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France’s war against Rwanda

Paul Kagame speaking in Kigali today
Paul Kagame speaking in Kigali on Rwanda’s position on the France investigation

THE LAST WORD: By Andrew Mwenda

What the war between Paris and Kigali over Habyarimana’s death tells us about the two nations

Once again France and Rwanda are locking horns over who killed that nation’s former genocidal president, Juvenal Habyarimana. I have followed this debate for 15 years and every time it rears its ugly head I am intrigued by French arrogance in expressing power over a small, poor country. I am also comforted by Rwanda’s sense of its honour and dignity in the face of extreme provocation by a superpower. This shows that France has so much power but very little leadership.

France is rich financially and powerful militarily. However, its never-ending war against Rwanda only shows how poor at heart and weak in spirit that nation is. It takes great moral courage for a powerful party who has harmed a weaker one to show remorse and apologize. Therefore, French provocations against Rwanda are actually a demonstration of a deeply felt inner moral weakness and spiritual poverty.

Rwanda is small and poor but it has a big heart, a rich character and an enduring dignity. RPF had the means and the justification to revenge against those who committed genocide. But it chose reconciliation. It summoned the courage to facilitate the victims of genocide and their murderers to live together in harmony. I have witnessed this first hand, like finding the daughter of the president of Rwanda during the genocide working in the same office as the First Lady of Rwanda.

This moral superiority is what explains Rwanda’s ability to withstand all the provocations and harassment by France. France was actively involved in the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It trained, armed and financed the government army and militias that orchestrated the genocide. There are so many videos and pictures of French troops providing succor to the genocidal militias.

The “investigations” into Habyarimana’s death are an attempt by France to make herself the investigator, the prosecutor and the judge in a case where she is a suspect. This is a travesty of justice and abuse of power.

It is in this context that I feel a lot of pain when I read Rwandan commentators’ long and exhaustive articles explaining how the RPF was not the one responsible for killing Habyarimana as if he was not (or should not have been) a legitimate target of the RPF struggle to liberate Rwanda from his genocidal grip. Why should RPF be made to deny killing not just its principle enemy but also a man who planned the worst war crimes and worst crimes against humanity? It is like prosecuting the allies for killing Adolf Hitler during World War Two or blaming America for killing Osama Bin Laden.

The intentions of the French in their endless desire to prosecute RPF for Habyarimana’s death are obvious. They want to rewrite history and present the genocide as a spontaneous eruption that only happened because of the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane. This is an attempt to either deny the genocide or to blame it on RPF. Yet there is overwhelming evidence of the Habyarimana government’s meticulous plans for the genocide long before the president’s plane was shot down.

There is a big problem with the leadership of the French nation. France is rich and powerful – in money, military capabilities, in culture, technology, etc. It harmed a very small and poor country. It loses nothing to be contrite.

If France stopped harassing Rwanda, it would not lose any percentage of its gigantic GDP, it would not lose its seat on the UN Security Council, it would not cease to be a member of the EU, and Paris would not cease to be the fashion capital of the world, it would retain its nuclear weapons, its global ego would not diminish etc. In other words France can afford to show remorse.

I have spoken to the leaders of Rwanda on many occasions on this subject. They are open and willing to put this ugly past behind them and forge a new and productive relationship with Paris.

It is remarkable that it is the victim who has the magnanimity to open his arms and embrace the perpetrator of genocide and is willing to let bygones be bygones. Yet the perpetrator of genocide insists that the quarrel must go on; well because she has turned shame into anger.

Note: not all French politicians are egotistical to the point of absurdity. Rwanda had achieved tremendous progress in improving Paris-Kigali relations during the presidency of the pragmatic Nicolas Sarkozy.

However, immediately the French socialist party diehards came to power under Francois Hollande, their first mission was to return to the old politics of playing the victim and harassing Rwanda. Let us not forget that it was the French socialists who were in power when the genocide happened. It is the French socialists who armed, trained and financed the government of Habyarimana and its genocidal militias. Therefore, all these “investigations” by the “independent courts and judges” are actually an attempt not just to disguise French complicity in the genocide but also to deny that it ever happened.

Indeed, the French socialists want to claim that if there was ever genocide in Rwanda, it was by the RPF/Tutsi against the Hutu and the French. I have also come to learn that a significant part of the mainstream leadership of France is unwilling to forge a better relationship with the RPF government because doing so would be tantamount to surrender.

