a challenge for France

a challenge for France
a challenge for France

AA / Istanbul / Yasar Demir

Colonialism, the fundamental paradigm of the French state, has modernized to transform into post-colonialism, which has had serious consequences for the History of Humanity. France is considered responsible for the massacre of a million people in Rwanda, a country where it had settled to preserve its socio-economic presence in Central Africa.

The great debate in France and abroad, which has been going on for years between politicians, intellectuals, artists and civil society organizations, has matured today. The fact that a genocide had been perpetrated in Rwanda was, for the first time, expressed aloud by a French President. To understand this, we must first remember the relations that prevailed between France and Rwanda and what happened.

Three main tribes dominated Rwanda, namely the Hutus, the majority, the Tutsis and the Pygmies. In reality, Rwandans belong to the same ethnic group and have the same cultural affiliation, but they have been drawn into an irrevocable political and social situation with the arrival of Westerners in the region.

The Germans were the first to establish colonies in the 1890s. The country was then ceded to the Belgians at the end of the First World War and an internal conflict was started, the result of the classification deliberately attributed to the tribes, although that they belong to the same nation.

The Tutsi minority has long enjoyed the support of the colonizers.

The idea was instilled in them that they would be more resourceful, talented, strong and beautiful, and thus they became dominant despite being in the minority. The Hutus, the majority, were considered second-class citizens. This naturally created deep socio-cultural and socio-political cleavages between the two tribes. The situation continued until after World War II. The Belgians suddenly decided to support the Hutus at the expense of the Tutsis.

In 1962, in a climate of conflict, the United Nations (UN) recognized the independence of the country and elections were held. The Hutu Emancipation Movement, Parmehutu, the majority, then won power.

Attacks were subsequently launched against the Tutsis who held the socio-political force: 160,000 Tutsis were killed, when they already represented only 9% of the total population. The Belgian colonizers did not intervene during all this violence.

Power struggles were tearing the Hutu camp, which saw Jouvenel Habyarimana, a Hutu, come to power in a coup in 1973, but this did not change anything for the Tutsis, many of whom took refuge. in neighboring countries, in particular Uganda, to continue the fight.

Armed conflicts broke out between the two tribes and life had almost stopped in Rwanda. Uganda being under British influence, it seemed that the Hutus supported by the Belgians were fighting against the Tutsis supported by the United Kingdom, but it was not. Relations between the two countries have not suffered in any way from tensions concerning Rwanda, on the contrary, since it seemed that the United Kingdom and Belgium had found common ground on this issue.

The incident that turned the conflict into genocide took place on April 6, 1994, when the plane of Hutu-born President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down. In the space of a few months, nearly 800,000 to a million Tutsis were killed, so much so that killing and indulging in torture had become a source of pride for the Hutus. Civil society organizations, churches and charities are alleged to have helped in the killings.

France, considering Africa as its property, had cooperated with the Rwandan administration and supported it in 1975 in the military field. Relations deepened and in the 1990s, France almost replaced Belgium. The Rwandan army was equipped with French weapons, the weapons that will be used to commit genocide against the Tutsis.

Note that in France, some had reacted against the massacre of Tutsis. On a mission in Rwanda at that time, General Jean Varret explained what had happened in an interview he gave in March 2019.

The retired general said at the time that he opposed the military support given to the Hutus, noting that innocent people were being killed by these weapons, but that the French general staff had not taken this information into account. It is also significant and interesting to note the numerous attempts by his superiors to dismiss him.

On the instruction of President François Mitterrand, France then launched Operation Turquoise in the region. Instead of appeasing the situation, this move further empowered the Hutus, and trials will be brought much later over allegations that French officials have protected and defended the murderers.

Confessions about France’s position are not uncommon. The Minister of Health at the time, Bernard Kouchner, for example, would have called President Mitterrand and informed him of the situation, Mitterrand would have replied “you are exaggerating the situation” and would have hung up.

France’s silence on the genocide in Rwanda has yet to be explained. According to the latest analysis, since the French-speaking Hutus are seen more as sympathizers of France, it is possible to say that France was seeking to consolidate its presence in the region.

The Tutsis, meanwhile, were backed by the British, suggesting that the former Franco-British rivalry had manifested itself in Rwanda and caused the massacre of a million people.

To qualify what happened in Rwanda as genocide, we have to go back to its definition in international law. The term genocide comes from the Greek “geno” which means “race” and from the Latin “cide” which means “to kill”. This term was first used by the Polish jurist, Rafael Lemkin in 1933, to characterize “the practice of biological and cultural extermination of nations and ethnic groups”.

– The Rwandan genocide is topical again

Interestingly, France’s complicity in the genocide against Tutsis has been mentioned very often in recent years. Thus, France was openly asked to apologize for its colonial past. And it is in this sense that, for the first time, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, looked into the case and set up a commission chaired by the historian, Vincent Duclert. The objective was to shed light on France’s position during the Rwandan genocide.

Once the report was published, and although it was seen as a positive development by some, it drew the wrath of the champion politicians of the French colonial era. According to this report, France did not directly commit genocide but was recognized as an accomplice because of the support given to the Hutus and its silence in the face of the massacres committed in the region despite its military presence.

Thus, President Macron has affirmed his wish to assume the colonial past of France and to apologize and it is appropriate at this stage to explain why such a strategy was adopted.

According to our analysis, supported by current economic indicators, since the 2000s, France has experienced a serious loss of speed in Africa, particularly in socio-economic terms. From a cultural point of view, Africans want to shed traces of colonial culture and aspire to a climate favorable to bilateral relations characterized by equality.

They would also seek to benefit themselves from the natural resources of their countries, which will naturally lead to weakening France’s position in the region.

France is clearly seeking reconciliation with Africans, putting aside the tragedies of the past, genocides and exploitations, and paying a certain amount of money. Rwanda is the first serious step in this direction.

Even if France made an official apology to the Tutsis, the administration of the Hutus would not change and those who killed a million people would be cleared by this apology as uncertainty still reigns regarding the sentence that will be inflicted on the murderers and the death penalty. compensation that will be paid to victims.

In the end, the Hutu administration, cleared by France, will enter into a new cooperation alliance with Paris.

On May 27, President Macron visited Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and asked for forgiveness. The expressions he used, however, did not reflect a feeling of guilt, he only admitted that France was negligent in the face of these massacres. France was able to apologize in order to deny complicity in genocide and only recognize the fact that it was unable to prevent the events.

Thus, France will in no case be condemned, on the contrary, it will gain a reputation as “a country which has dared to face its past”.

​​​​​​[Dr. Yasar Demir a achevé son doctorat en 2010 à l’Université de Strasbourg, avec une thèse sur le rattachement du sandjak d’Alexandrette à la Turquie et la politique de la France dans le Levant. Il est l’auteur des livres intitulés “La Politique de la France dans le Levant” et “La Syrie et Hatay”.]

[1] https://www.franceinter.fr/monde/genocide-au-rwanda-la-faute-de-la-france.

[2] Verda Neslihan Akün, Jenosid in International Court Jurisprudence, Istanbul University Institute of Social Sciences, Department of Public Law, Master’s Thesis, Istanbul, 2003.

[3] https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2021/05/27/a-kigali-emmanuel-macron-espere-le-don-du-pardon-de-la-part-des-rescapes-du-genocide_6081711_3212.html

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