Cardinal Antoine Kambanda: A very controversial interview

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda

For the Archbishop of Kigali, what matters is the step taken by Emmanuel Macron

One week after the speech of the French president in Kigali, the Rwandan Cardinal Antoine Kambanda, Archbishop of Kigali granted an interview to the newspaper LA CROIX; he tackled the issues of the accusations against Paul Kagame; the question of forgiveness for the genocide against Tutsi and the fate of the priests in prison for this crime.

La Croix: What did you think of Macron’s speech?

 Cardinal Antoine Kambanda: We have no problems with the French people but with the policy of France at the time of President Habyarimana; this caused tension between our two peoples but Macron’s speech clarified this point by recognizing the role of his predecessors then in close relationships with our persecutors: it is a fundamental gesture

La Croix: Do you share the words about the French army which does not blame itself on those horrible crimes committed in Rwanda?

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda: We know what the French soldiers did in our country; I myself witnessed of what was done in the identity checks at the roadblocks; they thought that the Tutsi were infiltrators of the RPF. We are aware that the forces of Habyarimana were comforted by the French presence and the latter did nothing to stop the massacres since 1990 and at the start of the genocide; that they left us in the hands of the killers and on the hills of Bisesero on June 27; that the killers fled to the areas under their control. Visibly Macron did not want to anger some French soldiers but what matters to us is that he took the step in our direction.

La Croix: Should he explicitly ask for forgiveness? 

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda: He asked for it in the Rwandan cultural manner by expressing compassion for the sufferings that have been inflicted against us; by recognizing this, he is in the direction of asking forgiveness from us. It is very important for us that France understands the sufferings we have endured because of the political choices it has adopted in this country. This understanding is a first step. 

La Croix: What do you mean? 

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda: President Macron as well as our president have recognized that it is a step. After having recognized the responsibility of his country in the Rwandan drama and having expressed his compassion for the sufferings undergone, will then come the time to ask pardon, but in my eyes and in those of many Rwandans, Macron said the essential. We may from now on become partners in a calm and peaceful spirit. 

La Croix: After 27 years are Rwandan Catholics reconciled?

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda:The Rwandan Church is the image of the Rwandan society; we have carried out a lot of work to first ask forgiveness between us. It starts by being reconciled with oneself for the harm we have caused. It is not easy to recognize one’s damage; there still is an internal resistance; people prefer an escape towards violence, alcohol, drugs…

If we succeed in this process then we are in a position of reconciliation with the others. It is this way that we have opted for in Rwanda; it is on the side of life, reconstruction, future. We are walking together on this path

La Croix: A number of international NGOs accuse Kagame of violating human rights in his country

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda: Those who say this do not take into account the magnitude of the genocide. There are forces outside who have remained with the ideology of 1994; they have relays within our society. These forces push to divisionism and fuel the spirit of violence in a country already massively bruised by the most extreme of violence. In the face of these forces, we must not be fooled or naive; what we call political opposition outside is a screen inside to ethnicize the debate; raise one community against another and terrify the victims genocide.

La Croix: Do you consider Kagame the biggest criminal in the great lakes region

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda: No, on the contrary, he stopped the genocide and he alone. What the RPF did in the Congo was a war to drive out the genocidaires; they had reorganized to attack us and had the civil population with them that they trained in a terrible trip inside the equatorial forest of the Congo; many died during this escape. This is in no way genocide, as the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights claims; the Mapping Report; it is neither fair nor honest; most of the refugees in Zaire have returned to Rwanda; but those responsible and the actors involved in the genocide and their Congolese allies invented this accusation; it is sometimes taken up in good faith by the Westerners; they are instrumentalized by the same people who do not want us to look at what they have done in Rwanda. I invite those who in good faith relay these false accusations to come to Rwanda to see the reality of our country. 

La Croix: What do you do with the priests accused guilty of genocide?

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda :Their case has not been provided for in canonic law. Every day we have to invent strategies to deal with the consequences of the genocide. For those who are in prison, there are five at least; we call upon them to repentance; for those who have served their sentence, we check if they are no longer animated by the genocidal spirit. If not, we ask them to lead a life of penance, to pray for their souls and to collaborate with justice; for others, they are integrated among us but on condition that they keep humble and that they adopt a life of penance

La Croix: And those who fled to Europe?

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda: Everyone knows the scandalous misconduct of priests who have found refuge in Europe; there are some in France; Belgium, Italy; Spain. It is unthinkable that those who host them consider them as genocidaires; they benefit from support; a form of protection. Indeed, it is hard to believe that a priest was involved in acts of genocide. Everything is hard to imagine in genocide; the only thing to wish is that justice can do its job. Emmanuel Macron is committed to guarantee the expected justice when he was at the memorial of Gisozi; we cannot wish for anything else.