Friday, 3 November 2006

Rwanda 101 - Part I (Geography and Climate)

Everything you wanted to know about Rwanda but were afraid to ask. Thus, here begins your class on "Introduction to Rwanda":

Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda, is a small landlocked country in the
Great Lakes region of east-central Africa, with a population of approximately 8 million. It is bordered by Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. Its fertile and hilly terrain gives it the title "Land of a Thousand Hills" (in French, le Pays des Mille Collines or Igihugu cy'Imisozi Igihumbi in Kinyarwanda). Rwanda supports the densest populations in continental Africa. It is best known to the outside world for the 1994 Rwandan genocide that resulted in the deaths of up to one million people.

Rwanda's Geography:
Rwanda is a small republic in Equatorial Africa, situated a few degrees south of the Equator and on the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift, a western arm of the Great Rift Valley, on the watershed between Africa's two largest river systems: the Nile and the Congo. Much of the country's 26,338 km2 is impressively mountainous, the highest peak being Karisimbi (4,507m) in the volcanic Virunga chain protected by the Parc des Volcans. The largest body of water is Lake Kivu, but numerous other lakes are dotted around the country, notably Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi and Mugesera, some of which have erratic shapes following the contours of the steep mountains that enclose them. Rwanda is separated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo by Lake Kivu and the Ruzizi River valley to the west; it is bounded on the north by Uganda, to the east by Tanzania, and to the south by Burundi. The capital, Kigali, is located in the centre of the country.

Rwanda's countryside is covered by grasslands and small farms extending over rolling hills, with areas of rugged mountains that extend southeast from a chain of volcanoes in the northwest. The divide between the Congo and Nile drainage systems extends from north to south through western Rwanda at an average elevation of almost 9,000 feet (2,740 m). On the western slopes of this ridgeline, the land slopes abruptly toward Lake Kivu and the Ruzizi River valley, and constitutes part of the Great Rift Valley. The eastern slopes are more moderate, with rolling hills extending across central uplands at gradually reducing altitudes, to the plains, swamps, and lakes of the eastern border region (hence Rwanda being fondly known as "Land of a Thousand Hills"). Recently, a British-led exploration announced that they had located the longest headstream of the River Nile in Nyungwe Forest.

Rwanda's Climate:
Rwanda is a tropical country; its high elevation makes the climate temperate year-round. In the mountains, frost and snow are possible. Temperatures rarely stray above 30 degrees Celsius by day or below 15 degrees Celsius at night throughout the year. The exceptions are the chilly upper slopes of the Virunga Mountains, and the hot low-lying Tanzania border area protected in Akagera National Park. Throughout the country, seasonal variations in temperature are relatively insignificant. Rwanda is considered the lightning capital of the world, due to intense daily thunderstorms during the two rainy seasons (February to May and September to December). Annual rainfall averages 31 inches (830 mm) but is generally heavier in the western and north-western mountains than in the eastern savannas. Most parts of the country receive in excess of 1,000mm of precipitation annually, with the driest months being July to September and the wettest February to May.

Current Problems:
High dependence on subsistence agriculture, high (and increasing) population density, decreasing soil fertility, and an uncertain climate make Rwanda a country where chronic malnutrition is widespread and poverty endemic.

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