ON APRIL 7 Rwanda welcomed visitors who had turned up for the ceremony marking twenty years since the beginning of the genocide against the Tutsi in April 1994. Those who could not come because of one reason or another sent representatives.
There was ample outpouring of grief all around. That was just as well, because expressing solidarity with the bereaved is the decent thing to do. Solidarity helps comfort those who have lost loved ones.
It also encourages them to remain hopeful about the future despite the misfortune that would have befallen them; more so, when those who played whatever part in the loss show genuine remorse and seek forgiveness.
For the most part this is what happened.
Among the dignitaries who came to mourn with Rwandans were at least eight serving heads of state and government, the retired presidents of South Africa and Botswana, Thabo Mbeki and Ketumile Masire, as well as former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
And then there were the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the African Union Commission Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
Most spoke of the grief they carry for failing to answer Rwanda’s cry twenty years ago. Speaking in his capacity as the Chairperson of the heads of state of the East African Community, President Uhuru Kenyatta regretted the fact that “our region also stood aside, and for that we owe the most profound apology to the people of Rwanda.”
Similarly, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni warned those who committed genocide and their collaborators “to know that they will have to contend with the patriotic forces that defeated the traitors with their external backers.”
Also remorseful was the UN Secretary General who said he was ‘ashamed’ that the international community did nothing, before adding that the genocide “simply should never have happened.”
Obama’s emissary Samantha Power not only recalled Bill Clinton’s statement that the genocide was “the greatest regret of his presidency,” but also noted that “president Obama wanted us to come back and pay our respects and that even if it’s 20 years later, this genocide is something that stays with us.”
And then someone committed the cardinal sin of reminding the French of an aspect of their history they’d rather not hear mentioned. Many in France are sensitive about their Rwandan past. And so are some in Belgium.
Both countries stand accused of the ‘political preparation of genocide.’ For the French, it was conspiracy to commit genocide. Demands continue to pour in from many sides that they own up to the ‘active’ role their government and troops played in the killings.
On this occasion they made a show of being offended by staying away. What really incensed them was not so much the allegation per se, but their perception until then, that Rwanda had moved on as a result of recent efforts towards reconciliation, such as restoring diplomatic relations and the prosecution and conviction of a genocide suspect recently.
Moreover, their president Nicolas Sarkozy had come to Rwanda in 2010 and spoken of his country having committed “a serious error of judgement.” He did not apologise. Rwandans noticed, were surprised, and haven’t forgotten.
Typical French arrogance, some concluded. There is a view that the French elite can’t fathom a great power that is France apologising to lowly Rwanda. That’s because most of this elite carry much nostalgia of the good old days when, countries such as Rwanda were de facto playgrounds.
However, they forget. Such thinking is what got them caught up in the genocide; they couldn’t simply let go.
Back home , their allies here, members of the genocidal regime saw the country as a family possession they had to keep at all cost. It was a mutually reinforcing game between local agents and their foreign principals.
The relationship emboldened the killers, who came to believe that their patrons would simply look on in indifference as they killed. The details are well known.
That is why persistent denials of that ‘France is in no way complicit in the genocide’ as put forward recently by France’s former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, are definitely not meant to advance the truth.
At the end of the day, however, it is reassuring that the French people generally are not behind their government and the political and military elite on this. They would rather their government came clean on what was done and who did what in Rwanda in 1994 and before. Indeed, many have criticised their government for pulling out of the commemoration activities.
Former foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, called it a “childish reaction” before suggesting a ‘joint truth and justice commission’ to examine France’s role in the genocide. What a good idea, for purposes of putting the record straight. In the mean time, they stand reminded that “les faits sont têtus!”