French President Emmanuel Macron, on a symbolic visit to Rwanda Thursday, said France had “a role, a history and a political responsibility” towards Rwanda. But he stopped short of an official apology, saying France had not been complicit in the 1994 genocide.
He said France had a duty to admit the “suffering it inflicted on the Rwandan people by too long valuing silence over the examination of the truth”.
“France has a role, a story and a political responsibility to Rwanda. She has a duty: to face history head-on and recognise the suffering she has inflicted on the Rwandan people by too long valuing silence over the examination of the truth”.
While some had been hoping for a full apology, Macron’s comments went further than his predecessors and he said that only those who had survived the horrors “can maybe forgive, give us the gift of forgiveness.”
The French president arrived in the capital, Kigali, early Thursday and was welcomed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
‘More valuable than an apology’
The Rwandan president on Thursday hailed his French counterpart for recognising France’s role and responsibility in the 1994 genocide.
“His words were something more valuable than an apology. They were the truth,” he told a joint press conference after the two leaders held talks in Kigali.
Ibuka’s president Egide Nkuranga said he was disappointed that Macron did not “present a clear apology on behalf of the French state” or “ask for forgiveness”.
However he said Macron “really tried to explain the genocide and France’s responsibility. It is very important. It shows that he understands us.”
Visit follows two reports on 1994 genocide
Macron’s visit followed the release of two reports completed in March and in April that examined France’s role in the genocide and helped clear a path for Macron’s visit.
The French report, which was commissioned by Macron and released in March, included a damning indictment of Paris’s role in the bloodshed.
In findings accepted by the French government, the historians accused Paris, which had close ties to the ethnic Hutu regime behind the massacres, of being “blind” to preparations for the genocide and said it bore “serious and overwhelming” responsibility.
The commission found no proof, however, of French complicity in the bloodshed.
On a visit to France last week, Kagame, who at one point broke off relations with France, said the report had paved the way for France and Rwanda to have “a good relationship”.
A ‘renewed’ relationship
Ahead of Macron’s visit to Kigali, both sides have spoken enthusiastically of a “normalisation” of ties.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal on Wednesday called the visit “a particularly meaningful act” for Macron.
“It signals, I think, a memory that is pacified and a relationship that is renewed,” he told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.
“It is proof that the president’s willingness to face our history, our past, in complete transparency is the best way forward,” he said.
But some in Rwanda want France to go further in facing up to the past and officially apologise for failing to help stop the killing of 800,000 Rwandans between April and July 1994.
Kagame has downplayed the importance of the issue.
“It’s not up to me, or anyone else to demand apologies,” he told Le Monde newspaper in a recent interview, insisting that any such expression had to be spontaneous on the part of the French.
From Rwanda to Algeria and the colonial-era looting of African art, Macron has gone further than his predecessors in shining a light on unsavoury chapters of France’s past in Africa.
The last French president to visit Rwanda was Nicolas Sarkozy, who attempted to break the ice by admitting to “serious mistakes” and a “form of blindness” on the part of the French during the genocide.
His remarks fell short of expectations in Rwanda and relations between the countries continued to fester.
While campaigning for president, the (now) 43-year-old declared that the colonisation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity” — an admission that deeply upset conservatives in France, where colonial rule has long been portrayed as relatively benign.
He has also acknowledged that France instigated a system that facilitated torture during Algeria’s war of liberation from France, and he agreed to return art looted by colonial forces from Benin and Senegal.
Analysts say these gestures are aimed at wooing young Africans who view France with suspicion, convinced that it is still pulling the strings in former French colonies where it propped up strongmen for decades.
“The fact of being from a new generation and a young president does not change the course of relations between France and African countries,” Gilles Yabi, president of Senegal’s WATHI think-tank, told AFP after the release of the Rwanda report in March.
To counter allegations of French paternalism, Macron has made a point of trying to nurture ties with English-speaking countries in Africa that lie outside of France’s traditional sphere of influence.
After Rwanda, he will travel to South Africa.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)