Emmanuel Macron, President of France, admitted French responsibility in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in a speech at the Kigali Genocide Memorial intended to draw a line under more than two decades of diplomatic resentment.
Macron said France, under the then presidency of François Mitterrand, had been “on the side of a genocidal regime” and had done too little to prevent the killing of about 800,000 Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers.
A report by a French panel published in March concluded that “France has borne heavy and condemned responsibilities” for the genocide, but acquitted it of complicity.
On Thursday in Kigali, in front of a memorial where 250,000 mainly Tutsi victims of the genocide are buried, Macron said France had “a duty to keep history face to face and to acknowledge part of the suffering inflicted on the Rwandan people keeping quiet too long ”.
Macron stood before a formal apology, stressing that France was “not an accomplice.” But he said France had ignored the voices of those warning of the impending genocide. “France has become largely responsible for a descent into the resulting worst, even when it has sought precisely to avoid it,” he said.
A report commissioned by Rwanda said that “French officials had armed, advised, trained, equipped and protected the Rwandan government” and Rwanda had accused Paris of being a “collaborator” with the Hutu extreme government of the time.
Paul Kagame, whose rebel troops then helped end the genocide and is now president, welcomed Macron’s speech. “Politically, and morally, it was an act of tremendous courage. These risks paid off, because there was good faith on both sides. It was important not to rush the process. The facts had to be properly established, “Kagame said Thursday.” The truth heals. “
Under Macron, France sought to reset relations with Africa as a whole, recalibrating a relationship previously dominated by colonial history and the perception among some Africans that Paris continued to pursue neocolonialist policies. Although French troops remain embroiled in a fight against militant jihadists in the Sahel, Macron has tried to put the relationship further on a commercial level and has widened Paris’ attention beyond French-speaking Africa. .
Although Rwanda was not a French colony, the approach was considered vital, in part because Kagame, who has run the country of 13 million people since 1994, is considered one of the continent’s most influential leaders.
In 2006, Kagame expelled the French ambassador and in 2008, he changed the national curriculum from French to English. Rwanda joined the British Commonwealth the following year.
Macron has worked hard to improve relationships. In 2019, his government backed the appointment of Louise Mushikiwabo, a former Rwandan foreign minister who had accused French officials of having “repelled the assassination, literally,” as head of a Francophonie organization. .
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mushikiwabo said of Macron: “He is really interested in turning the page on the kind of relationship that France has had with Africa.” Macron had what she called the “political courage to confront some of the ghosts of the past.”
Freddy Mutanguha, vice president of Ibuka, an umbrella group for genocide survivor organizations, and a survivor himself, said he appreciated Macron’s initiative. “What we have accomplished in the speech he has made, you can feel compassion, and you can feel the will to actually correct the mistakes of the past,” he said.
Additional reports by Leila Abboud in Paris