Within a period of three months in 1994, an estimated five to eight hundred thousand people were killed as a result of civil war and genocide in Rwanda. Until this recent violence, Rwanda had a population of 7.5 million, a population growth rate of 3.7 percent and had one of the highest population densities of any country on the African continent. Rwanda's geography and demography makes it susceptible to certain types of environmental problems. The degradation of Rwanda's natural resource base is closely tied to pressure exerted on a limited arable land mass by a rapidly growing population, 90 percent of whom are engaged in agriculture. Population growth had greatly outpaced food production, largely due to the lack of additional land to put into cultivation. Complex, interacting combination of factors contributed to the genocide in Rwanda. Environmental scarcity was just one of the many aggravating factors which had a role in the recent conflict in Rwanda. The massacres, war, and refugee movements were tied to political aspirations and elite insecurity. Environmental scarcity was used as a political tool to mobilize the rural population for political ends.
Rwanda is a small, land-locked country, resource poor, sub-Saharan African country situated immediately south of the Equator, bordering on Zaire, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi. Ecologically, Rwanda is divided into twelve agro-ecological zones, with respect to farming practices and climatic characteristics. Often called "the Land of a Thousand Hills," a majority of Rwanda's population lives and farms at elevations between 1300 and 2300 meters above sea level. Rwanda is dominated by mountain ranges and highland plateaus of the great watershed between the Nile and the Zaire river basins.
The degradation of Rwanda's resource base is closely tied to pressure exerted on a limited arable land area by a large and rapidly going population, 90 percent of whom are engaged in agriculture. Until the recent civil war, Rwanda's population was growing at a rate of 3.7 percent per year resulting in relentless pressure on lands for farming, raising livestock, and other agricultural production. In many areas of the country, intensive crop cultivation is practiced on land that cannot sustain such practices or on land that should remain fallow. This trend is most evident in hilly areas, where every slope is intensively cultivated, even very steep slopes, which are greater than a 50 degree gradient. Experts suggest that in the north western territory, where the potential for agricultural productivity is high, the expansion of agriculture onto marginal lands is resulting in serious slope failures. Soil erosion is further exacerbated by a majority of Rwanda's population farming and living at high elevations.
Intensive culture is especially prevalent where farms have been subdivided several times as they pass from one generation to anther. In many cases, the inherited farm lots are too small to support a family, averaging less than 1.2 ha. Subsequently, farmers attempt to compensate by growing more than one crop on the same land in very short cycles, often without adding natural fertilizers to enrich the soil. This fragmentation of family holdings through generational transfers has led to a severe decline in agricultural production, resulting in malnutrition and soil exhaustion.
In Rwanda, the marginal lands colonized are steep areas on hills through terrace cultivation and swamp areas in valleys, The rapid rate of population growth has been accompanied by a shortening of the fallow period and an increase in the number of crops. Additionally, the conversion of pasture land into cropland has decreased the production of manure, therefore decreasing soil fertility. Virtually all available land in Rwanda is already being used with exception of two subregions, the Nyabarngo Valley and Akagera Park.
Rwanda's hilly terrain is also composed of wetland areas in the floodplains and national parks and forest reserves. The demand to convert more land to agriculture has led to the destruction of Rwanda's wetlands, which has resulted in flooding. loss of wildlife habitats, and sedimentation. Rwanda's remaining natural forests, the Nyungwe Forest, the Gishwati Forest and the Mukara Forest have a high degree of biological diversity and rare animal species, such as mountain gorillas, ruwenzori colobus monkeys and golden chimpanzees. Population pressures have already drastically reduced the land area of the natural forests of Rwanda from approximately 30 percent at the turn of the century to presently 7 percent of the total land area. The deforestation of Rwanda's remaining natural forests is also the result of high fuel- wood consumption. Prior to the 1990 civil war Rwanda was annually using 2.3 million cubic meters of wood more than it was producing, where 91 percent of wood consumption was for domestic use. Heavily populated and cultivated areas adjacent to the natural forests, as well as the on-going civil war, has resulted in massive deforestation and a loss of genetic diversity within Rwanda's natural forests.
