The following is an interview that prominent Rwandan journalist and researcher Tom Ndahiro had with a French expert on his country’s involvement in Rwanda.
This interview, though thirteen years old, hits the nail on the head on the true reasons for France’s continued hostility towards Rwanda and its leaders- the French language
This is part of the interview which Ndahiro had with Gerard Prunier. It was first published in April 1995 by “The New Thinking” Issue No. 2 on pages 9&10
N.T. : After 1990 – war broke out in Rwanda, the French government got very much involved. They even supported the self-proclaimed government which later collapsed after committing genocide. Why did the French government get so much involved in the crisis?
ANS: I know this is the question which people have been asking themselves. Because Rwanda is only 26,000km2, and produces nothing but banana and tea. And, a bit of coffee.
But, definitely, it does not make it a major factor … I think it’s a bit difficult to understand, because you have to go inside the French mind. It’s a certain type of cultural paranoia.
You see, the French have been rivals of the British since the middle ages – they were the two major powers in Europe. We have to remember, Spain was involved in the new world; Italy was fighting the Arabs and later they were involved in the new world.
Italy and Germany did not exist. In fact, the main powers in western Europe were France and England. They have been at war often longer than a century. I could say that, in this century the British might have lost, not to the French but to life… as all the Europeans did. But, they survived in their child. America (USA).
This child is now the biggest guy on the block (world). … the law of the world is English speaking, not because of the British but because of this large strong child at the other side of the Atlantic.
And, for the French, it is a terrible humiliation, because in the 18th and 19th century French as a language was an international language of many countries. And, they (French) have seen England take over since the world war II.
They are humiliated and cling to the French speaking Africa as the remnant of their past greatness. It is very unreasonable. But, the French still think (France) is still a major world power – that French is the major world language.
They are fighting a losing battle against the English. And, anything that touches on the existence of French language, especially to the existence of French speaking countries in Africa, is seen as a personal direct threat!
If the RPF had been based in Zaire, if all these émigrés coming back to Rwanda had been French speaking, at least partly, then it would have been alright.
They (French) would not have gone on the side of Habyarimana. The fact that they (RPF) began in Uganda; that all those who were educated were English speaking, was seen as a manipulation by the British and even by Americans.
I was close to French government circles of the time. Because, I was the member of the French socialist party up to 1993.
When the French socialist party was in power. And, each time I had discussions with government officials on Rwanda, they always seemed to believe genuinely that the RPF was a tool of the C.I.A. (Central Intelligence Agency), and of British and American interests.
It was almost impossible to tell them that they were mistaken that the main reasons for the attack were Rwandese… They thought that Washington and London were behind the FPR –They were fighting Anglo-Saxon imperialism, and their – guys – the RPF.
N.T. Do you think that was fair enough, to justify the French government’s support to the perpetrators of genocide?
ANS: Oh, well, I think that wasn’t fair. Because critical as we are of the French policy in Rwanda, they did not expect the genocide to happen. Where you can be critical, is the fact that they could not stop it, while, it would have been, I think, within their powers…
I think, given the French involvement in Rwanda, it would have been normal, decent for them to get involved, since their government had been involved. But, they did not.
They just watched the genocide… When this thing happened, they washed their hands, and indeed walked away. Because, the French Turquoise in June was much too late, much to little and it saved a very small group of people.
What I don’t think, is that when the French got involved, they thought it would result into that. That they did condone a certain amount of killing is sure, because there were many sparks of violations in 1990 – 1 – 2 and up to the beginning of 1993.
The French didn’t care. As long as it was in their hundreds, they concentrated in this part of war in Africa. They have been in places like Cameroon and Togo, I mean within governments supported by the French. But among the countries supported by France we have several, especially Togo ,where the government has killed people. We didn’t care. We accepted it.
As long as they could kill 200 to 300 people, that was acceptable to the Administration in Paris. If they had known that it would be in their thousands, I think they would have panicked. They never dreamt it would be all that.
And I can say that, me as a private person, I was fearing some kind of massacres. But, even then I still did not believe it would be all that big. I thought may be 50,000 people may be killed. But 15 times that number never entered my head.
And, I think, I know this area much better than the people in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So it is not surprising that what happened took them by surprise. This does not change anything in the responsibility that they had in previous ignorance.
One, not ignorance but failure to look at what was going on. But they did not believe this would happen! And, in a way they were so embarrassed that when it did happen, they preferred to run away.
It is like a child who has done something very bad and when he discovers he has set a house on fire, he knows his dad is going to be angry indeed, so he runs away (laughter). Instead of calling the father, he runs away.
This was the French attitude. It was very disastrous! But they did not put the house on fire. The reason you should accept is that it was the Rwandese themselves who put the house on fire. We gave them the matches, that they could have some fire.
N.T. : The mission of Operation Turquoise, was to protect people and many of us thought that they (French) had come to their senses, and that it was a high time to distance themselves from the killers! Yet, they stayed with the ex-government, and the Interahamwe. We have evidence.
