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Rwanda: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Africa, Cultural Sensitivity, Rwanda


Beautiful African Road
Photo by d_proffer

Location: Central Africa; bordered by Burundi in the South, Uganda in the North, Tanzania in the East, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the West.

Map of RwandaCapital: Kigali

 Climate: Surprisingly cool due to the high altitude. Hot in summer, with two rainy seasons

Population: 9,907,509 according to 2007 estimates. The economy of the land is mainly agriculture based, but the ethnic massacre of 1994 took a massive toll. Lately extraction of natural gas and other industry have given a boost to the flagging economy. With generous amounts of international aid and privatization programs there is a 6% annual growth which bodes well for the future of the country.

Boys in RwandaEthnic Make-up: Hutu 85%, Tutsi 14%, Twa 1% Religions: Christians (Roman Catholic) 70%, Muslim minority 5%, Indigenous 25%

Language: Kinyarwanda, French, English, Kiswahili used for trade and commerce

Government: Republic

Travel Issues: A valid visa is required for travel to Rwanda by all visitors except nationals of Tanzania, Uganda, and the U.S. for up to 3 months stay. A completed application form, along with a valid passport, 2 passport-sized photos, statement of reason for visit, and visa fee is to be submitted to the Consulate in your country. You can extend your visa at the Immigration office in Kigali.

Skulls in RwandaHealth & Safety: Immunization against Yellow fever is mandatory. Cholera, Typhoid, Polio, Malaria, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B vaccinations are strongly recommended. If you plan to visit rural and forest areas and may come into contact with wildlife, a rabies shot is advised. Clean water is scarce and water for all use from brushing teeth to drinking should be boiled or bottled. Avoid swimming in fresh water to prevent Bilharzia, which is the case of miniscule worms entering your body through the skin. Other risks include Trypanosomisasis (sleeping sickness), onchocerciasis (river blindness), and meningococcal meningitis. Be warned that in the event of an emergency, medical facilities are limited. Border areas, especially the one with the Democratic Republic of Congo, are said to be dangerous and any travel outside of the capital, Kigali, is best avoided.

smoke on the mountains africa 
Photo by d_proffer


boys in rwandaThe People: The Hutus are the majority population and are mostly an agrarian community. Each family cultivates its own land and live on it. They do not form communities but live apart. Rwandans are known for their soft-spoken nature and polite mannerisms.

The Religion: Christianity is the major religion in Rwanda, with a large Roman Catholic following. Their worship is however tinged with their traditional beliefs and rituals. About a quarter of the population are animist, in that they do not worship any deity, but believe that there is a soul in all things, including animals, plants and other entities.

Rwanda Gorilla ParkRole of Family: Traditionally, the families are patrilineal. There is a great degree of reverential fear for the older generation who take control of the whole extended family. The oldest male has the last word and is seen as closest to the ancestors. Children belong to the whole family and are brought up as such. Paternal uncles are referred to as “the other fathers.”

Ancestors: Rwandans have great respect for their ancestors and consider them the link between God and the living. They worship their ancestors and propitiate them with sacrifices and prayers.

Recreational Activities: Wildlife safaris are a favorite recreational activity. Next in line of popularity is mountain climbing. In the rural areas youngsters have a passion for athletics and football. Traditional singing and dancing are part of routine life and taken part by all ages with gusto.

 Rwandan Children
Photo by genvessel


Rwanda BicycleMeetings & Greetings: In business circles, a firm handshake is the accepted norm of greeting. When meeting the opposite gender, a slight bow with a courteous Good morning should suffice. Small talk should pave the way for what’s to follow. When in doubt, take your cues from your host. Do not expect Western-style expansiveness and casual body language.

Courtesy: Normal social courtesies should see you through comfortably. Keep your voice levels low and your movements slow and dignified. Eye contact between males is a sign of confidence.

African BusGift Giving: Though there is no gift giving concept, it may be considered courteous to carry a simple gift when visiting a family. If involved in business deals, learn to distinguish between gift and bribe.

Dress Code: If on business, it is advisable to wear a lightweight suit and tie. Appointments should be made well in advance and confirmed closer to the date. Some French may help you get ahead, as most Rwandians do not speak English. Women should preferable be well-covered with shoulders, arms, and legs appropriately covered.

boy in central africaDining Etiquette: In cities like Kigali, dining at restaurants may not involve anything more than normal table manners. For other situations, take your cue from your host. While there are no rigid rules or formalities, you would need to tread with caution if dining with an elder.

Visiting a home: If invited to a home, arrive with a simple gift of chocolates, fruits or some toys for children. Chances are your host will have simple circumstances that he is eager to share with you. Show adequate enthusiasm and appreciation by sharing a meal with the family.

Communication Style: A simple, direct mode of communication should see you safely through. Do not engage in arguments or unnecessary comparisons that will hurt the sentiments of your host. Rwandians can be quite emotional and can easily be agitated by unwarranted condescension. It is best to keep things simple and uncomplicated.

Dos and Don’ts: However close you feel to your host, do not bring up contentious topics such as politics or religion. The society is heavily patriarchal and there is no concept of women being treated anywhere near as equal as men. Therefore, a single woman attempting discussions or meetings will not be taken seriously unless accompanied by a male.

downtown kigali
Photo by d_proffer

Skulls, Gorilla sign, Bicycle, and Bus photos by d_proffer
3 boys by loufi
Two closeup boys by genvessel
Smiling Boy by TKnoxB

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