Encounters with conflict and peace

A country ransacked

Linda Melvern
The last Hutu Power stronghold in Rwanda fell on 18 July, and Kagame declared the civil war was over.

The next day in Kigali a broad-based government of national unity was sworn in comprising the representatives of all political parties apart from the MRNDD. Twelve of the eighteen ministers were Hutu. The president was Pasteur Bizimungu, the oldest of the RPF Hutu. A new position was created for Paul Kagame as vice-president.

There was no triumphant victory. The country had been ransacked. There was not a penny in the public coffers. There were no offices intact, no chairs, no desks, no paper, no telephones, nothing at all.

The streets of Kigali were almost empty. From a previous population of 300,000, there were 50,000 people left and half of these were displaced. Their condition was disastrous, and they lacked adequate food and clean water. Outside the capital, whole families and communities had been destroyed. Livestock had been killed and crops laid to waste. Everywhere there were ditches filled with rotting bodies.

Inheriting a wasteland

“Rwanda was in a state of extreme shock, crippled to the point of catatonia. The rotting human remains that lay impiously scattered abut the countryside, like debris after a great storm, and the haunted souls of those still breathing were apt symbols of this shattered nation. After four years of war that culminated in mass murder, the RPF had inherited a wasteland.

On July 19, several hundred people gathered…to watch [the new] “broad-based government of national unity” take office. It was a somber ceremony… when it was over, newly named ministers began trying to orient themselves. Most had no staff, no offices, no equipment, no vehicles, and no money. Several set up shop outdoors and held their first meetings under trees. The challenge their new regime faced was daunting beyond imagination. (Stephen Kinzer)

A traumatised population

The people had been terrorised and traumatised. The hospitals and schools were destroyed or ransacked. Rwanda’s health centres, one in each commune, were ruined. The stocks of basic drugs and health supplies had been looted. Water supply lines were non-operational. Qualified staff had been killed or fled the country, including most of the teachers. An estimated 250,000 women had been widowed. In the whole country there were six judges and ten lawyers. There were no gendarmes. (armed police)

At least 100,000 children had been separated from their families, orphaned, lost, abducted or abandoned. Most of Rwanda’s children had witnessed extreme forms of brutality and 90 percent of them had at some point thought they would die. Most children felt they had no future. They did not believe that they would live to become adults. More than 300 children, some less than ten years old, were accused of genocide or murder. An estimated 300,000 children were thought to have been killed...

We will never know the number of victims in the genocide… the figure now generally accepted is 800,000.

From A People Betrayed. The role of the west in Rwanda's genocide by Linda Melvern

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