Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/472/2033
The untold story of France's role in Rwandan genocide
BETWEEN APRIL and July 1994 nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by the Rwandan government and its Hutu militias.
The United Nations, the US Clinton administration and the John Major government failed to prevent the genocide. But in Silent Accomplice, Andrew Wallis exposes one government (with a seat on the UN security council) who assisted it - the French government of 'socialist' president Francois Mitterrand.
Wallis argues that this collaboration was part of expanding French imperialism's influence in Africa. Between the end of the first world war and independence in 1962, Rwanda was a Belgian colony. In 1933, in a classic 'divide and rule' policy, the colonial authority introduced ethnic identity cards for the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi and Twas; despite a shared language, culture and generations of inter-marriage.
The Belgians elevated the status of the Tutsis to aid their administration of the country. But prior to independence they allowed a Hutu counter-elite to emerge resulting in anti-Tutsi pogroms.
After independence, Rwanda was increasingly drawn into La Francafrique as one of France's client African states. French colonial policy was run from the Elyse (presidential) palace and was obsessed with rolling back Anglo-Saxon influence in Africa. Under president Mitterrand his son, Jean-Christophe (later sacked facing corruption charges) was appointed to head the Africa Cell.
After a coup in 1973 the Hutu chauvinist Juvnel Habyarimana - an admirer of Hitler - came to power. Habyarimana enjoyed close ties with Mitterand. A one-party apartheid state, Rwanda was regarded as a 'safe bet' for funding. "The land of a thousand hills became 'the land of a thousand aid workers' as external aid provided nearly a quarter of its GDP." Habyarimana, his wife, Agatha, and the Hutu elite enriched themselves at the expense of the poor workers and peasants.
In the late 1980s Habyarimana faced a challenge from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), based amongst Tutsi refugees living in neighbouring Uganda. In October 1990 the RPF invaded. Habyarimana appealed to Mitterrand for help and 600 elite French paratroopers and helicopter gunships were dispatched under the cloak of a humanitarian mission.
The RPF then resorted to a campaign of guerrilla warfare and much of Rwanda's imported weaponry was handed over to the civilian Hutu militias who began massacring Tutsis. French troops manned roadblocks and trained the Interahamwe Hutu militia. The Hutu extremist journal, Kangwa, carried a full page photo of Mitterrand with the caption: "A true friend of Rwanda".
In August 1992 Habyarimana signed an accord under pressure to halt the civil war. However, his own Hutu militias (led by his wife) resorted to fresh ethnic violence which scuppered the talks and the RPF resumed its offensive.
A small UN force was sent under the command of the Canadian Romeo Dallaire. But despite evidence of the planned genocide Dallaire was refused more troops by the UN. The French government actually requested Dallaire's removal!
Habyarimana was then shot down in his personal jet and this event triggered the planned genocide. Within hours the presidential guard began systematically killing those whose names were on a pre-planned list. Ten Belgium soldiers of the UN force protecting the liberal Hutu prime minister were murdered alongside him.
As the genocide raged, the new Hutu 'interim government' was entertained at the French embassy in Kigali - many were later condemned by a UN tribunal of genocide. The following day French forces evacuated these criminals; Tutsi members of the embassy's staff were left behind to face the Hutu militias.
In June 1994, under French pressure, the UN secretary general Boutros-Ghali agreed to a separate French force - Operation Turquoise (OT). This was despatched as a 'humanitarian mission', which lacked transport for refugees but was stuffed full of elite military forces. They received a hero's welcome from those Hutus responsible for the massacres, confident that they would go unpunished and that the French forces would maintain them in power.
Wallis gives plenty of evidence that French troops acted in league with the Interahamwe and also raped, murdered and stole Tutsi property.
Despite the presence of French forces, the days of the Hutu regime were numbered as the RPF made territorial gains. French forces set up a safe-haven zone where the Interahamwe could freely operate from and helped them to escape to neighbouring countries from where they continued armed raids into Rwanda. The RTLM radio station that had broadcast directives to kill "Tutsi cockroaches" continued without interference.
The new Rwandan government of Tutsis and Hutus appealed to the West for financial assistance to rebuild the shattered economy. But the World Bank wouldn't help until a $6 million debt run up by the previous murderous regime was repaid! The EU voted for $200 million in aid but this was vetoed by the French government.
An International Criminal Tribunal Rwanda in November 1994 was set up to try the leaders of the genocide. Yet, despite a $200 million budget and nearly 900 staff, it had only convicted 25 people by June 2006.
Even today French officials remain in denial of their government's complicity in the Rwandan genocide. The current PM, Dominique de Villepin, falsely referred in 2003 to a 'double genocide' in Rwanda, claiming that Tutsis had also massacred Hutus.
In The Socialist 1 February 2007:
Socialist Party news and analysis
War and terrorism
International socialist news and analysis