I have travelled to Paris and held discussions with the top leaders of French society in politics, academia and diplomacy, especially those concerned with Africa generally and Rwanda specifically. Some of the people I met genuinely feel France should apologise to Rwanda and move on. Incidentally Rwanda is not even asking for an apology but simply to be left alone. However, mainstream French establishment academics, politicians and diplomats cannot stomach Rwanda’s independent stance, its inner strength to govern itself without receiving orders from Paris.

What became apparent to me during my many discussions in Paris is that France can only accept one relationship with Rwanda – that of master and servant. The thing is that Paris has no idea what this new Rwanda is. They have tried different forms of “regime change” and failed. Instead their actions have made Rwanda more resilient, more determined to forge its own path as an independent and free nation with dignity. Rwanda will not accept subjugation. Not under President Paul Kagame.



  1. “Rwanda will not accept subjugation. Not under President Kagame.” The longer I have stayed with Mwenda’s word, the more suspicious I have become. At one time, Mwenda placed a “wager” that President Kagame will “never” temper with the Constitution to lift
    term limits. Kagame is preparing for a third term. At another point, he was fulminous against the Museveni regime and rightly so, because at that time he was frequenting Uganda’s
    prisons than he would have wished. Today, he looks at Dr. Besigye as the “enemy of the state.” At most times, I am made to believe that Mwenda does not mean what he says. If his words come to pass, then it is more of a stroke of luck than his ability to forecast. I have questioned in the past, ‘why there is no place where we can report such blatant liars and hypocrites?’
    Against Mwenda’s pledge that Rwanda will never be subjugated under Kagame, I counter his pledge that Rwanda will undergo another “revolution” if things remain the same in Kigali whether under the presidency of Kagame or not. The only change that has been witnessed in Rwanda is that from a Hutu ruler (Habyarimana) to a Tutsi emperor (Kagame). The privileges that were once assigned to the Hutu have been reassigned to the Tutsi. Any meaningful leadership in Kigali should have the conscious recognition of the social nature of Rwanda, it should be cognisant of the demographic realities in relation to the modern factors of production. The redistribution of wealth as intended in the 2004 land act has pending queries as the people in the North-Eastern part of the country are still displaced. Kagame, and the army are controlling almost every lucrative business in the country. Rwanda is currently under a “Bismarckian” economic system which is disguised as “peoples’ economy.” The production and distribution of wealth is not democratic but rather a desperate attempt by the ruling clique to catch up with modernisation. In this case, modernisation has been substituted for democracy rather than a transcending
    factor of democracy. The Rwandan type of modernisation excludes the masses from
    decision making and creates a dictatorial collectivism of communism. The defendants of this kind of modernisation speak of the ultimate need for order and security but Oskar Lafontaine was to remark, that those who speak of maintaining values, safety and security fail to realise that “security” arises only through the avoidance of risk which is the “antithesis” of freedom and justice.

    I have argued before, that to claim that more than 800,000 deaths during the genocide were mainly Tutsi, is more of a “meal ticket” than a “statement of fact”. To validate such a claim for
    a fact, is to assume that there were distinctive lines of engagement between the Tutsi and Hutu. Such an argument would annul the fact that there was only one genocide. This would presuppose that the genocide took on two different episodes. That in the first episode, the Hutus lined up unarmed Tutsi and “put them to waste.” Then, the second episode started with the emergence of a savoir (RPF) who were so clinical in their execution, that only shot and killed the intended target (Hollywood stuff.) But far from this imagination, there is every suggestion that the Habyarimana government made every effort for a peaceful outcome. In
    1992, a coalition government was formed, with the RPF and its allies seizing control of key Ministries and appointing the Prime Minister. To the contrary, the RPF engaged in a ‘talk-and-fight’ strategy. Always agreeing to a ceasefire while pressing for more power, then launching new attacks on civilians. The 1993, Arusha Accords were a stumbling block in the wishes and aspirations of the RPF; in that it talked of undergoing general elections. The RPF was very cautious in their predictions, it was clear to them that taking part in the general elections was going to be a “self rejection process.” Instead of preparing for elections, they prepared for war. In October 1993, according to an account of Habyarimana’s last conversation with Zairian president Mobutu, U.S. State Dept. representative Herman Cohen told President Habyarimana that unless he ceded all power to the RPF, they would kill him and drag his body through the streets. On April 6, 1994, they launched their final surprise attack by shooting down the presidential plane returning from a meeting that the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni had arranged in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. (Remember John Garang???) In the heart of Kigali known as Remera, they killed
    everyone living there on the night of the 6th/7th, wiped out the Gendarme camp there, wiped out the military police camp at Kami, and launched a major attack against Camp Kanombe, Camp Kigali and the main Gendarme camp at Kacyiru. They slaughtered everyone in their path. The Rwandan government and army called for a ceasefire the same night, and again the next day. Surprisingly, RPF refused. The Rwandan government asked for more UN help to control the situation. The U.S. instead, arranged for the UN force to
    be pulled out, while they continued to supply the RPF with men and supplies flown in by C130 Hercules. The Rwandan Army, short of ammunition and unable to contain the RPF advances, even offered an unconditional surrender on the 12th of April. Again, the RPF refused it. They instead shelled the Nyacyonga refugee camp where a large part of the one million Hutu refugees were located.

