France is a global power. It’s a country with influence in military, economic, and diplomatic terms, and does not shy from using this strength to muscle its way in diplomatic circles in the international community.
Its real claim to fame, however, is its noble origins of liberté et fraternité, which have historically been an inspiration to many countries around the world.
The celebrated French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville is one of those whose writings detailed this inspiration. In his tours of America a couple centuries ago, he observed how such ideals had influenced American aspirations for democracy at the time. This was at the international scene.
Back at home in France, these ideas helped shape a national psyche. A self-perception about how the French perceived themselves, their relationship to the state, and their place among the community of nations. It is a self-imagination of a standard-setting collective in human relations in general, and in civility and morality in particular.
With this came a confidence about the self and the collective that those who were unfamiliar with these origins easily dismissed as French arrogance, an aloofness that suggests the superiority of French culture.
However, it is a predisposition that can be relied upon for a good cause. As a result, it is that much easier for the leadership in France to marshal the support of their citizens in support of humanitarian causes than it is in other democracies in Europe and America.
Unfortunately, the political leadership has often exploited this national sentiment in the pursuit of questionable military adventurism around the world.
Global leadership, therefore, is a matter of national consciousness, a raison d’être, for the French. As long as it breathes, it must provide moral authority over everyone else because that is part of the nation’s DNA.
France could claim all this despite the changing dynamics of world affairs that disturbed this understanding of the collective self, such as the emergence of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) that are, just like France, also in the process of identifying their rightful place, and therefore, role among the community of nations.
Enter Rwanda, France’s kryptonite. Any residual claim of France’s moral authority around the world ended with its role before, during, and after the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. But there’s more.
Rwanda is a big Asterix on France’s moral claims. It is the lacuna between the country as it is today and its noble origins. Crucially, this is a state of affairs that doesn’t sit well with the French national psyche, which cannot conceive the idea that it can no longer command moral force, has eroded to the status of being ‘just another country.’ Or the idea that it remains a criminal suspect in the Genocide, for that matter.
Therefore, Rwanda represents the nightmare from which France wishes to awake up, in the hope that it were simply a dream. It is not. Rational thought, therefore, calls for a shift towards Plan B: accountability.
This is a sensible shift that has started with the decision to open its archives relating to the period noted above.
This is a win-win for all the parties involved because it liberates France from the hold of the nightmare and gives Rwanda the accountability that it has always demanded from France, and from which the French had chosen the path of aloofness, and the main source of antipathy between the two countries.
Accountability would be partial if it didn’t involve the declassification of all relevant information, which is what Rwanda’s Minister for Justice has in mind when he demands that the “declassification is total.”
Accountability would still be partial if it involved total declassification, but one which was not followed with responsibility for wrongs done, if so confirmed. This translates into two things in the broad sense;
First is to establish individual responsibility. Justice in this regard would ensure that no one is shielded by virtue of the common argument in such circumstances that the wrongs happened while in the service of the state. This simply won’t do.
Second is to establish state responsibility. France stands accused of significant contribution in the destruction of Rwanda’s social fabric. Justice requires proportionate contribution to its reconstruction, which is the definition of reparations, meaning that the state of France has yet to repair what it destroyed.
Therefore, France would be required to make a public apology for the damage it cannot restore such as loss of life. It would also be required to take restorative material actions to restore the lives of those who somehow escaped the carnage of which it is accused of having played an active role.
This is the set of accountability measures that France could not have bought with its initial attempt – Plan A – to silence the victims through promises of aid or to bully them into submission and amnesia through intimidation.