Article published in Billets d’Afrique N° 172, September 2008
FRANCE.RWANDA. A genocide questioning French democracy. Billets d’Afrique N° 172, September 2008
Beyond simplistic political interpretations or a so-called orchestration of complicity, the contents of the Rwandan report on French implication in the genocide of 1994 require France to open a broad national debate.
The timing couldn’t have been worse than the beginning of August, just before the kickoff of the Olympic games for publicly releasing the long awaited Mucyo report on the French implication in the genocide of the Rwandan Tutsis. Could the Rwandan government really have ignored the actual media focus? This having being remarked, the inherent recommendations of the report raise many other questions. One of the recommendations explicitly subordinates the pursuit of the accusations laid down in its conclusions to a political settlement between the two countries. Significantly nonetheless the Mucyo commission nominally cites thirteen French politicians and twenty members of the armed forces while charging “the competent administrations i.e. the Rwandan justice to take the required measures to bring these responsible persons, military as well as political to answer for their acts before justice”. Standing accused among others are the two Mitterrands-father and son Jean-Christofe, Alain Juppé, Edouard Balladur, Hubert Védrine, Dominique De Villepin and François Léotard … Manifestly we are dealing with the topmost decision makers of the French state so that the affair takes on quite serious dimensions when one country threatens the past leaders of another with legal actions for “complicity in genocide”. It is high time that the whole French nation be made party to the terms of this debate simply because fourteen years ago its elected representatives acted in our name in Rwanda … and today a new set of policy makers continue in the same vain in other parts of the world.
The Mucyo report can be read from different angles. The official analysts of the French mainline press stick to a strictly, political interpretation of the 331 pages (plus a 166 page appendix) of the Rwandan inquiry. They consider it mainly as a reaction to the international arrest warrants issued by the French anti-terrorist judge Bruguière against nine members of the Rwandan inner circle, including president Kagamé himself, suspected of downing the plane of his predecessor on April 6, 1994. They also tend to look at the report itself as just another element to the secret bargaining between the two states. The bias of French journalism comes as no surprise and is readily perceptible. By insisting so much on the necessity for reserve, these journalists defacto help to screen off our former decision makers for whom these events are no longer open to debate: France is above reproach and all the rest is pure invention. This approach has the advantage of side stepping the need to read the report. And that’s probably precisely the point because the Mucyo report furnishes plenty of crushing evidence against France.
It begins with a chronological survey of Rwanda’s contemporary history followed by the details of French military cooperation, political relations and diplomacy for the crucial period between October 1990 and August 1994. Without contributing new historical information, the report refers to a number of previous, well known publications or inquiries by Gérard Prunier, Colette Braeckmann, Alison Desforges, Patrick de Saint-Exupéry, the 1998 French Parliamentary Information Mission of 1998, the 2004 independent Citizen’s Inquiry Commission, etc.). The interest of the Mucyo report does not reside so much in its revelations but in its remarkable synthesis of an admittedly, complex political tragedy.
A suffocating demonstration
Far from attempting to show us some sort of Machiavellian plot on the part of a French government united in its desire to exterminate the Tutsis, the report reconstitutes a puzzle otherwise complex and disturbing. French complicity is constructed something like the multi-layered French “mille feuille” pastry, consisting of different objectives none of which in themselves were aimed at unleashing a genocide but where all the participants shared the same contempt for one particular population. Viewed from this angle, the demonstration is suffocating. Where the investigation relates irrefutable facts, French complicity in this genocide becomes patent (in the sense of the criminal definition used by international law for complicity which does not require direct physical participation in the extermination process and does not even require special, foregone, knowledge of its enactments). What every page of this report makes so painfully clear is that from October 1990 onwards France’s influence in Rwanda was omnipresent and that in no way could our government have ignored what was happening throughout the country at that time.
