PARIS – Blinded by its fears of losing influence in Africa and by a colonial vision of the people of the continent, France remained close to the “racist, corrupt and violent regime” responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and it is “serious and overwhelming” responsibilities, according to a report released Friday.
But the report, commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and produced by 15 historians with unprecedented access to French government archives, freed France from complicity in the genocide that killed 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and contributed to decades of conflicts and instability in central Africa.
“Is France an accessory to the genocide of the Tutsis? If by this we mean the willingness to join a genocidal operation, nothing in the files that were examined proves this, ” said the report, which was presented to Macron on Friday afternoon.
But the commission said France had long been involved with Rwanda’s Hutu-led government, even as that government was preparing the genocide of the Tutsis, viewing the country’s leadership as a crucial ally in a French sphere of influence in the region.
For decades, France’s actions during the genocide have been the source of intense debate in Africa and Europe, with critics accusing France of not having done enough to prevent the killings or of actively supporting the Hutu-led government. behind the genocide. The unresolved story has long poisoned relations between France and the government of President Paul Kagame, the Tutsi leader who has controlled Rwanda for nearly a quarter of a century.
Macron, who has spoken of his desire to restore France’s relations with a continent where it was a colonial power, is believed to have commissioned the report to try to improve relations with Rwanda.
Although the 992-page report presents recent information from French government archives, it is unlikely to resolve the debate over France’s role during the genocide, said Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian expert on genocide.
“This will not be good enough for one side and it will not be good enough for the other side,” Reyntjens said. “So I guess this won’t solve the problem.”
According to the report, François Mitterrand, the French president at the time, maintained a “strong, personal and direct relationship” with Juvenal Habyarimana, the former Hutu president of Rwanda, despite his “racist, corrupt and violent regime.”
Mitterrand and members of his inner circle believed that Habyarimana and the Hutus were key allies in a French-speaking bloc that also included Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then known as Zaire.
The French viewed Kagame and other Tutsi leaders, who had spent years in exile in neighboring Anglophone Uganda, as allies in a US advance into the region.
“The main interest of this country for France is that it be French,” wrote a senior military official in 1990, according to the report, which concluded: “France’s interpretation of the Rwanda situation can be seen through the prism of defense. the Francophonie ”.
French leaders at the time viewed the Hutus and Tutsis through a colonial lens, attributing to each group physical traits and stereotypical behaviors, compounding their misunderstanding of the events that led to the genocide, according to the report.
In one of the report’s most damning conclusions, its authors wrote: “France’s failure in Rwanda, the causes of which are not all its own, can be compared in this respect to a final imperial defeat, all the more significant because it was neither expressed nor acknowledged. ”