Ethnic origins ignored in Rwanda's first census since genocide

from Agence France-Presse
Published on 16 Aug 2002
KIGALI, Aug 16 (AFP) - Eight years after up to a million of its citizens died in Africa's worst genocide in living memory, Rwanda Friday began its first ever population census that ignores ethnic origins.
Some 10,000 officials were mobilised to gather information on the tiny central African nation's estimated 8.6 million inhabitants in an exercise expected to last until August 31 and costing around eight million dollars.

"The 1994 genocide and the return of refugees have muddled the statistics, so the current data on the Rwandan population are only estimates," President Paul Kagame said in a televised address prior to the launch of the census.

"We can no longer rely on estimates when we are trying to fight poverty," he said.

According to international relief agency figures, between 500,000 and one million people -- mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus -- died in the 1994 killing spree orchestrated by the previous Hutu government and carried out by machete-wielding gangs, according to international relief agenc.

All ethnic references have since been banned from official literature by the current government, which emerged after the genocide from the former Tutsi rebellion, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR).

Ethnic tensions are blamed for sporadic massacres of Tutsis prior to the genocide, dating back to 1959 -- three years before Rwanda's independence from Belgium.

New national trappings officially adopted last December include an ethnically-neutral flag, anthem and coat of arms.

In the new census, citizens will be asked 65 questions touching on their age, religion, means of transport and communication, housing and sanitary facilities -- but not on their Tutsi, Hutu, or other ethnic origins.

Both of the previous censuses since independence charted the population's ethnicity, as well its steady growth -- from 4.8 million in 1978 to 7.2 million in 1991.

The country's National Population Office expects the current population to double over the next 20 years.

str-hba/lmf/rr AFP 161537 GMT 08 02

Copyright (c) 2002 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 08/16/2002 13:40:36

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