In the context of the period we rediscover that every decision was subordinated in one way or another to our typically, French geopolitical prejudices; this time under the dogma of “the Tutsi threat” to our sphere of interests [the Elysée still relates to African states from the century old perspective of Anglo-French rivalry, so that the English speaking, Ugandan support of the Tutsis was perceived to threaten France’s hegemony in the Great Lakes Region, particularly in neighbouring Congo-Zaire; translator’s note]……..The imbrications of French military personnel within the Rwandan army via a multitude of secret, military conventions as well as the numerous collusions developed within the 3 year period by a small group of French marine officers or Special Operations Commanders are rather edifying. Equally edifying is the role played by the French ambassador Marlaud who on April 7,1994 facilitated the formation of the Rwandan Interim Government within the very walls of the French embassy thereby conferring a sort of legitimacy to the coup d’état of the night before. By far more portentous than the fatal sabotage of the Rwandan president’s Falcon jet, the immediate French consecration of the interim genocide apparatus might very well have been the crucial political event which set the genocide into motion.
Putting all these corroborating events side by side the Mucyo commission provokes such a disturbing picture of French involvement during this critical period that we must ask ourselves, “how we would consider a country compromised to this extent with the Nazis?” The commission also brings forth the “new” accusations concerning the behaviour of French troops during the military operations between 1990 and 1994 and imputes a number of rapes, brutal interrogations, tortures and massacres to those French ground forces. Eyewitness accounts abound with atrocities. The gravity of their accusations against French Army personnel demands at the very least an objective counter-inquiry. No one is saying that our special forces soldiers are all torturers, but recent history unfortunately accredits the plausibility of some of these allegations (for example the recent murder of Firmin Mahé involving special forces soldiers of the Licorne operation in the Ivory Coast). Anyone who has travelled through former French Africa where our troops are still stationed, and who has had the occasion to observe certain legionnaires in operation would hardly question the credibility of the reported accusations.
Moreover the entire framework of these accusations largely surpasses the Rwandan setting alone. Since well over 50 years Africa has been the favourite training ground for our ex-colonial troops and, despite the specific character of the 1994 genocide, France’s role in Rwanda has not differed significantly from that which it played and still plays in its sub-Saharan ex-colonies.
This time “it went all wrong”
For all of the aforementioned reasons, it is necessary to reconsider the French implication in the Rwandan genocide within the general context of France’s continuing “Françafrique” way of operating in Africa [“Francafrique” designates French neo-colonial practises in Africa, characterised by presidential exclusivity, military interventionism and the blatant absence of democratic counter-controls, translator’s note]. “If things went wrong” this time, as has been cynically but discreetly let on by the inner core of past policy makers, our country in 2008 is still on the wrong side of the divide as it continues to support the bloody dictatorships of Idriss Déby [Chad], Sassou Nguesso [Congo-Brazzaville], Paul Biya [Cameroon] and François Bozizé [Central African Republic]. No lesson has been drawn from what should have been recognized to be what it was, namely a moral disaster for our country. Don’t we have to ask ourselves why some of our leaders accompanied a government of genocide planners and perpetrators before, during and even afterwards? Doesn’t this simple question in itself indicate our grievous failure? Doesn’t the question merit a national debate and to begin with the designation of a long postponed parliamentary inquiry commission. Putting aside the evident domestic acclamation generated by the commission’s results within Rwanda, the Mucyo report nevertheless tells us that the genocide of the Rwandan Tutsis was also a strictly French national affair whose abject objectives seriously compromise our own democracy.
Further reading on this subject:
Linda Melvern, France and Genocide:The Murky Truth ; Times Online, August 8, 2008.
Linda Melvern, Conspiracy to Murder:The Rwandan Genocide; Verso 2006
Magnus Linklater, Rwanda: a story too terrible to believe; Times Online March 2, 2005
Andrew Wallis, Silent Accomplice:The untold story of France’s role in the Rwandan Genocide, I.B. Tauris 2007
R.W.Johnson,Blood on their Hands; Times Online November 12, 2006
William Ferroggiaro, The U.S. and the Genocide in Rwanda 1994: the assassination of the presidents and the beginning of the “Apocalypse”; declassified documents report from the National Security Archive Briefing Book; consult the National Security Archive website at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/
(article translated by SSH, member Survie Paris Ile-de-France, 9/08)