Rwanda is one of the few countries in sub-Saharan African which was not an artificial creation of colonialism. The people of Rwanda speak a single language, Kiyarwanda, and comprise a single nationality, Banyarwanda. Rwanda is divided among three groups, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. According to a 1994 census, 90.4 percent of the resident population in Rwanda were Hutu, 8.2 percent Tutsi, and .4 percent Twa. Until Belgium colonialization in the 19th century, Hutu and Tutsi were largely occupationally defined. During this period, whoever acquired a sizable herd of cattle was called Tusti and farmers were called Hutu.
Largely due to population pressure, Rwandan society developed into a well-organized state with a high degree of authoritarian social control from above. The German and Belgian colonizers strengthened the control from above by pursuing policies based on the creation of ethnic identities of the pre-colonial past. Under colonial rule, the minority Tutsi became the haves and the majority Hutu became the have-9nots.
This authoritarian control, which continued into the post-Colonial period, did not allow for the political space necessary to create a strong civil society. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) defines civil society as, the political space between the individual and the government, which is usually expressed as membership in NGOs, informal social groups, associations, chamber of commerce, and other organizations which advocate political representation of their members. The Rwandan tradition of centralized governmental control combined with a lack of political space for a strong civil society, facilitated policies aimed at the mobilization and manipulation of the rural poor, often for violent purposes.
As the Belgians shifted support from the Tutsi ruling class to the majority Hutu at the time of Rwanda's independence in 1961, the replacement of one political elite to another introduced a new dimension of political and social instability. Resentments toward the Tutsi eventually resulted in the Social Revolution of 1959, in which 150,000 Tutsi were either killed or fled to nearby Uganda, Burundi, Zaire, and Tanzania. The new Hutu government installed a hierarchical administrative systems once again modeled after Rwanda's pre-independence system of government. Many of the same discriminatory practices from pre-independence were put into place against the Tutsi, such as ethnic identity cards, were printed with the person's ethnicity to distinguish between Tutsi and Hutu.
In an attempt to ease social tensions and legitimize the Hutu controlled Post-colonial government, the government sponsored a resettlement program during the 1960's and 1970s known as the payasannat. This resettlement program displaced over 80,000 farmers and their families culminating in a mass exodus westward into previously unsettled areas. Government sponsored conversion of pastures into cultivated lands, coupled with increasing population pressures, gradually decreased the production of manure, further decreasing soil fertility. Tutsi grazing lands were gradually turned into Hutu farming lands.
Another national policy initiated by the Hutu government during this early Post-colonial period promoted the increase of agricultural production. Agricultural colonialization and intensification stressed the importance of increasing food production to cope with the rapid population pressure and social unrest. But instead of reducing the population growth rate, the relative availability of land during this period actually resulted in higher fertility rates.
In 1990, under President Habryarimana, the Hutu controlled government started to unravel, as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), comprised mainly of Tutsi refugees from Zaire, invaded the country from Uganda. The Rwandan government based its legitimacy on its ability to provide for the basic needs of its population. However, a dramatic decrease in coffee and tea prices greatly impacted upon the Rwandan economy. Ninety percent of export earnings came from 7 percent of the land and was mainly derived from coffee. The Rwandan economy was also seriously affected by structural adjustment policies implemented in 1990 and the civil war. Increased rural poverty due to land scarcity and environmental degradation, combined with resentments built up through the years of repression and inequitable distribution of government resources, was an importance factor in the eventual collapse of the Habryarimana regime.
Although responsible for acquiring large amounts of foreign assistance, the Habyarimana government channeled most of the aid into the northwest, the president's home region, further aggravating ethnic tensions. The Habryarimana government's legitimacy was further jeopardized by the formation of opposition parties mainly centered in the south. These grievances were expressed through ethnic cleavages which had evolved out of Rwanda's colonial past.
On 6 April 1994, President Habyarimana's plane exploded plunging the country into violence, resulting in the killing of over 1 million people and the displacement of over 2 million people. Most experts agree that elites within the Habyarimana government were responsible for the president's death, motivated by elite and regime insecurity. The Arusha Accords, which provided for the creation of a transitional government until elections would be held in 1994 threatened the Hutu elites position of power within Rwanda. The death of Habaryimana enabled the Hutu elites to aggravate existing ethnic cleavages in order to mobilize the population in an anti-Tutsi fervor, resulting in the mass killings of 1994. In the case of Rwanda, environmental scarcity was used as a political tool to engage the rural population for violent purposes. The genocide in Rwanda was directly tied to political aspirations and fears, fueled by a deteriorating natural resource base.
