Macron recognises France’s ‘overwhelming responsibility’ in Rwanda genocide

‘Powerful’ speech, while not an apology, wins praise from Rwanda’s president

French president Emmanuel Macron signs the memorial book during his visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where some 250,000 victims of the massacres are buried, in Kigali on May 27th, 2021. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

French president Emmanuel Macron signs the memorial book during his visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where some 250,000 victims of the massacres are buried, in Kigali on May 27th, 2021. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

 

In a key speech on his visit to Rwanda, the French president Emmanuel Macron said he recognises that France bears a heavy responsibility for the 1994 genocide in the central African country.

Mr Macron solemnly detailed how France had failed the 800,000 victims of the genocide but he stopped short of an apology.

France “was not an accomplice” in the genocide but ended up siding with Rwanda’s “genocidal regime” and bore an “overwhelming responsibility” in the slide toward the massacres, the French leader said, speaking on Thursday at the genocide memorial in the capital, Kigali.

“France has a role, a history and a political responsibility in Rwanda. It has a duty: that of looking history in the face and recognising the suffering that it inflicted on the Rwandan people by favouring silence over the examination of truth for too long,” said Mr Macron.

When the genocide started, “the international community took close to three months, three interminable months, before reacting and we, all of us, abandoned hundreds of thousands of victims”.

France’s failures contributed to “27 years of bitter distance” between the two countries, he said.

“I have to come to recognise our responsibilities,” said Mr Macron.

Although Mr Macron did not apologise, he won praise from Rwandan president Paul Kagame for his “powerful speech”.

“His words were something more valuable than an apology, they were the truth,” said Mr Kagame. “This was an act of tremendous courage.”

Mr Kagame and Mr Macron both signalled that a page had been turned in France-Rwanda ties.

“This visit is about the future, not the past,” Mr Kagame said, adding that he and Mr Macron discussed a range of issues, including investment and support for businesses.

Macron said they were opening “a new page”.

Appearing to explain his lack of apology, Mr Macron said: “A genocide cannot be excused, one lives with it.”

Mr Macron said that he had come with 100,000 coronavirus vaccines for Rwanda.

The French president arrived in Kigali early on Thursday and met Mr Kagame at the presidential residence.

Mr Macron then toured the memorial to the frenzied 1994 slaughter in which Hutu extremists killed mainly minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them.

Mr Macron’s trip builds on a series of French efforts since his election in 2017 to repair ties between the two countries.

Two reports completed in March and in April that examined France’s role in the genocide helped clear a path for Mr Macron’s visit, the first by a French president in 11 years.

The previous visit, by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010, was the first by a French leader after the 1994 massacre sent relations into a tailspin.

Rwanda’s government and genocide survivor organisations often accused France of training and arming the militias and former government troops who led the genocide.

Mr Kagame, who has been Rwanda’s de facto leader since 1994 and its president since 2000, has won praise abroad for restoring order and making advances in economic development and health care. But rights watchdogs, dissidents, and others accuse Mr Kagame of harsh rule. – AP