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Situated in Central and East Africa, the Republic of Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in Africa, but one of the most densely populated. Bounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi, the country is in the African Great Lakes region.

With a land mass of just over 10,000 square miles, Rwanda has five volcanoes, twenty-three lakes, and several rivers. Its geography is characterized by mountains, and its largest body of water, Lake Kivu, is shared with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Western and central Rwanda is taken up by a series of steep mountains, interspersed with several lakes, whose shapes follow the mountains that surround them.

In the far eastern part of the country, the steep mountains give way to the flatter terrain of the Lake Victoria Basin, with the Kagera River and its associated network of swamps and small lakes along Rwanda's border with Tanzania. Akagera National Park is in this part of the country.

The earliest inhabitants of the region were pygmy hunter-gatherer people, ancestors of the Twa, who now make up only about one percent of the population. Sometime before 900 BC, the Twa were joined by the Hutus, a farming people who soon cleared many of the hunting areas that the Twa had depended on. Around the 10th century AD, the Tutsis came. In time, a hierarchy formed in which the Tutsis were dominant, leaving the Hutus and the Twa subjugated, although there were outlying areas where the Hutus did not accept this arrangement, and heavily forested areas where the Twa were living in peace.

The Tutsi and Hutu people are both ethnically Bantu, and a Hutu who was able to acquire enough wealth could become a Tutsi, and a Tutsi who lost his wealth might be downgraded to the status of a Hutu. While Tutsis and Hutu sometimes changed status, the Twa remained at the lower end of the hierarchy.

Rwanda, or large portions of it, was ruled by a succession of Tutsi monarchs from 1000-1894 AD and, although there were battles, infighting, and skirmishes, by the 1600s its governments became more and more organized, amassing large armies to subjugate outlying areas. The royal palace was constructed at Nyanza, a reconstruction of which remains today. The power of the Tutsi ruler covered most of what is now Rwanda, although there were Hutu enclaves in the north, northwest, and southwest of the country up until the 1900s. Within the larger area that was under the control of the Tutsis, Hutus might be in charge at the neighborhood level, but administrative power was in the hands of the Tutsis.

Being in the center of the continent, Rwanda was mostly untouched by European slave traders, and there is no record of Arab traders or Asian merchants having penetrated into Rwanda. Until the latter part of the 1800s. Rwanda had no written language. The Kingdom of Rwanda was isolated and closed to foreigners, and to most other Africans, until the 1890s. Trade with surrounding countries was limited, and Rwanda had no monetary system.

Nevertheless, the country was assigned to Germany, although no European was known to have set foot in the country until 1894. At this time, the kingdom was larger but was reduced to its current borders in 1910.

Germany left the Rwandan government in place and ruled through them. Various Christian missions began setting up bases, establishing schools, farms, and clinics. From 1911 to 1912, the Germans aligned with the Tutsis to subjugate some independent Hutu enclaves in the northern part of the country, causing no small amount resentment by the Hutu.

During World War I, Belgium occupied Rwanda and was given control over the land by the United Nations. During the Belgian era, the improvement in roads, schools, hospitals, and administrative infrastructure was considerable.

With the availability of education, more Hutus were reaching positions equal to that of the Tutsis, and began demanding recognition. During the 1959 Revolution, Hutus began killing Tutsis and destroying their homes. In 1961, the Belgians held a referendum in which the country voted to abolish the Tutsi monarchy. Rwanda separated from Burundi and became independent in 1962. Cycles of violence between Hutus and Tutsis continued, including the wholesale slaughter of Tutsis by the Hutu.

The Tutsis took control in a 1973 coup, reducing the violence against the Tutsis, but doing nothing for the Twa, who were largely forced from their forests and reduced to begging for survival.

By 1990, the Hutu were back in control, and a civil war began, which led to the Rwandan Genocide, in which up to a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed in well-planned attacks.

Today, the government is a presidential republic. The chief religion is Christianity, almost evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants, but influenced by traditional religions.



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