Rwanda's Coffee Rebirth

October 22, 2016

Rwanda's Coffee Rebirth


     To tag onto our previous post, the introduction of our Rwanda Coko, we want to delve a little deeper into the changes that took place in the Rwandan coffee market- pre and post genocide. Since the 1930s coffee has been Rwanda's main export, after being brought to the country by German missionaries in 1904. However under the rule of the Belgian colonial government Rwandan farmers were forced to grow coffee in addition to their other crops; because of the poor quality of the coffee, farmers were paid minimally for their hard work and then overtaxed on any profit. This exportation model continued even after the Rwandan liberation in 1962 keeping the farmers in an endless cycle of poverty. The 1990's coffee market crash, coupled with the Rwandan genocide completely devastated the coffee infrastructure of Rwanda making coffee farming a futile enterprise.
     Now to give you a little history refresher-
Whether you were old enough to be informed of this cultural upset, the Rwandan genocide is known to some degree by most and forever seared into the conscious of many.  

     The Rwandan genocide, also referred to as the genocide against the Tutsi, took place April 7- mid-July 1994 in which an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered; those killed comprised 70% of the total Tutsi tribe and 20% of Rwandas entire population. The widespread killings was carried out by the Hutu majority government after a group of hostile Tutsi called the Rwandan Patriotic Front were believed to have shot down a plane carrying Rwanda's president, Juvenal Habyarimana. This event sparked a united front amongst Hutu rebels; it was all the evidence they needed to kill their long held foe. Within hours the rebels stormed the capital, and as soon as the next day mayhem erupted- soldiers, police and militia began systematically killings any Tutsi in key leadership, hence creating a power vacuum. Within the next few weeks the public radio was taken over by Hutu radicals; this allowed for the group to send out hate messages against people of the Tutsi tribe, doling out specific home addresses, license plate numbers while also giving reason to kill each family or individual. It was horror in every sense; the world stood by idly and just watched as a country imploded. The acts of terror finally came to an end only when the Rwandan Patrioric Front was able to gain control. By mid July 1994 the genocide ceased. 

The next obvious step was to reinforce a stable government;  the Rwandan Patriotic Front established a coalition government with Pasteur Bizimungu (a Hutu) as president and Paul Kagame (a Tutsi) as vice president and defense minister. The UN also stepped in to provide aid to the victims of the genocide and remained there until March 1996.


Convoy of American military bringing fresh water to Rwandan refugees August 1994

     It was under this administration and aid Rwanda was given the means to start over in the coffee farming industry ; in order to directly improve the lives of millions of farmers, both the Rwandan government and international donors focused on boosting agricultural productivity, among others by promoting high value agricultural commodities and liberalizing the two most important agricultural export sectors of coffee and tea. The biggest contribution to this change was a combative National Coffee Strategy- this was backed by the government, other countries and private investors. This strategy made sure the farmers were producing high quality beans and furthermore able to sell them on the speciality coffee market. 

     It should also be noted if not celebrated, the influx of women in Rwanda's coffee farming industry all the way to the point of production. Although the reason for the influx was largely due to women being widowed due to the genocide, they're path to healing themselves, their family and their country has been one of progress, grit, and a steely resolve to make Rwanda better for their future generations. With this spirit backing Rwandans coffee market along with the many programs dedicated to Rwanda's success, it's no wonder they are now one of the world's leading speciality coffee exporters.
     Every time you hold a cup of Rwanda Coko think on the rich, wounded story of the Rwandan coffee farmers, war torn brave, unstoppable women digging their heels in and giving themselves entirely to their craft ; muster thanks, whisper if you must, just don't forget the hands that brought you this cup.