Politics, Africa

Macron’s Rwanda visit portrays new beginning

Macron names ambassador to Rwanda, promises help for COVID-19 vaccine production

James Tasamba   | 30.05.2021
Macron’s Rwanda visit portrays new beginning

KIGALI, Rwanda

French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Rwanda demonstrated France's willingness to maintain good bilateral ties, analysts and observers say.

The French leader wrapped up a historic two-day trip to the East African country on Friday, where he held bilateral talks with his counterpart Paul Kagame, inaugurated a French cultural center in the capital Kigali, and visited a vocational training center in northern Rwanda, the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Center.

A department of mechatronics will also be set up at the training center through a partnership with the French Development Agency.

Why now

For analysts, while France is a superpower and could support Rwanda’s interests in many ways, Rwanda has become prominent on the African continent and the international scene because of many initiatives that Kagame is involved in.

“For this reason, France needs to patch up its relationship with such a country whose influence on the continent and the international scene is growing,” Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a Kigali-based researcher on politics and public affairs, told Anadolu Agency in an interview.

Rwanda has long accused France of complicity in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group.

For a quarter-century, there were tensions between Rwanda and France.

Kigali at one point had broken off relations with France.

Macron's visit followed the release of two reports this year detailing France’s role in the genocide.

A Rwandan government report released in April said French officials armed, advised, trained, equipped, and protected the Rwandan government, heedless of the (then-President Juvenal) Habyarimana regime’s commitment to the dehumanization and, ultimately, the destruction, and death of Tutsi in Rwanda.

In March, a French commission appointed by Macron said France was “blind” to the coming genocide and downplayed the country’s role as an accomplice to the genocidal operation.

To many Rwandans, Macron’s visit marked a new beginning.

Within hours of arriving in Rwanda, Macron headed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the final resting place for over 250,000 genocide victims, where he “recognized France’s responsibility” in the genocide.

Rwandans listened closely when Macron delivered a televised speech at the memorial center.

No apologies

Some in Rwanda wanted Macron to apologize.

But Macron’s speech at the memorial center fell short of offering an apology, even when he asked genocide survivors for forgiveness.

The head of genocide survivors' umbrella associations in Rwanda, Egide Nkuranga, expressed disappointment that Macron had not “presented a clear apology on behalf of the French government.”

Speaking at a joint news conference, Kagame played down the importance of the issue, saying Macron’s words were “something more valuable than an apology because they were the truth.”

France and Rwanda are going to relate much better, to the benefit of both our peoples, economically, politically, and in terms of culture, Kagame said.

Alloys Mutabingwa, a Rwandan lawyer, believes Macron’s visit will have a positive impact on efforts towards mending ties.

Macron, according to the lawyer, builds on what former French President Sarkozy attempted to start looking at what did not work out well then -- leading relations between the two countries to continue to sour.

Mutabingwa stressed the need to have legally binding cooperation instruments which would act as safeguards against the relations being undermined in the future by other people.

When Sarkozy visited Rwanda in 2010, he admitted to “serious mistakes” and a “form of blindness” on France’s part during the genocide.

Macron announced he had named a new ambassador to Rwanda to cement the bilateral ties after a six-year gap, and promised that France will step up efforts to bring to justice Rwanda genocide fugitives in his country.

Zeno Mutimura, a former Rwandan diplomat, described Macron’s visit as a good step, offering optimism that the relationship was headed in the right direction based on mutual political interests.

France’s Africa interests

Ahead of his trip, Macron tweeted that he had a “deep conviction of writing together a new page of our relationship with Rwanda and Africa.”

In Kigali, he mentioned that France’s engagement will also involve regional investment and financing of African economies -- while in South Africa on Friday Macron said France would help Africa boost COVID-19 vaccine production.

He has previously acknowledged France’s instigation of a system that facilitated torture during Algeria's war of liberation from France and committed to returning art looted by colonial forces from Benin and Senegal.

Compared with his predecessors, Macron is not afraid to admit to France’s past wrongs, coming from a different generation, according to Golooba-Mutebi.

“Macron is from a different generation of French people. The generation of Europeans who would have seen Africa as a place to dominate, as a place to exploit, is dying out. So you are getting young Europeans with different views, who actually think that the (colonial) activities of Europeans in Africa are something to atone for,” he said.

“The new liberal European politicians are bound to be of the view that something has to be done to correct historical mistakes and I think that’s where Macron is coming from.”

Golooba-Mutebi also underlined that France has to find ways of remaining relevant in Africa because there is a growing rebellion against the way it related with Africa in its former colonies.

The researcher thinks Kagame is very popular in West Africa, with Rwanda cited as an exemplary country that former French colonies would wish to emulate.

“That influence over West Africa states, where France retains a strong but shaky foothold compels France to want to be on good terms with Rwanda -- without which it could put France’s dominance there under threat,” Golooba-Mutebi said.

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