SINCE THE fall of the Habyarimana regime and the takeover by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), twenty years later, France does not want to hear about its role in the Rwandan tragedy. French authorities seem to opt for a relationship based on covering up the truth and leaving some core issues between the two countries in secrecy to avoid the deterioration of a fragile relationship between the two countries. The approach is like going back to the practices of secret diplomacy. However, with the destruction caused by the World War I, it has been observed that secret diplomacy did not allow the suppression of all root causes of conflicts. The former US president Woodrow Wilson, the pioneer of the open diplomacy, recommended that the diplomatic process, as well as the agreements of states, should receive public scrutiny.
It is, therefore, imperative to note that disagreement between France and Rwanda relies on principles privileged by each country in its foreign policy. France wants Rwanda to not mention the past or evoke its role in what happened, whereas Rwanda feels it is part of historical relations of the two states which can’t be isolated from diplomatic and mutual relations going forward. The stand of Rwanda towards this attitude is clear. In his address during the 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, President Kagame said: “The passage of time should not obscure the facts, lessen the responsibility or turn victims into villains. People cannot be bribed or forced into changing their history.”
A core issue undermining all efforts for a sustainable relationship can be found in the adamant character of French political class defending the country’s position on the basis of its honour and stand in international politics instead of facts. Former Captain in French gendarmerie, Paul Barril, said he has nothing to answer. However, documented proof linked him to the conclusion and partial implementation of a contract to supply arms, ammunition, training and supervision when the Genocide was being perpetrated in Rwanda. Meanwhile, his colleague, Alain Juppé, former French foreign minister during the Genocide, whom many reports accuse of deliberately playing a significant role in backing Genocide perpetrators, denies any involvement of France. He recently made the following statement: “It would be intolerable today that we are identified as the main culprits; I call on the President of the Republic and the French government to unambiguously defend the honour of France, the honour of its army and of its diplomats’’. Nevertheless, the accusations on France’s role during the preparatory phases of the Genocide against the Tutsi until its execution beginning April 7, 1994, are based on events and activities showing the outright participation of French politicians and military.
Historically, France built its empire in Africa by strengthening friendship with African countries if not dictators it helped grab power.
The strategic geopolitical location of Rwanda in the Great Lakes Region favoured a Franco-Rwandan cooperation with a particular accentuation during François Mitterand’s presidency. In this regard, on July 18, 1975, two years after Habyalimana came to power through a military coup, there was a signing of the Special Military Assistance Agreement (Accord Particulier d’Assistance Militaire) involving the organisation and training of the Rwandan gendarmerie, which opened the door to broader military cooperation.
When Rwanda was facing political upheavals and the RPF liberation war in 1990s, France did not hesitate to protect its longtime client regime and ensure its survival. In this perspective, French military aid was not limited to the deployment of Operation Noroît, the official objective of which was the protection of French citizens. In 1991, a military aid and training detachment of thirty men settled at Ruhengeri. Its personnel were gradually increased until it reached 100 in June 1993. In June 1992, troops from the French Eighth Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (RPIMa) joined the 170-strong Noroît unit to counter an RPF offensive on Byumba. In February 1993, when another large RPF operation targeted Byumba and Ruhengeri, an operation named Chimère was organised to support the FAR. It was composed of the Noroît group’s reinforcements whereby its personnel was increased to 688 men for the occasion and troops from the Détachement d’Assistance Militaire et d’Instruction (DAMI), a group of French soldiers attached to Rwanda for military assistance and training.
The Operation Turquoise, created amid the Genocide, is another good example highlighting tremendous problems that France brought onto Rwandans. The operation was initially perceived to be a humanitarian intervention to protect and evacuate civilians in extreme danger. However, it quickly turned into a secured corridor for the exit of the FAR, Interahamwe militia and members of Abatabazi government into the eastern Zaïre (now DR Congo).
Generally, the scale of France’s support to the regime responsible for the Genocide and the hangover it incessantly causes to French politicians constitute a burden to relations with Rwanda and therefore leave them in a never-ending dilemma to confront the truth.
Justin Nyanshwa is an International Relations & Conflict-resolution Researcher.
Eddy Kalisa Nyarwaya is an International Politics Analyst.