Kigali-Paris ties on a new pedestal?

Within the space of a week French and Rwandan diplomats have been working at a frenetic pace and making the…

Within the space of a week French and Rwandan diplomats have been working at a frenetic pace and making the right noises – all aimed at raising Kigali-Paris ties on a new pedestal.When President Paul Kagame joined a carefully selected array of African leaders in Paris last week for a summit about the continent’s debt, the stage was set for President Emmanuel Macron to send a signal to Kigali that France had come a long way from its infamous indifference to actual acknowledgment about the 1994 genocide.

In Macron’s conviction, France under him was more than prepared to turn a corner in its relations with Rwanda.

France and Rwanda had endured strained relations for decades since the genocide in which some 800, 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered in a carefully orchestrated bloodbath.

The carefully orchestrated 100-day pogrom was triggered by the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu when his plane crashed, believed to have been shot from the sky over Kigali by Tutsi rebels. 

Habyarimana was a strong ally of France at the time.

For years Paris had been accused of literally arming and training Habyarimana’s Interahamwe militias which were used to carry out the genocide that immediately followed his death on April 6, 1994.

After two decades of vociferous denial which had left relations with Rwanda “deeply estranged”, France under Macron has demonstrated a willingness to move away from this position and “embrace its role in Rwanda’s genocide history”. 

During his daylong visit to Kigali last Thursday, Macron apologised for his country’s role in Africa’s last genocide of the twentieth century.

Macron’s watershed move comes two months after a commission he had appointed in April 2019 to probe French involvement before, during and after the genocide finished its report, which suggest that France bore some responsibility for what happened. 

It was hailed in Kigali as the first ever report documenting Paris’ role  in the 1994 genocide, an act President Paul Kagame described as a “big  step forward” in repairing relations between the two countries.

According to some Rwandan analysts France had been blinded by its colonial attitude to events leading up to the genocide, but owning up to its role offers a sea change from “the boring French rhymes of the past rapping about the genocide”.

“Rwandans had refused the ludicrous idea of a foreign power telling its own history about the genocide especially when this foreign version makes some serious ommissions which offend our sensibility as a people” says one political commentator.

Since the massacres, the history of Rwanda’s relations with France had been one of anger, suspicion and sometimes outright hostility. 

By 2006 Rwanda had repeatedly broke diplomatic ranks with France, shutting down all French institutions in the country and relegating the French language and promoting English as the country’s main official language.

Kagame, an English speaker had taken French-speaking Rwanda, which was colonised by Belgium into the Commonwealth.

It was well established that France had a strong presence in the country in the early 1990s under late president François Mitterrand.

From the start of the war in 1990 into 1993, the French army was training Rwandan soldiers.

However, some French senior military officers such as General Jean Varret, who worked for the French ministry of cooperation and traveled regularly to Rwanda, warned the French as early as 1990 that “a genocide is being prepared”. 

Rather than his warning being heeded, Varret was replaced in 1993.

Although France has always denied any responsibility for the killings, French officials have on several occasions sought to improve relations with Kigali by seeking justice for the victims.

In February 2010, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted that his country had made “grave errors of judgment” in Rwanda but stopped short of offering a formal apology.

Mr. Sarkozy only admitted that France and the international community had operated under “a form of blindness to not have seen the genocidal dimensions” of the former Hutu government.

Dr Joseph Nsengimana, a political researcher and senior lecturer at

the University of Rwanda a former long serving diplomat noted that the

important thing with current efforts in restoring diplomatic ties

between France and Rwanda is to continue working together to document

the truth.

In a related development Rwandan President Paul Kagame who was in

Paris earlier this week for an official visit said “This is a big step

forward. May be not forget (the past) but forgive it and be able to

move forward.”

Kagame was in Paris for a summit on post-pandemic financing for

African nations hosted by Macron. The French president is also due to

visit Rwanda later this month.

While many Rwandans are pleased with the normalisation of diplomatic

relations between France and Rwanda, the majority see hope as there

are several acts of cooperation between Rwanda and France set to

resume shortly.

French remains one of the official languages in Rwanda, but since

2008, the Rwandan government decided  to switch the country’s entire

education system in public schools from French to English.

Before that time, Rwanda has been for decades one of nearly 30

Francophone countries in Africa where the language of business, power,

and civilization has been French.

France’s relations with Rwanda, under former President Jacques Chirac,

completely broke down, but some political analysts say there is going

to be a change with current efforts by President Emmanuel Macron to

restore ties.

“Current political dialogue represent an active move to improve the

current scratched ties between the two countries but more to this is

about establishing the truth,” Dr Nsengimana said.

Rwanda and France on Thursday signed two bilateral agreements focusing on Health and talent developments in Sports.

The  pacts that were endorsed during an official visit by French President  Emmanuel Macron include a framework for bilateral cooperation signed  between French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le  Drian and Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Vincent  Biruta.

During the visit, The French President also availed  100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Rwanda which were delivered on his  arrival.

According to the terms of agreement, Rwanda will also receive Euro 1.5 million  for sport and talent development.

In  a related development, Rwandan minister of Finance and Economic  Planning,  Uzziel Ndagijimana also signed a Euro 60 million financing  agreement with Rémy Rioux the Director-General of French Agency for  Development (AFD).

The funds from the agreement are earmarked to  support the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines as well as social protection  initiatives.

Official estimates indicate that Rwanda’s Covid-19  vaccination process could cost up to about $120 million with short term  costs standing at $47 million.


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