Rwanda is believed to have been populated originally by pygmy forest hunters known as the Twa. They remain a minor ethnic group within modern day Rwanda.
The Hutu were the next to come to the country, probably from the Lake Chad area from the 5th to the 11th Century. They were mainly farmers and cleared large parts of the forest. After them came the Tutsi around the 14th Century, probably from the Ethiopian highlands and they settled in the west of the country, largely as cattle farmers.
From the 15th Century a number of small states developed and slowly the Tutsi became the ruling class and most of the kings emerged from this group and were known as Mwami. By the middle of the 16th Century Mwami Mibambwe I Mutabazi centralised the monarchy and by the 19th Century Mwami Kigeri IV had established the state that was in place when the Germans arrived in 1894.
The 1885 Conference of Berlin had declared that the area now known as Rwanda and Burundi would come under German control, but it wasn’t until 1894 that Count von Götzen travelled to the country; he was subsequently to become governor of German East Africa.
The Germans largely left the rule of Rwanda to the Mwami but they did change the balance between the Tutsis and Hutus by considering the Tutsi to be a superior race. The Hutu were subjugated with the support of the Germans.
After the First World War the country was put into the hands of the Belgians as mandated in the League of Nations Mandate 1916. The Belgians were keen to see the region become profitable and introduced a number of new crops including cassava, maize, potato and coffee. The Belgians introduced forced labour and divided the Tutsi and Hutu even further with racial branding which left the Tutsi feeling they were a superior race probably of Caucasian ancestry.
Following World War Two Rwanda became a United Nations trust territory with Belgium as the administrative authority. By 1952 the Belgians had allowed limited political representation in government which included representation for the Hutu. In 1959, after a number of years of social unrest the Belgian authorities declared a state of emergency and with the support of the United Nations attempted to form a single Rwandan-Burundi state. By 1962 it became clear that a political union between the two countries was not going to happen and on 27th June the General Assembly of the United Nations terminated the Belgian Trusteeship Agreement and Rwanda was given its independence (along with Burundi).
By the time of independence many Tutsi had been forced out of the country and the Hutu majority were able to take over the government. Grégoire Kayibanda, a Hutu, became the President of Rwanda on 1st July 1962. The country became a one party state with the MDR-Parmehutu as the sole legal party. Its leader, Grégoire Kayibanda, ran as president in the first general election since independence on 10th March 1965 and was elected unopposed. He went on to rule until 5th July 1973 when he was overthrown in a military coup d’état led by his defense minister Major General Juvénal Habyarimana.
Habyarimana, another Hutu, introduced the second republic and went on to rule, as dictator, from 1973 until 1994. There were elections in 1978, 1983 and 1988 but people were given the choice of a Yes/No ballot paper. The new president’s party, the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (Mouvement Républicain National pour la Démocratie et le Développement, MRND) became the sole legal party in the country during this period.
President Juvénal Habyarimana favoured his own Hutu ethnic group throughout his rule and he supported the Hutu in neighbouring Burundi.
On 6th April 1994 Habyarimana was killed, along with the President of Burundi when his airplane was shot down near Kigali International Airport.
Prior to his death President Habyarimana had faced an invasion of Tutsi based forces from neighbouring Uganda under the leadership of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in October 1990.
Although a peace agreement, The Arusha Peace Accord was signed in 1993, the death of the president in April 1994 sparked a mass genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutus. The genocide lasted until July 1994 and is believed to have taken the lives of around one million Rwandans.
The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) renewed its civil war against the Rwandan Hutu led government and its leader Paul Kagame ordered an invasion from all the neighbouring countries. The rebels made quick advances and by mid-June French forces had intervened and set up a ‘safe zone’ in the southwest. Nevertheless the RPF pushed forward and by 4th July they had captured the capital Kigali along with a number of other major towns.
By now, around two million Rwandans were believed to have fled the country and some were to go on and carry out attacks from neighbouring countries leading the Rwandans to invade Zaire over the next few years.
On 17th July 1994 the RPF announced that Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, would be the new President of Rwanda; Paul Kagame was to be his Vice-President. Most countries quickly recognised the new government and on 25th November a Transitional National Assembly made up of 70 members was inaugurated in Kigali in accordance with the Arusha Peace Accord (the MRND was excluded).
Bizimungu remained as president until 2000 when he fell out with the government over the make-up of a new Cabinet. The first multi-party elections in Rwanda took place on 25th August 2003 when Paul Kagame was elected as President with 95.1% of the vote (he had two opponents). The Rwandan Patriotic Front led a coalition of parties including the Christian Democratic Party, Islamic Democratic Party, Democratic Union of the Rwandan People and Rwandan Socialist Party to win a total of 58 of the 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
Fresh elections were held in 2008 and the RPF coalition won 42 of the 80 seats. The elections were boycotted by the opposition but were notable in electing a parliament dominated by women. In 2010 Paul Kagame won again with 93.08% of the vote but his election was marred by violence and intimidation.
The President is elected for a seven-year term and is allowed to stand for a second term.
The bicameral parliament has a Senate with 26 seats of which 12 members are elected by local councils, 8 appointed by the president, 4 appointed by the Political Organisations Forum and 2 represent institutions of higher learning. Members serve eight year terms. The Chamber of Deputies has 80 seats of which 53 members are elected by popular vote, 24 women are elected by local bodies and 3 are selected by youth and disability organizations. Members serve five year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Rwanda at joint 50th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 54 (where 100 is least corrupt).