Overshadowed by the start of the Olympics and the Russian incursion into Georgia was the release of a report by the Rwandan Ministry of Justice accusing the government of France of direct involvement in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 which claimed the lives of nearly 800,000 people.
If true, this accusation would put France directly into the Belgrade-Khartoum axis of state-sponsored ethnic cleansing and genocide. To date, Paris’ only response has been to dismiss the allegations as ‘inacceptable’ and to suggest that the report was in some way a retaliation on the part of Rwandan President Paul Kagame who himself had recently been named by a French judge as the likely assassin of the Rwandan President Habyarimana. This is a blame game with no possible good outcome.
If all this sounds like convoluted, tit-for-tat pinning the tail on the genocidaire it also masks an underlying set of troubling circumstances, that in 1994 French support for the Hutu led government of Habyarimana — and its fear of losing Rwanda as an African client — may have led it down the dark road of complicity in one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century.
It is not difficult to believe that the French viewed the Uganda-based Kagame-led Tutsi insurgency through the eyes of it Hutu clients. The Hutu hierarchy were all Francophone. Rwanda’s army had been trained and supported by French military advisors and supplied by French arms manufacturers. They may even have gone so far as to believe the Hutu rhetoric that Tutsi’s were undermining French interests and had to be dealt with in such as way as to neutralize them for the foreseeable future.
Whether such a line of thought led French military personnel to directly participate in the killing of Tutsi’s or whether the French authorities allowed the genocide to continue in the so-called safety-zone they had established during their Operation Turqouise (as the report alleges) is something for the French government to respond to.
Rather than dismissing the Rwandan report the French government ought to step out in front of it and send special investigators to Kigali to look at all the evidence and if there is evidence of complicity then tribunals should be set up in Paris to track down the guilty.
The report mentions former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and other Mitterand-era big-wigs such as Edouard Balladur and Allan Jupe. In addition, members of the military and civil service are also named and all are accused of being part of an organized campaign on behalf of the French government to keep Rwanda in the French sphere of influence.
Is this plausible? Is it possible to believe that the French were so cynical and so fearful that they allowed murder to occur (and may even have had a hand in it?) One thing that is undeniable is that the French had for years been strong supporters of the Hutu-led regime. It is also the case that the French have been acting with impunity in central Africa for decades and no one can accuse them of looking out for the best interests of the average African. (One of their major clients for a time was ‘Emperor’ Bokassa of the Central African Republic who was suspected of cannibalism while serving as his country’s head of state.)
As for the issue of whether or not President Kagame ordered the shooting down of the presidential plane: that is a different matter altogether. Kagame vehemently denies this allegation, but does take the trouble to explain that as far as he was concerned his forces were in conflict with the brutal anti-Tutsi regime in Kigali, and therefore, the shooting down of the plane, no matter who did it, was a legitimate act of retaliation. In any event, it does seem a stretch for a French judge to be issuing such an indictment just weeks before Rwanda’s own report was to be released.
By all accounts, Rwanda has had a remarkable turnaround and is haltingly on the way to reconciliation and true development under the leadership of Paul Kagame. History will probably forget most of the details of what happened in Rwanda in 1993-1994 but the French people should insist that its government doesn’t, at least not quite yet.