ANS: My shame is that it would have narrowly been avoided. Because I was involved in the preparation of Operation Turquoise.
I came in the RPF zone during the Operation Turquoise as a special consultant of the French Ministry of Defence at the time. Some people in the French army were hoping for war.
It took – reasonable people on both sides, on the side of the RPF and on the side of the French Army to avoid armed clashes which would have degenerated into open fighting. Some people in the French Army still entertained the idea that the RPF was the enemy and they had to fight it.
They did not fight directly apart from very limited actions during the war itself. They saw that the Rwandese were now in bad position and they should help them.
By fighting, I must say, that the fact that they did not disarm the Interahamwe was a middle ground between a serious operation that would have included disarmament and the completely opposite attitude by attacking the RPF. We managed the middle ground.
N.T. : The so-called French Zone, as it was known was supposed to be an arms-free Zone. Yet, they (French army) stayed with armed R.G.F (former Rwandan Government Forces).
ANS: They did not bother very much. In fact there were no clear instructions from the start. Some of the local commanders disarmed Interahamwe whom they saw with guns. Others did not.
There was no clear policy on that. And even when those commanders disarmed the interahamwe, it was not all of them who were disarmed and they actually disarmed civilians with guns. Not people in uniform.
You have to see that, disarming them if they had meant it, very probably would have meant fighting with the interahamwe and some Banyarwanda.
And, nobody in Paris was prepared to have losses in an operation against the former government. If they had fought the RPF it would also have been difficult. You see, Europeans are tired and they are afraid of war. They have become very soft, they are not used to dying. They only want comfortable lives.
I think it happens when you see them in Kigali you compare between RPF soldiers and UNAMIR soldiers. I as a person have fought some wars, and I’ll give you the details that I have.
I know what it means. When I see the UNIAMIR soldiers, I cannot take them serious. They look like toy-soldiers. They look ridiculous. When you see the RPF soldiers, they can be sluggishing around, but you know, I’ve seen them during the war, you know that they are soldiers.
We want to have wars without having losses. We want wars without endangering ourselves. Which is very ridiculous. It is the same thing in Bosnia. Serbs are doing whatever they want to the UN troops because we don’t want to fight, we would like to impose only political will and, political resolutions without really fighting.
Because we do not want to see our people getting killed. It is of course a contradiction because if you fight certainly some people get killed. And we were not prepared to disarm the Interahamwe because some of us would have got killed. We did not want any death and indeed we had none.
N. T. : But they were ready to fight if the RPF came in the Zone with guns?
ANS: that was the enemy. If that had happened, it would have been difficult for those war-mongers to sustain their positions for a length of time. This is what they wanted.
But they misjudged the public opinion in France. Let’s say that some incidents would have degenerated. Fighting would have occurred, but after less than a week, they would have to stop, because they would have lost immediately about 15 to 20 or more members.
In Paris this could have been a huge, scandal. The people who had wanted war could not have achieved their aims it could have been catastrophic, and it was bad enough as they could have killed a number of RPF soldiers because they had a lot of fire-power with combat helicopters, fighting bombers, heavy artillery etc…
Fighting a guerrilla war would not have been good but any concentration of the RPF would have been clobbered. So, after about 2-3 days they could have to stop.
There would be demonstrations in Paris; there would be articles in newspapers; there would be all kinds of things. They would be forced to stop the war.
They have fought wars in old days when they were men. They are not anymore. They are little boys. And whether the war is good or bad, don’t worry, they are not going to fight it.
N. T.: The French made a very quick deployment to come to the Operation Turquoise. And they had enough fire power to fight the RPF. Why didn’t they make a quick deployment in stopping genocide?
ANS: Because we did not want to get involved. We would also have got some of our men killed. Because we could have stopped the interahamwe, but could have fought for a week or so. And we could have lost anywhere around 20 or 100 men. And we could have killed a lot of people because you cannot stop war without killing people.
Try to imagine about somebody who shrinks from making or taking a hard choice; somebody who always tries to postpone making a hard decision; somebody who doesn’t have the guts to face reality. This is what the Europeans are now.
The Europeans believe in a world in which you are safe from disease, old age, pains, suffering, death and all unpleasant things. The Europeans are completely unrealistic. They live in a world of technology, and which bears no relationship with reality.
And it is obvious in something like war in Africa. Because there you come to a situation which culturally, politically and even geographically has nothing to do with Europeans. Nothing!
N. T: Do you think President MItterand now feels any remorse because of what happened in Rwanda?
ANS: No! For him, what happened is just savages who killed other savages. It is very unfortunate that, he is still far from reality. He does not care.
And I will tell you, that the majority of Europeans do not care. You have a small number of Europeans who realize that, and who were very disturbed by that.
The majority of people here including many who work with UNAMIR, UN and other NGOs, do not really care! They are here to do a job. They will do it and do it correctly.
But they don’t care. They do not like or dislike the Rwandese. They have worked before in Cambodia, in Somalia; tomorrow they will work in Bosnia or Afghanistan. You are actually making raw materials for charity business. We need catastrophies to get employment for our people. That’s all.