The current state of a nation is a journey that started somewhere, and this is the history. Rwanda just like any other country has a good and painful past, events that explain the evolution of what is now known as the Switzerland of Africa.

Situated within East-Central Africa, Rwanda is a small landlocked country covering a total area of 26,338 square kilometers (10,169 square miles) of which 24,668 square kilometers/9524 square miles are land area while the remaining 1670 square kilometers (645 square miles) are covered by water. The country is bordered by Burundi to the South, Tanzania to the East, Uganda to the North and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the West and North-west.

She is popular for sheltering the critically endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) and the jaw-dropping landscape hence the reason for the name “le pays des mille collines” or “Land of a thousand Hills”. Kigali, known as the cleanest City in Africa is this country’s Capital with an estimated population of 1 million people.

Human settlement in this nation is believed to have started soon after the last glacial period. By the 16th Century, the occupants had already organized themselves into several Kingdoms. By the late 19th Century, King (locally known as Mwami) Kigeli IV Rwabugiri of the Kingdom of Rwanda controlled decades-long process of military victory and administrative unification that resulted in the Kingdom coming to power, most of what is now known as Rwanda.

Rwanda evolved from a number of stages that include the Neolithic to the Middle Ages (from about 15,200 BC to 3000 BC), the Middle Ages (15th Century), during the reign of King Rwabugiri (in the 19th Century), during colonial Rwanda (divided into German East Africa from 1885 to 1919, Belgian League of Nations mandate from 1916 to 1946, Belgian UN trust territory from 1945 to 1961 and the conflict up to the time before independence), Independence in 1961, Military rule, civil war and the Rwandan genocide, post-war modern Rwanda and finally the present day country.

During the time of Neolithic to Middle Ages, the area of modern-day Rwanda was always verdant and fertile for many years even during the last glacial period when some section of the famous Nyungwe Forest was blanketed by the alpine ice sheets of the Mountains of the Moon (Rwenzori Mountains). However, it is still not clear on when this country was first occupied but is believed that humans migrated to the areas immediately after the last glacial period, either in the Neolithic time of about ten thousand years ago or even in the long humid period up to about 3000 BC. Interestingly, the Twa, group of forest dwelling pygmies were the earliest occupants of the area and their lineage still live in Rwanda.

During the Middle Ages (in the 15th century), majority of the Bantu-speakers especially the Hutus and Tutsi had organized themselves into small states (3) that included Gisaka (in the south-eastern side of the country and was considered powerful), Mubari state of the Zigaba clan that occupied an immense area and finally the third one which was also the oldest covering areas of modern Rwanda as well as the northern region.

During the reign of Mwami (King) Kigeli IV Rwabugiri in the 19th Century, the state became more consolidated although the history is far more accurate. Conquering and expansion continued hence reaching up to the shores of Lake Kivu. However, this growth or expansion was less about military subjugation but more of migrating population, spreading some of the exceptional agricultural techniques, social organization as well as the addition of the political control of the King (Mwami). Also under his sovereignty, the economic imbalance between the Tutsi and Hutu became clear and the wide political imbalance came into view as the former formed into a hierarchy influenced by the King. The King was also in charge of all the estates, banana plantations and cattle spread throughout the Kingdom.

Then came the time of colonialism with the first German to visit the region being Count Gustav Adolf Von Götzen who from 1893 to 1894 led a journey to capture the hinterlands of the Tanganyika Colony. This brave man entered Rwanda through Rusumo waterfalls before meeting the King at his Palace in Nyanza then finally arriving Lake Kivu in the western border of the Kingdom of Rwanda. This period was also characterized by wars and division and the Germans had little direct control in the areas thus depending entirely on local Government.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a wave of Pan-Africanism swept through the African Continent, especially Central Africa led by Revolutionists such as Patrice Hemery Lumumba of Congo and Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania. This was characterized by anti-colonial attitude thus leading to the promotion of socialist platform of African unity and equality for all Africans. Then on the 25th September 1961, a referendum was conducted to ascertain whether Rwanda should be a Republic or still remains a Kingdom and interestingly, the Citizens tremendously voted for a Republic.

Parliamentary elections were thereafter conducted on the same day whereby the first Rwandese Republic was announced with Dominique Mbonyumutwa being the first President (28th January to 26 October 1961) and Grégoire Kayibanda the Prime Minister of the new Government. The former later became the next president of Rwanda and from 1961 to 1962, the Tutsi guerilla group launched attacks into Rwanda and the surrounding countries prompting the Hutu troops to also respond thereby claiming a lot of lives.

On 5th July 1973, the Defense Minister known as Major General Juvénal Habyarimana ousted Grégoire Kayibanda and became the next president. During his rule, several changes were made including the dissolution of the National Assembly and forced a strict ban on all active politics. However on the 6th April 1994, a plane carrying him and the Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali hence killing all the occupants of the Plane. The fact that Habyarimana was a Hutu, military and rebel groups started capturing and murdering Tutsis in addition to the political elites regardless of their ethnicity. This murder spree swiftly spread from the City to other parts of the country.

From 6th April to July, over 800,000 lives were lost until Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) troops entered Kigali and defeated the Hutu rebels hence the end of the genocide.  There were over 2 million refugees who fled to the neighboring countries of Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire).

Paul Kagame under RPF formed the Rwanda of national unity led by a Hutu President known as Pasteur Bizimungu (from 19th July 1994 to 23rd March 2000) and Kagame being the Minister of Defense and Vice President thereby becoming the President of the country from 2000 till date.

Twenty three years down the road, the country is still healing from the painful wounds and is trying to rebuild and the good news is that there are great signs of fast economic development and several Genocide sites have become significant tourist sites. With utmost peace and security in Rwanda, tourists can now visit any of the Parks (Volcanoes, Akagera, Nyungwe Forest and Gishwati-Mukura National Parks) during Rwanda safaris.

Therefore, Rwanda’s history has been characterized by the pre-colonial period, Colonial time, Independence, civil wars and the genocide. As a way of learning from the mistakes, Rwandans now live under one identity-“Banyarwanda” speaking a mutual language “Kinyarwanda” regardless of the ethnic belonging.