In June 1994, as the Secretary General of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) I led a delegation to meet then France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alain Juppe. The objective of my delegation was to dissuade the French Government from launching Operation Turquoise, the peacekeeping operation that has been at the heart of the acrimonious relationship between France and the RPF regime under Paul Kagame since then. I went back unsuccessful and disappointed. The stakes were high.
Before then, RPF had dispatched its senior leaders, Gerald Gahima and Claude Dusaidi, to New York and Washington DC to dissuade the United Nations and the United States from launching any peacekeeping operations in Rwanda.
The RPF’s double-pronged strategy in France and United States was derived from two mutually re-enforcing fears and considerations. First, because RPF was inherently an organization of Tutsi exiles, it considered France a hostile nation because of its close relationship with the then Government of Rwanda under President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu. In fact, popular perception in the rank and file of the RPF was that the French, and the Belgians before them, were pro-Hutu. The twists and turns of history are such that in post-1994 Rwanda, popular opinion within the Hutu and Tutsi communities is that Americans and the British are pro-Tutsi. Second, by ordering the shooting down of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, Kagame simultaneously derailed the Arusha Peace Agreement, and triggered the genocide and massacres of 1994 in which Tutsi and Hutu were victims.
For RPF, a French-led or any United Nations peacekeeping operation was perceived as a threat to its push for outright military victory. When Alain Juppe told our delegation that the French-led operation was to save Tutsi, Kagame instructed me to respond that “all the Tutsi who were to die have died anyway, and there are no more to save”. This became the standard mobilizing theme and response in Washington DC and New York,
In essence, it is this callous, cold and calculating consideration for General Paul Kagame and his RPF’s quest for power at any price that has brought France-Rwanda relations to a new and dangerous crisis point. When the French investigating magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, indicted President Paul Kagame and other RPA military officers for the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, RPF was up in arms. To Kagame and the RPF, this was considered to be further proof that France was anti-Tutsi, anti-RPF and most importantly, anti-Kagame. The marching orders to all of us who worked in the system was to fight the French everywhere and by all means possible, including lies, deceptions and denials.
Can the bitter relationships between France and Rwanda be repaired under Paul Kagame’s regime? The response to that is an absolute no.
First, Kagame and the RPF’s hold on to power survives and thrives on a narrative that perpetuates falsehoods calculated to make France and the international community guilty. In this narrative, the French are the bad guys who assisted the other bad guys, the Hutu, to commit genocide; and that the international community failed to prevent and stop the genocide against Tutsi, who were saved by Kagame and the RPF.This narrative is deliberately silent on Kagame’s role in the assassination of President Habyarimana which triggered the genocide. Despite mistakes in France’s and international policies and actions towards Rwanda at the time, RPF’s narrative denies the fact that Operation Turquoise saved some Tutsi and Hutu. This false narrative is Kagame’s and RPF’s addictive and life-giving magic bullet. With it aid money flows, and questions about human rights, democracy and accountability are taboo. Without it, the regime would cease to be.
Second, Kagame and the RPF need a contest with a big power like France to bolster its stand domestically and internationally. Domestically, the RPF regime has never had any legitimacy among the Hutu. Kagame claims to be the sole hero and savior of the Tutsi. Currently, what used to look like a homogenous Tutsi community held together by fear under Kagame’s iron hand is crumbling fast. He needs France as a powerful enemy against which he can mobilize the fearful Tutsi and a marginalized Hutu population.
Third, there is also an opportunistic dimension to Kagame’s anti-France stand. Since 1994, the decline of French influence in Rwanda has witnessed a disproportionate rise of Anglo-American influence in the tiny Republic. The Anglo-American-Rwanda love triangle may be seen as a compassionate one, based on benevolent giants’ altruistic urge to help Rwanda the victim. London and Washington do not see it that way. Rwanda sits at the interface of the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa, regions in which the United States and the United Kingdom have deep geo-strategic, economic and security interests. By Kagame appearing to be anti-France, and abiding in both overt and covert missions, there are some Anglo-American cheers and cheerleaders. The fact that Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are Kagame’s principal global promoters is no accident.
Last but not least, by antagonizing and humiliating France, Kagame seeks to claim the status of a nationalist and pan Africanist standing up to a Western power. This is an absurd claim, since he is a sectarian bully who dominates the nation through coercive means. He destabilizes the region though direct or proxy wars, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is deeply dependent on Western aid.
Faced with a difficult past in Rwanda, and a consistently antagonistic Kagame, France has tried all sorts of palliative treatment for a deep-seated and chronic disease. A contrite President, Nicolas Sarkozy, visited Rwanda in 2010. Kagame has been welcomed to France. What has France received in return? Kagame and RPF have thrown out the French language, condemning many generations of Rwandans to illiteracy; taught a whole young generation of Rwandans to hate the French; expelled a French Ambassador and condemned the current one to obscurity; accused France of being an accomplice in the crime of genocide; closed the French cultural center in Kigali; and, deliberately seeks to divide the French people and their Government though manipulation of guilt, denials and deceptions.
The Government and people of France must resist and reject Kagame’s and RPF’s relentless onslaught on their dignity. No appeasement of Kagame will ever be sufficient for him to change attitude, policy and action towards France. Respectful, truthful and mutually beneficial relations between France and Rwanda will only be possible after Kagame and the RPF.
All the more reason why France should bring to conclusion the investigation on the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi. Kagame knows that this investigation will be his Achilles heel. He has fought it, and will continue to fight it, with all the means he has at his disposal. France is paying the price for touching Kagame’s raw nerve.
Ultimately, France’s medium to long term interests will be best served by being proactive in supporting the national democratic forces seeking to create a just, free, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Rwanda.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa
Former Secretary General of RPF, Ambassador of Rwanda to the United States, and Chief of Staff to President Paul Kagame
May 2, 2014