What the war between Paris and Kigali over Habyarimana’s death tells us about the two nations
Once again France and Rwanda are locking horns over who killed that nation’s former genocidal president, Juvenal Habyarimana. I have followed this debate for 15 years and every time it rears its ugly head I am intrigued by French arrogance in expressing power over a small, poor country. I am also comforted by Rwanda’s sense of its honour and dignity in the face of extreme provocation by a superpower. This shows that France has so much power but very little leadership.
France is rich financially and powerful militarily. However, its never-ending war against Rwanda only shows how poor at heart and weak in spirit that nation is. It takes great moral courage for a powerful party who has harmed a weaker one to show remorse and apologize. Therefore, French provocations against Rwanda are actually a demonstration of a deeply felt inner moral weakness and spiritual poverty.
Rwanda is small and poor but it has a big heart, a rich character and an enduring dignity. RPF had the means and the justification to revenge against those who committed genocide. But it chose reconciliation. It summoned the courage to facilitate the victims of genocide and their murderers to live together in harmony. I have witnessed this first hand, like finding the daughter of the president of Rwanda during the genocide working in the same office as the First Lady of Rwanda.
This moral superiority is what explains Rwanda’s ability to withstand all the provocations and harassment by France. France was actively involved in the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It trained, armed and financed the government army and militias that orchestrated the genocide. There are so many videos and pictures of French troops providing succor to the genocidal militias.
The “investigations” into Habyarimana’s death are an attempt by France to make herself the investigator, the prosecutor and the judge in a case where she is a suspect. This is a travesty of justice and abuse of power.
It is in this context that I feel a lot of pain when I read Rwandan commentators’ long and exhaustive articles explaining how the RPF was not the one responsible for killing Habyarimana as if he was not (or should not have been) a legitimate target of the RPF struggle to liberate Rwanda from his genocidal grip. Why should RPF be made to deny killing not just its principle enemy but also a man who planned the worst war crimes and worst crimes against humanity? It is like prosecuting the allies for killing Adolf Hitler during World War Two or blaming America for killing Osama Bin Laden.
The intentions of the French in their endless desire to prosecute RPF for Habyarimana’s death are obvious. They want to rewrite history and present the genocide as a spontaneous eruption that only happened because of the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane. This is an attempt to either deny the genocide or to blame it on RPF. Yet there is overwhelming evidence of the Habyarimana government’s meticulous plans for the genocide long before the president’s plane was shot down.
There is a big problem with the leadership of the French nation. France is rich and powerful – in money, military capabilities, in culture, technology, etc. It harmed a very small and poor country. It loses nothing to be contrite.
If France stopped harassing Rwanda, it would not lose any percentage of its gigantic GDP, it would not lose its seat on the UN Security Council, it would not cease to be a member of the EU, and Paris would not cease to be the fashion capital of the world, it would retain its nuclear weapons, its global ego would not diminish etc. In other words France can afford to show remorse.
I have spoken to the leaders of Rwanda on many occasions on this subject. They are open and willing to put this ugly past behind them and forge a new and productive relationship with Paris.
It is remarkable that it is the victim who has the magnanimity to open his arms and embrace the perpetrator of genocide and is willing to let bygones be bygones. Yet the perpetrator of genocide insists that the quarrel must go on; well because she has turned shame into anger.
Note: not all French politicians are egotistical to the point of absurdity. Rwanda had achieved tremendous progress in improving Paris-Kigali relations during the presidency of the pragmatic Nicolas Sarkozy.
However, immediately the French socialist party diehards came to power under Francois Hollande, their first mission was to return to the old politics of playing the victim and harassing Rwanda. Let us not forget that it was the French socialists who were in power when the genocide happened. It is the French socialists who armed, trained and financed the government of Habyarimana and its genocidal militias. Therefore, all these “investigations” by the “independent courts and judges” are actually an attempt not just to disguise French complicity in the genocide but also to deny that it ever happened.
Indeed, the French socialists want to claim that if there was ever genocide in Rwanda, it was by the RPF/Tutsi against the Hutu and the French. I have also come to learn that a significant part of the mainstream leadership of France is unwilling to forge a better relationship with the RPF government because doing so would be tantamount to surrender.
I have travelled to Paris and held discussions with the top leaders of French society in politics, academia and diplomacy, especially those concerned with Africa generally and Rwanda specifically. Some of the people I met genuinely feel France should apologise to Rwanda and move on. Incidentally Rwanda is not even asking for an apology but simply to be left alone. However, mainstream French establishment academics, politicians and diplomats cannot stomach Rwanda’s independent stance, its inner strength to govern itself without receiving orders from Paris.
What became apparent to me during my many discussions in Paris is that France can only accept one relationship with Rwanda – that of master and servant. The thing is that Paris has no idea what this new Rwanda is. They have tried different forms of “regime change” and failed. Instead their actions have made Rwanda more resilient, more determined to forge its own path as an independent and free nation with dignity. Rwanda will not accept subjugation. Not under President Paul Kagame.