursions into Congo and Burundi pursuing Hutu rebel forces, although Rwandan forces were officially withdrawn from the Congo in 2002. In 2002 former president Bizimungu established an opposition party, was arrested, and charged with engaging in illegal political activity. In 2003, voters approved a new constitution, in elections Kagame won 95% of the vote in a campaign marked by repression of the opposition. The main Hutu rebel group, based in E Congo, announced in 2005 that it would disarm and return peacefully to Rwanda. The Rwandan government continues to search for participants in the 1994 genocides for eventual trial.