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Think you know Rwanda? Think again. From gender equality to environmental conservation, this small East African nation is full of fascinating facts and surprises that will wow even the most knowledgeable traveler.
As governments around the world are under fire for unequal gender representation in politics, the Rwandan government is way ahead of the game. In a ranking of countries by the World Economic Forum on countries with the best and worst governmental gender gap, Rwanda is the sixth best in the world (with the USA clocking in at number 28). With 64% of Rwandan parliament positions occupied by women, and countless other ministry positions and important offices structured similarly, Rwanda is unique.
Despite being in the news so frequently, Rwanda is the smallest country in East Africa – even smaller than neighboring Burundi, and absolutely dwarfed by Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Occupying an area of 10,169 square miles (26,338 square kilometers), Rwanda also happens to be also be the most densely populated country on the continent, with almost every plot of land occupied by communities, homes, or terraced farming.
With the lush rainforests of Nyungwe to the south, the Virunga volcanic massif to the northwest, and the savanna of Akagera National Park to the east, Rwanda really does have it all. To top it off, an impressive array of indigenous flora, fauna, and animal species also call this country home.
Listed as the ninth safest country in the world by the World Economic Forum and the 11th safest country in the world by a 2017 Gallup poll, Rwanda is impressively safe, stable, and easy to visit. Ranking ahead of countries like Austria and the New Zealand, Rwanda has really gone the extra mile to make tourists and residents feel as secure as possible.
Rwandans generally speak more than just their native Kinyarwanda. French, the colonial language, is spoken most widely by the older generations, whereas English and Swahili are newly entering the scene. Due to having a lot of refugees from around the region, Rwanda is becoming a pretty multicultural country, with a lot of linguistic diversity.
In spite of what some Western media would have you believe, the Rwandan genocide occurred almost 24 years ago, in April 1994. Although this was a tragic and harrowing event, Rwanda has done an incredible job of bouncing back, rebuilding, and rebranding.
Before colonization, Rwanda and Burundi existed as separate nations. However, the two countries were combined by Germany in 1894, and until independence from Belgium in 1962, the territory was called Ruanda–Urundi. Cultural similarities both before and after independence, as well as a shared border, have kept the two countries closely linked.
Although photographs of Rwanda feature bright-blue lakes with lush forests and towering volcanoes, the country is landlocked. There are currently plans to build a train from the Tanzanian coast to Kigali, in the hope of expanding trade capabilities and improving cohesion of the East African region.
In 2008, Rwanda became known around the world for banning plastic bags in an effort to go green. Coupled with the country’s conservation work for the endangered mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountain range, Rwanda is as sustainable as it gets. The work of Dian Fossey and the film Gorillas in the Mist brought a lot of international attention to the issue, but the Rwandan government and various NGOs have also worked tirelessly to protect the gorilla population and their natural habitat.
Rwanda’s coffee ranks alongside that of Brazil, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Known around the world for its dark and fruity flavors, Rwandan coffee continues to win global cupping competitions, as cafés, roasters, and artisanal growers are becoming bigger than ever in Rwanda.
Called Umuganda, this national day of service occurs on the last Saturday of every month. All Rwandans and residents have to work within their community sectors on various public works projects, from road maintenance and house building to tree planting and farming.
Although the majority of tourism in Rwanda is currently due to the nation’s endangered mountain gorilla population, Rwanda has a lot more to offer. Sparkling lakes, volcanoes, and varying national parks, such as Nyungwe National Park and Akagera National Park, offer Africa’s Big Five, a whole host of primates, and hundreds of bird species. Additionally, Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, is quickly becoming a creative foodie hub that shouldn’t be missed. Come for the gorillas, but stay for everything else this tiny country has to offer.
Tourism in Rwanda is on the rise, especially as major outlets like The New York Times and CNN Travel recognize this country as one of the world’s most desirable travel locations. Although Rwanda’s coffee and tea exports, as well as the bourgeoning business sector, are import factors in Rwanda’s GDP, the booming tourism industry has quickly become integral to Rwanda’s economic growth.