Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, acknowledged France’s responsibility for the 1994 extermination of Rwanda in a speech at the Kigali Genocide Memorial intended to get the line under two decades of diplomatic rancor.
Macron said France, even under François Mitterrand’s presidency, stood “next to a genocidal regime” and had done little to prevent the killing of about 800,000 Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers.
A report by a French panel released in March concluded that “France bears heavy and imposing responsibility” for the genocide, but dismissed this complicity.
In Kigali on Thursday, standing in front of a memorial where 250,000 mostly Tutsi victims of the genocide are buried, Macron said France has a “duty to look at the face of history and recognize the role of suffering it inflicted on the Rwandans by keeping. silent for a long time ”.
Macron stopped the formal apology, stressing France was “not an accomplice”. But he did say that France ignored the voices of those warning about the impending genocide. “France has become increasingly responsible for a background of the worst consequences, even if it rightly seeks to avoid it,” he said.
A report commissioned by Rwanda states that “French officials armed, advised, trained, equipped, and protected the Rwandan government” and Rwanda accused Paris of being a “partner” of the Hutu extremist government in the past. .
Paul Kagame, who formerly rebel troops helped end the genocide and is now president, welcomed Macron’s speech. “Politically, and morally, it is an act of extreme courage. It pays risks, because there is good trust on both sides. It is important not to rush the process. The facts have to be well established, ”Kagame said on Thursday. “The truth is healing.”
Under Macron, France sought to reset African relations as a whole, also recognizing a relationship that had once dominated colonial history and the view among some Africans that Paris continues to follow neocolonialist policies. Even if French troops remain disbanded in a fight against militant jihadis in the Sahel, Macron has tried to put the relationship more on a business basis and expanded Paris’s focus beyond francophone Africa.
Even if Rwanda is not a French colony, the support of the people is considered important, in part because Kagame, who has ruled the country of 13m people since 1994, is considered one of the most influential leaders on the continent. .
In 2006, Kagame fired the French ambassador and in 2008, he shifted the national curriculum from France to English. Rwanda joined the British Commonwealth the following year.
Macron worked to improve the relationship. In 2019, his government supported the appointment of Louise Mushikiwabo, a former Rwandan foreign minister who accused French officials of “avoiding murder, literally”, as head of a Francophonie organization.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mushikiwabo said of Macron: “He’s really interested in turning the page on the kind of relationship that France has had in Africa.” Macron had what he called “the political courage to face some ghosts in the past”.
Freddy Mutanguha, vice president of Ibuka, an umbrella group for the genocide survivors of the organization, and a survivor himself, said he appreciated Macron’s initiative. “What we realized in his spoken speech, you can feel compassion, and you can feel the willingness to truly correct the mistakes of the past,” he said.
Further reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris