Rwanda: President Macron’s apology and the truth behind the Rwandan genocide

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The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has asked Rwandans to forgive France for the role it played in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which claimed the lives of about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

He made the apology on Thursday while speaking at the genocide memorial in Kigali. The French President acknowledged that his country failed to listen to the warnings of the anticipated massacre and waited to act when needed and for long “valued silence over examination of the truth.”

“We were warned, but did not listen. We supported a genocidal regime
and afterwards we abandoned the victims ,” Macron said at the
memorial to the genocide in Kigali.
“Only those who went through that night can perhaps forgive, and in doing so give the gift of forgiveness.” “I hereby humbly and with respect stand by your side today, I come to recognise the extent of our responsibilities.” Mr Macron apologised at the memorial, where they buried more than 250,000 victims of the genocide.

It is the first time that a French president has spoken so clearly and with remorse about the Rwandan genocide. Paris collaborated with the Hutu regime for years at the cost of the worst ethnic cleansing in recent African history.

Although Mr Macron added that France had not been an accomplice in the killings, his speech was significant and historic. President Macron’s acknowledgement of France failures during the Rwandan genocide, which has caused a severe strain in the diplomatic relationship between France and Rwanda, will go a long way in healing the pain caused by the genocide.

President Paul Kagame seemed pleased by President Emmanuel Macron’s speech and his acknowledgement of France’s inglorious role in Rwanda’s dark history and called Macron’s speech “an act of tremendous courage.”

It is interesting to note that President Macron did not apologise for the French’s participation in the 1994 genocide but acknowledged that France played a role and bears responsibilities.

“His words were something more valuable than an apology. They were the truth.” President Paul Kagame said.

The role of France during the Rwandan ethnic cleansing has been a thorn in the diplomatic flesh of France and Rwanda. Former French President François Mitterrand had close ties to former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana. Both countries accused each other of complicity in the carnage. While some groups have openly accused France of complicity in the genocide, others insisted that the government turned blind eyes to the atrocities, which inevitably gave the Hutus the green light to commit one of the most heinous crimes on modern African soil. On the other hand, the French had insisted that the downing of the plane carrying former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, provided an excuse for the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Paul Kagame to attack the Hutu government, which was in power in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. It is on record that the RPF soldiers effectively halted the genocide and brought sanity to otherwise a near-failed state.

The accusations and counter-accusations have seriously damaged the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.

After a painstaking investigation, a French expert commission reprimanded France in the Rwandan genocide and insisted that France under the late President François Mitterrand bore “heavy and overwhelming responsibility” for the genocide. The report chastised France for being “blind” to genocide preparations but not complicit, the commission insisted.

“The killers who stalked the swamps, the hills, the churches, did not have the face of France. France was not an accomplice,” President Macron said on Thursday at the genocide memorial in Kigali.

Well argued. Perhaps not truly convincing. In a mission termed Operation Turquoise, the UNO authorisation of French forces in southwest Rwanda was controversial, and some would say, uneventful. Although the French humanitarian zone saved the lives of some potential victims from their attackers, there were disturbing reports and allegations that French help came too late, which allowed the genocidal killers to escape after their atrocities.

In his attempt to reveal the truth behind the Rwandan genocide controversy, former President François Hollande had in 2015 announced that his country would declassify the Rwanda archives. Many welcomed the announcement. However, two years later, France’s Constitutional Council overruled President François Hollande’s decision and insisted that the libraries remain secret. And secret it has remained till today.

The ruling fuels suspicions and makes one wonder whether the French have something to hide.

Truth heals. Truth never damages a reasonable cause. You cannot make or keep the peace by force, but by understanding, honesty and fairness.

President Emmanuel Marcon has insisted that in 1994 “France did not understand that by wanting to block a regional conflict or a civil war, it stood de facto by a genocidal regime”. That might be true. Or false. The only way to ascertain the truth of that statement and bring genuine healing and reconciliation between Rwanda and France is transparency and openness.

President Emmanuel Macro’s apology to Rwanda is a hugely welcome step. But that is not enough. The French authority may have to do more to convince the world they have nothing to hide and give one the ground to judge their actual role in the Rwandan genocide fairly, rather than speculatively. That goes beyond mere apologies. There is no better way to do that than for the French to declassify the Rwanda archives.