By Olive Mukahirwa
French President Emmanuel Macron has visited Rwanda and formally recognized the role of France in the genocide against the Tutsi. In doing so, he has broken with his predecessors. The genocide claimed an estimated 800 thousand to one million lives. Former President François Mitterrand was in power in France at the time of the genocide.
While in Rwanda, Macron visited Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250 thousand people are buried in mass graves. There, he and the president of the Women’s Association of Genocide Survivors embraced, which was seen by many as a sign of reconciliation.
Jean Damascene Bizimana, executive secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, said the visit reflects hope for the future. “It’s the symbol of new relations and respect for historic facts of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi. In the right place, and in a televised speech at the memorial, President Macron recognized the role of France in the genocide against Tutsi.
In his televised address, Macron said,“France has a role, a history, and a political responsibility in Rwanda. And she has a duty: to face history and recognize the amount of suffering it has inflicted on the Rwandan people by making silence prevail over the examination of the truth for too long.” Macron added that by wanting to prevent a regional conflict or a civil war, it was in fact standing alongside a genocidal regime. “By ignoring the warnings of the most lucid observers, France took on an overwhelming responsibility in a spiral that ended in the worst, even as it sought precisely to avoid it,” he said.
Rwandans and many international analysts had expected an apology from Macron, and a request for forgiveness. Instead, he said, “As I stand with humility and respect by your side today, I come to recognize the extent of our responsibilities […] This journey of recognition, through our debts, our donations, offers us hope to come out of this night and walk together again. On this path, only those who have been through the night can perhaps forgive, give us the gift of forgiving ourselves.”
Egide Nkuranga, the representative of IBUKA, an umbrella organization of survivors of the genocide, judged Macron’s speech as inadequate, “without clear apology on behalf of France.” Pressed on the unclear apology, in his joint press conference with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Macron said he preferred to acknowledge France’s role, rather than to request forgiveness, because forgiveness could only come by the choice of Rwanda.
Kagame welcomed Macron’s move to normalize relations with Rwanda and sought to bypass the apology issue.“His [President Macron’s] words were something more valuable than an apology. They were the truth. Speaking the truth is risky, but you do it because it is right, even when it costs you something and even when it is unpopular…. Politically and morally, this was a tremendous act of courage,” Kagame said.
To bring to light France’s role in the genocide against the Tutsi, Macron set up the Duclert Commission two years ago. The commission presented its findings in March 2021 and concluded that France had responsibility, but no complicity, in the genocide against Tutsi. Rwanda had also commissioned a report, the Muse Investigation, which was presented in April and drew a similar conclusion.
Since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda has never ceased to accuse France of supporting and collaborating with the government that committed the genocide in Rwanda, and formal relations between the two countries have been tenuous, at best.