Within a period of three months in 1994, an estimated five to eight hundred thousand people were killed as a result of civil war and genocide in Rwanda. Large numbers were physically and psychologically afflicted for life through maiming, raping, and other trauma; over two million fled to neighboring countries and maybe half as many have been internally displaced.
Region: East Africa
Rwanda's high population density and large number of internally displaced refugees has pushed an ever- increasing number of people onto ecologically sensitive areas, such as Rwanda's remaining natural forests. The degradation of Rwanda's forests results from demand for its products, fuelwood, building posts, casserite, gold, browse for livestock, wildlife and other products valued by local populations and the international community.
Central Africa is now experiencing a steady decline in forest resources and habitat. Tropical moist forests in Central Africa, home to rare wildlife, are disappearing at an alarming rate at nearly 2 million hectares each year. Farmers desperate for land to cultivate have entered the protected forests and destroyed natural habitats. The demand to convert more land to agriculture has led to destruction of Rwanda's wetlands (marais), which has resulted in flooding, loss of wildlife habitats and sedimentation.
Demographic pressures have induced utilization of marginal land, the shortening of fallow periods and the conversion of pasture and natural forests into cropland. Independent of soil erosion, the lack of vegetative cover caused by deforestation and over-cultivation can reduce soil fertility. As population pressures push farmers onto increasingly fragile lands, more and more farming is being done on slopes more than a 10 percent inclination, where rainfall often washes away both the soil and the crops. The fragmentation of family holdings through generational transfers has led to a severe decline in agricultural production, resulting in decreased levels of caloric intake and soil exhaustion.
(2) Species Loss
Rwanda's remaining natural forests have a high degree of biodiversity and rare animal species which are threatened by the encroachment of refugees fleeing conflict. In the Nyungwe National Forest Reserve, haven to at least 190 species of trees and 275 species of birds and 12 species of primates, has felt the effects of population pressure and civil war resulting in the cutting down trees for firewood and poaching of animals for food. Systematic game hunting has wiped out all the buffalo and most of the forest antelopes known as duikers. After two decades of slaughter, there are at most six elephants left in the Nyungwe Forest.
Act Site Harm Site Example Rwanda Rwanda Declining Resource Base
The politically motivated violence which culminated in the crisis of April-July 1994 has resulted in almost two million refugees fleeing across the borders. In 1995, there were as many as 2 million Rwandan refugees living in camps in Zaire, in addition to large numbers in Tanzania, Uganda, and Burundi, severely straining the resources of international aid organizations, donor nations, as well as host countries. In addition to the sheer magnitude of upheavals, there is a legacy of widespread rape, maiming, and torture and deep psychological scars of a people faced with the horrors of genocide.
The ethnic violence, which took place between 1990-1995, caused major ecological damage, through the destruction of anti-erosion measures, the loss of genetic diversity and massive deforestation. As a result of the civil war, the collapsing Rwandan government no longer had the capacity to support natural resource management initiatives.
A sudden influx of forcibly repatriated refugees from Zaire would not only place immense pressure on the carrying capacity of Rwanda and other actors in the recovery process, but also could cause a great heightening of tensions within Rwandan society that could conceivably result in the resumption of the civil war.
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1. The USAID definition of civil society in Heather McHugh, "Efforts in Ethnic Conflict Resolution: Preliminary Lessons Learned," Issue Paper No. 3 (Washington, D.C.: Academy of Educational Development, March 1995), 16.
2. Population growth rates and census reports in Scott Grosse, "More People, More Trouble: Population Growth and Agricultural Changes in Rwanda," (Washington, D.C.: USAID Bureau of Africa, September 1994), 12.
3. Historical evolution of Rwanda in Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda, "The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwandan Experience," (Washington, D.C.: USAID, March 1996), 14.
4. Quote taken from D.C. Clay, "Fighting an Uphill Battle: Demographic Pressure, the Structure of Land Holding, and Land Degradation in Rwanda," (Department of Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University, 1993), 1.