Do you know what your district name means?

Each of the 30 districts making up Rwanda has a distinctive name which has historical implications. In the second of our three part series, Emmanuel Ntirenganya examines why Rwandan districts came to acquire the names.

Each of the 30 districts making up Rwanda has a distinctive name which has historical implications. In the second of our three part series, Emmanuel Ntirenganya examines why Rwandan districts came to acquire the names.

READ ALSODo you know the origin of your district name?


Rubavu District


Gilbert Sentibagwe, 63, an elder in Rubavu Cell, Gisenyi Sector of Rubavu District told Sunday Times, the district’s name came from a mountain called Rubavu during the reign of Abarenge, a sub-clan of Abasinga Clan. It was Abarenge Sub-clan that used to give birth to the king of Abasinga. Their king was then called Rurenge.


“The Abarenge called a mountain (in the current Rubavu City) ‘Rubavu’, meaning a rib. They said: “that is our rib,” he said.

Sentibagwe says the Abarenge decided to call the mountain their rib because “A rib is an indispensable part of a person. It enables respiration and all.”

Ruhango District

Jean-Damascene Rwasamirera, a Historian says that ‘Uruhango’ was a herd of cows and that the name was derived from ‘mu Ruhango’, meaning ‘within a herd of cows’.

Ruhango means a herd of cows and that is how it came to be named so. Nadege Imbabazi.

Nyagatare District

Nyagatare District Council Vice Chairperson, Emmanuel Shema, says that the name ‘Nyagatare’ has two versions of its origin.

The area is said to have had links with Nkole territory in neighbouring Uganda.

First, he says the name got its existence from ‘Agatare’ which means ‘market’ in Runyankole dialect.

He said the area was a place where people used to convene before the colonial era to exchange goods under the barter economy when money was not in existence.

“It is a historic place economically and politically and it was called Nyagatare,” he said adding that in Runyankole, it is Nyakatare.

The second versionis that during King Musinga’s reign, when people from the Northern part of Rwanda left for Umutara – Nyagatare was formerly Umutara ‘Prefecture’- with traditional Inyambo cows, which were used for dancing.

The cattle, which were also referred to as ‘Intore’ were dressed in Ubutare (iron-made bracelets) on the hoofs and that is why the place was called Nyagatare.

“It is understandable that some of those braces dropped and people who picked them up called the place ‘I Nyagatare.’

Gatsibo District

Gatsibo takes its name from a hill Called Gatsibo that King Kigeli IV Rwabugiri lived on, according to Gatsibo Mayor Richard Gasana.

He said the hill in Gatsibo Sector still has ‘Ibigabiro by’Umwami’ (symbols that show that the King lived there). Those signs include Imitoma – big sycamore trees (Imivumu) that used to surround the King’s royal court.

“That is where the saying ‘Gatsibo y’Imitoma’ came from. We want to develop the area as a touristic area so that people can visit it,” Gasana noted.

Musanze District

Clement Twizerimana, the advisor of Musanze District’s Executive Committee and the district’s public relations officer, said that apart from the Sectors of Gashaki, Rwaza and Remera as well as small part of Gacaca and Nkotsi which have mountains, Musanze’s land is flat.

“Musanze has fertile, plain soils, when people were tilling land, they used to say ‘nimusanze- which meant cultivate the land evenly,” he said adding that is how the district got its name.

Rutsiro District

Rutsiro gets its name from Rutsiro River, according to Emérence Ayinkamiye, the District mayor.

Ayinkamiye said that in the past, the River used to fill up when it rained and after the rain let up, some substances remained on the banks of the River, which were called ‘urutsiro’.

She said Rutsiro river still flows through the district and its water is used by miners to filter minerals. She said that the river also has minerals but noted that in a bid to preserve the ecosystem, the district prohibits people from extracting it.

Gisagara District

Cyprien Munyentwali, the Public Relations Officer of Gisagara District says that Gisagara was a place where the King used to convene people.

Gisagara was a place where the King used to convene people. They would usually meet in round grass thatched house like this one. / Internet photo

“Gisagara was a place for high level meetings,” and that is how it got its name, says Munyentwali.

Kicukiro District

The district got its name from ‘Icukiro’, according to Dismas Nkubana, the president of Kicukiro District Advisory Council.

“Icukiro means a place where cows live in which people collect dung such that it forms a hill-like heap as the dung accumulates,” Nkubana said.

“Kicukiro was actually a place where had many cows, a place where people herded many cows, he said.”

Ngoma District

Ngoma, according to Banamwana Bernard, the President of Ngoma District Advisory Council, is a small area near ‘Cyasemakamba Roundabout’ in Kibungo Sector, in the City of Ngoma District.

“Where drums sounded to inform people to participate in the government activities during the colonial period.”

"It is that small area [Ngoma] that the whole district was named after in 2006," he said.

After gathering in that area, he said, the people were called in their respective names to assess the attendance. This practice was dubbed by locals ‘Gutera Iperu,’ meaning attending to be able to respond when called at the gathering site.

Bugesera District

Bugesera was a kingdom that was ruled by King Nsoro, according to Emmanuel Nsanzumuhire, the Bugesera District Mayor. He said that in 1470, the King of Rwanda at the time, allied himself with the King of Burundi to attack Bugesera Kingdom. Nansumuhire says after winning they conquered Nsoro and shared the territory with one part being annexed to Rwanda, the other to Burundi.

“Bugesera was a kingdom before the country (Rwanda) got [fully] constituted,” he said.

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