After decades of Rwandan charges that France was complicit in the 1994 genocide, French President Emmanuel Macron came in Kigali on Thursday, trying to rebuild relations between the two countries.
The visit comes after the release in March of a report by a French investigative panel that stated that a colonial mindset had blinded French officials and that the government held “severe and overwhelming” responsibility for the massacre.
However, the investigation exonerated France of any direct involvement in the massacres of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has previously said France participated in the genocide, said last week that the report “meant a lot” to Rwandans.
Rwandans could “maybe not forget, but forgive,” France for its role, said Kagame, a Tutsi and the main power in Rwandan politics since his rebel army ended the killings by death squads loyal to the Hutu-led government.
Macron, who also has pointedly tried to distance France from its colonial past, agreed in April to open the Rwanda archives of former president Francois Mitterrand, who was in charge during the genocide.
Shortly afterwards Rwanda released its own report that found France was aware a genocide was being prepared and bore responsibility for enabling it, continuing in its unwavering support for Rwanda’s then president, Juvenal Habyarimana.
It was the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane, killing the president, that unleashed the 100-day frenzy of killings.
“French officials armed, advised, trained, equipped, and protected the Rwandan government,” the report concluded.
France then proceeded to cover up its role for years, the report said.
The Elysee Palace said on Friday that Macron would appoint a new ambassador to Rwanda, the first recognized French diplomat to Rwanda since 2015.
On Thursday, the streets of Kigali were devoid of the banners and flags that usually accompany high-level visits.
The French president is scheduled to speak at Kigali’s Gisozi genocide memorial, which is home to over 250,000 Tutsi. Although Kagame has stated that it is up to France, many Rwandans believe that a complete apology is in order.
“I want he could apologize for what France did in 1994,” Henriette Uwase, a 28-year-old mango vendor, said. Her father and two brothers were slain when she was two years old.
Many Rwandans had been angered because perpetrators of the genocide had been able to live abroad, said Alain Gauthier, who pursues such individuals with his Rwandan wife, a Tutsi who lost her mother and other relatives.
“We are waiting for one thing and that is an apology,” he said. “Those who committed genocide and live pleasantly in France (must) be tried.
“Many people say that he will not apologize but I don’t see how Macron comes to Rwanda and leaves without apologizing for France’s role.”
The last visit by a French leader was in 2010.
From Rwanda, Macron will travel to South Africa, where he will meet President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss COVID-19 and regional crises, including one in Mozambique.
Only Rwandans, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, could forgive France for its participation in the 1994 massacre in Rwanda.
“On this journey, only those who lived through that night may potentially forgive, give us the gift of forgiveness,” Macron said in a speech at Kigali’s Gisozi genocide memorial, which is home to more than 250,000 Tutsi.
According to Macron, France ignored warnings about an oncoming bloodbath in Rwanda and stood de facto by a genocidal administration.
Macron said, though, that France “was not a collaborator” in the atrocities.