Kagame assumed office in a country devastated by a brutal war. The battles between the Rwandan army and the RPF destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. Many hospitals, churches, and schools were leveled; roads and bridges destroyed; and water and electric lines cut. The massacres killed more than a half million people, many from the educated elite. Thus, one of the primary goals of the Kagame administration has been to encourage refugees to return to Rwanda to help rebuild the country, sometimes through the use of force or closing camps in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Many Hutu refugees were initially reluctant to return for fear they would face reprisals from the mostly Tutsi military for the massacres in 1994. A number of instances of revenge killings by RPF soldiers convinced Hutu refugees that their return would be dangerous. The Kagame regime, however, has attempted to allay those fears. Kagame has vigorously investigated reports of violence by his own soldiers, and nearly 130,000 genocide suspects have been arrested. The government began the genocide trials in 1996, but with so many involved, progress has been slow. In 2001, the government began implementation of a participatory justice system, known as gacaca, in order to address the enormous backlog of cases. A total of 260,000 judges were elected by the people to sit on eleven thousand gacaca courts. The trials were due to commence in March 2002, following a three-month training program for the judges.
While Hutu refugees who fled the country in 1994 have been reluctant to return, thousands of Tutsi refugees from earlier conflicts have been returning to Rwanda. Many of them were born in exile and had never previously visited Rwanda. Some do not speak Kinyarwanda or French, the two major languages of the country. The integration of these refugees into Rwanda is a major domestic policy problem. They have been settled primarily in the urban centers and occupy houses and businesses emptied either by the massacres or by the flight of other refugees. The government now faces the difficult task of determining which properties are actually available and how they would be distributed.
In a successful move toward democratization, Rwandans took part in the first local government elections for 37 years in March 2001. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) reported that over 90% of registered voters took part in the elections in which 112 district and municipal councils were created, and executive committees and mayors were elected.
Also, Rwanda has begun the process of drafting a new Constitution. The National Assembly elected a constitutional commission, which visited every part of the country to solicit views of the population about issues they feel should be included in the Constitution. The draft Constitution will be put before the people of Rwanda in a referendum scheduled for May 2003. The Constitution specifies the process for the general election of the president and members of Parliament, which are expected to take place at the end of 2003.
In addition to dealing with issues of justice and resettlement, Kagame will need to focus on revitalizing an economy devastated by war. The government has sought international assistance to rebuild its infrastructure. It has encouraged farmers to return to their fields and has attempted to renew the trade in coffee and tea, Rwanda's main exports. Given the severe social disruptions caused by the war, it may take years before the economy begins to function effectively.