    My post graduate thesis was about post conflict resolution and my intentions are not to justify the genocide. However, there are key researchable problems that need our full attention. If Habyarimana and his government were behind the genocide, why would he agree to the Arusha Accords of forming a “Unity government?” Why would the Rwandan government seek for a ceasefire and for unconditional surrender only to be ignored by the RPF? Why would the Americans be more interested in pulling out the UN forces from the embattled Rwanda than to provide more protection? If we are to seek for justice and we have sought for justice even for the “fallen herdsmen”, why can’t we do justice to the “fallen Presidents?” The shooting down of the Habyarimana plane creates two interesting possibilities- 1). That if it were the extremist Hutus who shot the plane, then President Habyarimana was never part of their plan. 2) That if it was the RPF who shot down the plane, it then indicates that from the start, the RPF was never agreeable to the Arusha Peace Accords. In both possibilities, the accusing finger has to tilt. Mwenda is quick to accuse the French of being the investigator, the prosecutor and the judge in a case where
    she is a suspect. Mwenda is only opening one eye on France and shutting his other eye on Rwanda. The formation of the opposition to the Habyarimana rule was an ethnic one. The composition of the RPF was largely Tutsi, they took over power and they formed the current Rwandan government. These are the very people who have carried out every investigation about the genocide, prosecuted and given out life determining judgements in cases where they are key suspects. In the polite world this is called “double standards”, if plainly put, it is called “hypocrisy.”

    • “I have argued before, that to claim that more than 800,000 deaths during
      the genocide were mainly Tutsi, is more of a “meal ticket” than a
      “statement of fact”. Genocide has phases, Rajab is at DENIAL phase. Good luck with your aganda

    • Rajab, I did not have to read the whole of your response to the article to know what it would entail. Let me just respond to one of your deliberate delusional misconceptions. President Kagame did not have anything to do with the amendment of the constitution. His only part is that he’s the best thing to ever happen to Rwanda. Ask most Rwandan!

    • Dear Rajab,
      This is the first time I have heard your version of the events after the shooting down of the presidential plane. Could you please share with us the source of the information?
      You bring up some good points in your comment but you trying to put them across as the gospel truth is the problem I am facing. These are some of the questions that came up when I was reading your piece.
      1. Do you know how many RPF soldiers were in Kigali on 6th April and whether that number could effectively carry out such attacks against big government targets?
      2. Do you know the distance from Camp Kigali, Camp Kanombe and the Gerdame camp at Kacyiru? Infact, have you ever been in Rwanda?
      3.You ask, “why did US arrange for the withdrawal of UN troops?” Did you know that its Belgium (biggest contingent of UNAMIR) who requested for it after the ‘murder’ of 10 Belgian UN troops that were picked from the Prime Minister’s residence by the Rwandan Army after killing her(the same Rwandan Army according to you that requested for a ceasefire) ? And by the way, they were killed at Camp Kigali which according to you was being attacked by RPF. Maybe they were killed in that attack, please tell.
      4. Like you said, history is always written by the victors. There are so many things we might never come to know but you coming up with blatant ‘truths’ is not the right way. I don’t know exactly what happened but I bet u also don’t.

      PS. What did the Garang quote really mean?

