Rwanda is a republic with an executive president and a multiparty democratic system. The president is head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the defence forces. He or she is directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a seven-year term and serves a maximum of two terms.
Executive power is vested in the president and the cabinet. Members of the cabinet, including the prime minister, are appointed by the president. The cabinet is accountable to the president and to the parliament in accordance with the provisions of the country’s constitution.
For administrative purposes the country contains five provinces. The provinces are further divided into districts each with its own council and executive committee responsible for local administration and community development.
The bicameral parliament comprises the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies consists of 80 members, 53 of whom are directly elected by universal suffrage every five years. The remaining 27 represent women (24 seats), youth (two) and disabled people (one).
The Senate is composed of 26 members, who represent different groupings. These groupings include local government, marginalised communities, political parties and academia. Members of the Senate serve for eight years.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, comprising the Supreme Court, the High Court, and the provincial, district and municipal tribunals. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal and the constitutional court. The president and vice-president of the Supreme Court are elected by the Senate.
There are also gacaca courts concerned only with crimes against humanity in 1990-94, and especially the genocide of 1994, in which ordinary Rwandans judge their peers. These became operational in November 2002.
Under the new constitution of 2003, which includes basic safeguards to human rights, political organisations are prohibited from basing themselves on race, ethnic group, tribe, clan, region, sex, religion, or any other division which may give rise to discrimination.
Rwanda, sometimes known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ because of its undulating topography, became part of German East Africa in 1899. After the First World War it came under Belgian administration. Rwanda continued to be administered by Belgium after the Second World War.
In 1961 the Rwandan monarchy was abolished and in 1962 the country became independent. Grégoire Kayibanda, leader of the Parti de l’émancipation du people Hutu (Parmehutu), became the first elected president of Rwanda.
Rwanda’s main ethnic groups are the Hutus, who continue to make up the majority of the population, the Tutsi and the Twa.
Kayibanda was overthrown in a military coup in 1973 led by army chief of staff Juvénal Habyarimana. A period of military rule ensued, until 1978 when a new constitution was promulgated and Habyarimana became president.
In 1990 forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) entered the country from Uganda and civil war commenced. Though predominantly a Tutsi movement, the RPF did win a significant level of support from moderate Hutus. A new constitution promoting multiparty democracy was introduced in 1991. Peace talks brokered by the UN in August 1993 resulted in a power-sharing agreement between Habyarimana and the RPF, the Arusha Accords.
In April 1994 Habyarimana was assassinated when the aircraft that was carrying him was shot down. The identity of the assassins is controversial and unclear. The president’s death triggered the coordinated massacre of Tutsi – and some Hutus who opposed the government – by Hutu militia, elements of the Rwandan army and civilians.
In response to the killings, the RPF began a major offensive in the north. In July 1994 the RPF took control of Kigali and formed an administration based on the principles of power-sharing and national reconciliation. Shortly after the new government took office, a 70-member Transitional National Assembly was formed, including representatives of the five governing parties and three other smaller parties.
In April 2000 the president, Pasteur Bizimungu, was succeeded by RPF leader Paul Kagame. Following endorsement of a new constitution by referendum in May 2003, Kagame won the presidential election in August, and the RPF won the country’s first multiparty parliamentary election in September.
In November 2007 Rwanda signed a peace agreement with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), under which the DRC was to hand over those implicated in the 1994 genocide to Rwanda or to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ITCR).
In the 2008 parliamentary elections the RPF again won a majority.
In 2009 Rwanda joined the Commonwealth, becoming the second member country (Mozambique was the first) which was not formerly part of the British Empire.
In the presidential election of 2010, Kagame won a resounding victory; with a turnout of 98% he received 93.1% of the votes cast. His main challenger, Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, won 5.1%.