The indelible role of the French in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi

On one December evening more than 20 years ago, as I was travelling home from school, I encountered brutality from French soldiers that I will never forget.

On one December evening more than 20 years ago, as I was travelling home from school, I encountered brutality from French soldiers that I will never forget.

I was a university student in Lumbumbashi, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and was headed home for Christmas holidays.

I arrived at the Rwanda- DRC border post of Gisenyi (present day Rubavu), and after an hour-long immigration procedures, I entered Rwanda shortly after 6.p.m on December 15, 1990.

To our shock, other travellers and I, found a roadblock manned by five French officers and two Rwandan soldiers, all armed to the teeth.

The French soldiers asked us to show our identity cards.

As a student abroad, I presented a passport since I did not have an identity card.

This created an aggressive scene as the passport unleashed wrath from the French soldiers. They demanded an identification card, which I did not have and I begun to protest, drawing more anger.

I was eventually advised to go back to Zaire, and return the next day when the tempers of the French officers had either cooled or when there was another shift of French officers.

It later occurred to me that the reason the French soldiers demanded IDs was to identify who the Tutsi were as they had been earmarked as enemies of the country.

The French and the regime at the time, considered Tutsi a threat and sympathisers of the Rwanda Patriotic Army.

National IDs at the time indicated the ethnicity of Rwandans, a technique that was used to identify Tutsi during the Genocide.

I returned the following day to try my luck returning home. The soldiers were different, but the instructions were the same.
I was again denied entry into my country but my persistence paid off.

One of the French soldiers decided to consult a Rwandan officer who listened to my story, and after intense interrogation, I was granted entry and given a note scribbled in Kinyarwanda.

My family lived 80 kilometers from the border so I boarded a bus and just as we about to enter Ruhengeri town, we encountered a similar ordeal.

Four combat-armed French soldiers were manning a roadblock and ordered everyone to get out.

We all disembarked and went through the gruesome drill of identifying and sorting the passengers along ethnic lines as indicated on the national IDs with the Tutsi being targeted.

One of the French officers disregarded my passport and was enraged when I showed him the note which was written in Kinyarwanda. I had to plead with the Rwandan soldier to translate for the French officers so that I can get access to my country and my home to be with my family.

But even worse was what the Tutsi went through. They were either imprisoned, tortured or both and even killed.

I stayed home for two weeks but during that period the anti-Tutsi propaganda was at extra-ordinary levels.

My experience is just one example of so many others that demonstrate how the French were involved in the Genocide. The French government dictated unforgivable events in Rwanda that later culminated into the extermination of more than a million Tutsi.

It is hard to fathom how there is an abundance of indubitable evidence of France’s role in the Genocide and yet, 20 years later, the European country still attempts to antagonise Rwanda.

The least the French government can do is ask the Rwandan people forgiveness.

Genocide is a crime against all humanity. Neither the power nor glory of a state or the passing of time can erase the role of France from the books of history.

As history keeps teaching us, justice always triumphs. I am convinced that one day the French government will own up for their involvement in the planning and execution of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Be it political, military or financially.

Several experts, researchers and journalists have documented the inexcusable role of the French in Rwanda before 1994 as well as their continued hostile policy that is still exercised today towards the current leadership in Kigali.

There is, of course, no logic in antagonising a government whose resilience has only motivated the rebirth and reconstruction of a country, a people and society against all odds.

But looking at the actions of the French, their view of Rwanda is unfortunately from a destruction lens.

While the consequences of the Genocide still weigh heavily on the Rwandan society, there is little, if anything, including French aggression, that will succeed in taking Rwanda back to its dark days.

The writer is the Chairman, Chancellery for Heroes, National Orders and Decorations of Honour.

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