In a landmark speech Thursday (27), French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged the role of the European country in the genocide in Rwanda, but said there was no direct French involvement in the murder Tutsis in 1994.
“The assassins who haunted the marshes, the hills, the churches did not have the face of France. She was not an accomplice. The spilled blood did not dishonor their weapons, nor the hands of their soldiers, who also saw unspeakable wounds, healed and swallowed tears, ”said the French leader, the first to visit the country since 2010, at a memorial in Kigali.
“But France has a role, a history and a political responsibility in Rwanda.”
The word responsibility was even repeated four times in Macron’s speech, who said he hoped that recognition of the past could lead to forgiveness. “On this path, only those who have made it through the night can perhaps forgive,” he said at the end of the speech, at the Gisozi genocide memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are buried.
At the site, rows of skulls lie in a mass grave and the names of the victims appear inscribed on a black wall.
The visit took place after the publication, in March of this year, of a report prepared by an investigative panel in France which highlighted the effects of the proximity of French officials to the Hutu-led government.
The document criticized the European country for not having planned the massacre and claimed that the government had a “grave and great” responsibility. In his speech, Macron said that at the time, France “did not understand that in wanting to avoid a regional conflict or a civil war, it was in fact siding with a genocidal regime” in the period between 1990 and 1994.
On the other hand, in accordance with Macron’s speech on Tuesday, the report absolved France of having a direct role in the murder of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus – an accusation made by Rwandan President Paul Kagame a few times.
Kagame’s tone on Thursday, however, was one of conciliation. He praised the “extraordinary and independent” report and said it opened the door to normalization of relations. He also congratulated Macron on his speech and claimed, at a subsequent press conference, “that words are stronger than an apology.”
Kagame also said the French president faces racism and stressed Rwanda’s willingness to resume relations with the European country. “This visit is about the future, not the past,” he said. “I want to believe that today this approach is irreversible.”
The Rwandan, who is part of the Tutsi ethnic group, has been the main political force in the African country since his rebel army put an end to the killings carried out by death squads loyal to the Hutu government.
The rapprochement was also present in the speech of Macron, who considered that there is an opportunity for “a respectful, lucid, solidary, mutually demanding alliance between the youth of Rwanda” and that of France, without the past appearing. ‘erase.
Macron’s speech was well received by Rwandans, although the official visit was marked by the absence of standards or flags normally present and by silence in the streets, as restrictions on built-up areas continue to be maintained to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Genocide survivor Esther Mukakalisa, 59, who lost her parents and siblings and still bears the marks of a machete attack on her face, watched the speech on television alongside a cousin and neighbors.
“After hearing this speech by the French president, it touched my heart, and I am very happy that France recognizes its responsibilities,” he told Reuters news agency. “I forgive France.”
Her cousin Ernestine Mudahogor added that “as survivors of the genocide we have been taught to forgive”. “If the French apologize, we are ready to forgive.”
Egide Nkuranga, president of Ibuka, an organization that brings together associations of survivors, told Reuters that Macron had pledged to cooperate by promising to arrest all perpetrators of the genocide living in France.
During his visit, the French president also promised to appoint a new ambassador, the country’s first official emissary since 2015 – France refused to appoint a representative after the accusation of complicity in the Kagame genocide.
Rwandan Finance Minister Uzziel Ndagijimana also said he signed a € 60 million loan from France to finance access to the Covid-19 vaccine and social protection for the population of the African country.
With the decline in cases, Rwanda now has 26,780 infections and 350 deaths, according to data from Our World in Data. Vaccination remains stagnant at home for 2.7% of the population who have received at least one dose since April 15, and the latest data available dates from May 8.
The question of the Rwandan genocide gained ground in France after Macron, who was trying to get the country out of its colonial past, agreed to open the files of former President François Mitterrand, then in power.
Shortly after the announcement, the African country released its own report in which it said France knew genocide was being prepared and took responsibility for making it possible, continuing to support the Rwandan president. of the time, Juvénal Habyarimana.
“French officials have armed, advised, trained, equipped and protected the government of Rwanda,” the report concludes, adding that the European country has concealed its role for years.