      • Belgium MUST forget and leave Rwanda as well. UN files tells and the 1920 invasion of Belgians to Rwanda/ Ruanda. Regards, Buteera Disan Hutu Race, England

    • Its a pity but Museven Uganda’s president (the Mukiga) and Besigye have to keep a distance from Rwanda including Kagame Paul the current president of Rwanda. Logic is telling a story following Darelsalaam meeting. Regards. Buteera Disan, Hutu Race, England

  2. Writings have been seen about Rwanda, International bodies and those interested in its wellbeing. Ruanda needs its freedom and diginity away from any influence as we are able to do our best accordingly. Regards, Buteera Disan, Hutu Race, England

  3. “…It is in this context that I feel a lot of pain when I read Rwandan commentators’ long and exhaustive articles explaining how the RPF was not the one responsible for killing Habyarimana as if he was not (or should not have been) a legitimate target of the RPF struggle to liberate Rwanda from his genocidal grip. Why should RPF be made to deny killing not just its principle enemy but also a man who planned the worst war crimes and worst crimes against humanity? It is like prosecuting the allies for killing Adolf Hitler during World War Two or blaming America for killing Osama Bin Laden.”

    Put this way, i must wonder why it remains a contention over the death of Habyarimana in a violent struggle for which he was the principal enemy of the RPA. This could have gone both ways and it did indeed go both ways. The assassination of Fred Rwigyema who at the time was the principal enemy of the Hutu regime remains a mystery. By invoking the justifiable killing of Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, it is my hope that the world can finally accept the ramifications of aggression. Like the global icon President Obama who as recently as yesterday invokes the greatest praise and ululation for confirming that “we brought justice to Osama bin Laden”, i hope at some point the RPA can proudly assert that they brought justice to Habyarimana – End of story!

    Further still, as it is a mark of patriotism and strong global leadership for Secretary Hillary Clinton to keep reminding patriotic Americans that she will be there for their defence like she was in the room monitoring the raid on Osama Bin Laden as Secretary of State, i hope some of these actors can begin to take pride in the fact that so and so proudly gave the command or monitored the shooting down of that Plane. That should elicit ululation from every East African for when those Tutsi bodies came swinging through our lakes, it is we that had to live with the reality of that horror. anybody that brought justice to Habyarimana would defeat reason by cowering from that noble achievement!

    My only contention with you Andrew is to assert that Rwanda is a small and poor nation. I know of no poor African nation. I do however know of small Superpowers like Britain but we never refer to them as small because the reality would be that by small we would not be talking about the geography. Its a matter of mindset. Many African nations, including Rwanda, are underdeveloped but not poor. Should we expect the highest managerial and development abilities form African leaders; yes! However, to start from the premise that these are poor nations would distort reality on so many levels. It would beg the analysis of whether a super power could have set out to colonise a “poor” nation at such heavy cost, or, why indeed they are heavily invested in retaining pseudo or direct control of a “poor” nation.

  4. 1.In Africa when investigations are being carried out and counter accusations are being made that’s when the elites think they are working.
    2.The French should have asked the following basic qns concerning the Habyarimana’s plane crash (i)How many people were in the plane before & after the crash?(ii) Was the plane guarded at the Airport while in TZ & who guarded it?(iii)Was a bomb planted on the plane?(iv) How could the plane have been shot at the airport(yet its the most secure place in any country)(v)How does someone smuggle in a rocket propeller in the airport without being detected?(v)Who were the soldiers guarding the airport when the plane was hit did any one account for them?(vi)There was a plane that was to land at the airport just few minutes before Habyarimaman’s popped up who were in it and how long did they delay their landing?
    3.It was wise for Sudhir to have let go of Crane Bank i really defended BOU ‘s decision up to now my throat & jaws r paining coz of talking alot.
    4.The economy is now normalizing coz most prices of property in Ug had become abnormal actually the middle class should now embrace themselves to buy property at a low price.

  5. I agree with Andrew that France should support reconciliation efforts in Rwanda.I am very sure President Kagame would welcome any effort of France aimed at reconciliation and safeguarding the future of Rwandans.I have interacted with Rwandans and would argue France to massively support Rwanda so that full democracy prevails(Peaceful hand over of power)when Kagame is sure of Rwanda’s future he probably has no interest in overstaying on power because he is an honest man .So far President Kagame has not interfered with the activities of Democratic Green party of Rwanda headed by Dr Frank Habineza despite criticism at both National and International level.

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