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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Paul Kagame’s stunning visit to Paris

By Ardain Isma

Rwandan President Paul Kagame arrived in Paris last month on an official visit that took the world by surprise. Rwanda has been locked in a bitter diplomatic dispute with France since the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis dead, slaughtered by their Hutu counterparts. Rwanda has accused France for arming and training Hutu militias that carried out the genocide. The Rwandan government, until now, had been insisting on an apology from France.

A good number of names of France senior officials and French troops were cited in an official Rwandan report that charged them of complicity in mass murder and rape and in training Hutu militias. Alain Juppé, the current French Foreign Minister, who was also Foreign Minister in 1994, was cited in the report. In fact, Juppé was reported to be so furious at the Kagame’s visit that he completely shunned the meeting held at the Elysée Palace.

France’s dirty hand behind the genocide was never a question of diplomatic secrecy. It was blatantly proven, for the Hutu government, which engineered the genocide, was indeed a France client government bent on protecting the interests of the French multinational mining industry and, by extension, the French bourgeoisie, operating in Rwanda.

The French upper class responded to the apology request with such despondency that it put the African Union, for a while, into a very precarious position in its dealings with Paris. Instead of apologizing for the politically super-charged crime, the arrogant French bourgeoisie countered with its own charge, accusing the Kagame government, through a French investigating judge, of downing the former Rwandan president’s plane. It was the downing of the plane that left several people dead, including the former Rwandan president and two French pilots. The plane crash was used as the opportune pretext to ignite the killings.

Although, France never publicly apologized, the feeling of guilt was blatantly apparent. In 2009, Sarkozy flew to Kigali to acknowledge a kind of “blindness” at the time of the genocide, and the French government has been trying to reconcile with Kigali since then. Although this visit has been considered by many as a tricky one for Sarkozy, the French president has made it clear that he wants to build on his own trip to Kigali to reconcile France with Rwanda. Sarkozy also faces a lot of criticisms at home for holding out a hand to Kagame.

Belgium, Rwanda’s former colonial master, did apologize, not for taking part of the mass murders, not instigating the mass killings, but for not taking proactive actions to halt the genocide.  But Kagame told AFP that he had not come to Paris seeking an apology, but simply a renewal of normal ties and an opportunity to look to the future. Maybe, the Rwandan leader is playing Real Politic, agreeing to forego the ugly past and to focus on what seems “best” for both countries.

The reality is that in the aftermath of the genocide, Rwanda—although a tiny country nestled on the banks of Lake Victoria in Central Africa—emerged as a regional power, keeping Uganda at bay while contributing to the demise of Mobutu of Congo and paving the way for Laurent Kabila to seize power in Kinshasa. Rwanda could be an important proxy for Paris.

Rwanda also needs France after being left or abandoned by The United States and Britain—both countries that staunchly supported it after the Genocide. In fact, Sarkozy plans on doubling France’s development assistance from 22.7 million euros per year to 42.2 million.

Sarkozy’s office said France stood by to help Rwanda develop geothermal and methane gas energy projects. The French government hopes to build a Franco-Rwandan cultural centre in Kigali before the start of next year.

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