Key points on Rwanda ahead of Friday's elections

Wednesday August 2 2017

Moto taxi driver hold flags of the governing

Moto taxi driver hold flags of the governing Rwanda Patriotic Front's at the start of a parade in Kigali, on August 2, 2017. AFP PHOTO | MARCO LONGARI 

KIGALI

Rwanda, which holds a presidential election on Friday, is governed by Paul Kagame, who first became de facto leader when his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels halted a 1994 genocide.

Kagame's long tenure has produced strong economic results but is criticised for muzzling political opposition and stifling free speech.

The 1994 genocide
On April 6, 1994, president Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down, killing him as he returned to the capital Kigali from peace talks with, Tutsi rebels who had been waging a rebellion since 1990.

Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a moderate from the Hutu majority, was killed the next day.

The assassinations triggered a genocide that was planned and executed by the Hutu extremists in power. An estimated 800,000 people, mainly from the Tutsi minority, died.

Kagame's rebel RPF took over in July 1994 after defeating the Hutu extremists. The UN then set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to try those who had planned the genocide.

The court tried several dozen people before wrapping up its work in December 2015, and related trials have also been held in Belgium, France and Rwanda itself.

Political hegemony

In April 2000 Kagame was chosen as president by parliament and the government following the resignation of Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu who had served as president since July 1994.

Kagame was returned to power in elections in 2003 and 2010 with more than 90 percent of the vote each time.

He is credited with promoting development but has also been accused of authoritarianism. Amnesty International has denounced a Rwandan "climate of fear" illustrated by repeated attacks against opposition figures, media and human rights activists.

The United States and other countries levelled sharp criticism against a constitutional reform that allows Kagame to run for office for a third time, and possibly rule until 2034.

Rwanda has deployed troops into regional conflict zones including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1996 and in 1998, and has been accused of trying to destabilise neighbouring Burundi.

Strong economic growth

Landlocked Rwanda lies in central Africa's Great Lakes region, and the "land of a thousand hills" is home to 12.2 million people, according to African Development Bank (ADB) figures.

It is also quite small at 26,338 square kilometres (10,169 square miles), and thus the most densely populated country in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Hutus are the majority ethnic group, followed by the Tutsi and the tiny minority of Twa pygmies. Since the end of the genocide ethnic identification has become taboo, with citizens encouraged to see themselves as purely Rwandan.

The economy remains largely based on agriculture, while moving toward a services and knowledge-based one which the government hopes will make Rwanda a middle-income nation by 2020.

Foreign currency earners are services, tourism, tea and coffee.

Between 2000 and 2015, the economy expanded by an average of 7.9 per cent annually according to ADB data, which helped cut the rate of those living in poverty from 56.7 per cent in 2005-06 to 39.1 per cent in 2013-14, the sharpest decline on the continent.

Rwanda was a monarchy before it was colonised by Germany in 1898 and placed under Belgian protection in 1922.

The country won its independence in 1962.

Its first president Gregoire Kayibanda was overthrown in 1973 by Habyarimana.