What does the Duclert Report Mean for French-Rwandan Relations?

What does the Duclert Report Mean for French-Rwandan Relations?

Contention over the extent of France’s involvement in the Rwandan genocide (1994) has been straining relations between Paris and Kigali for over 25 years. In order to address this and attempt to regain some credibility both in Rwanda and across Africa, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered an investigation to be carried out by a commission of French historians, led by Vincent Duclert (hereafter referred to as the Duclert Report), in 2019. The report concluded that France did not take an active role in carrying out the genocide, but does bear “heavy and overwhelming responsibilities” due to its “failure” of policy in supporting the Hutu-led government. The conclusions represent a step in the right direction for French-Rwandan relations, but likely do not go far enough on their own.

Historical Context

The Rwandan genocide occurred between 7th April and 15th July 1994. Tensions between the majority Hutu ethnic group and the minority Tutsi ethnic group descended into conflict after the plane bearing Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana (a Hutu) was shot down. Over a period of 100 days, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered, mostly by armed Hutu militias. The genocide ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group formed by Tutsi refugees and led by current Rwandan president Paul Kagame, invaded from their base in Uganda and took control of the country.

The French government, under François Mitterand, had maintained close ties with Habyarimana, and were an active opponent of the RPF. This formed part of a policy of keeping Rwanda under Francophone influence away from the perceived Anglophone influence of the Uganda-based RPF. As part of this policy, France supplied the Hutu government and militias with weapons and training. In the early days of the genocide, France launched operation Amarylis, officially with the aims of evacuating French expatriates. However, the French forces refused to take Tutsis with them, even the children and spouses of expatriates, leaving them to likely death. Even more contentiously, French troops rescued several members of Habyarimana’s government during the operation. Towards the end of the genocide, France launched operation Turquoise to take military control of the southwest of the country and provide a safe zone for refugees. However, many Rwandans saw this as an attempt to halt the RPF’s advance and protect Hutu genocidaires from reprisals.

These actions formed the genesis of extremely cold relations between France and RPF-led Rwanda. Diplomatic relations have repeatedly been broken off, the language of instruction in Rwandan schools was switched from French to English and Rwanda even joined the British Commonwealth. Previous government-mandated reports on France’s involvement have done little to placate Rwandan grievances and a Rwandan-produced report in 2008 accused France of playing an active role in the genocide.

The Duclert Report

In an effort to improve relations and French credibility with Rwanda and with other African countries, president Macron ordered the creation of a commission in May 2019 to produce a comprehensive report into the extent of French complicity and involvement in the genocide. It forms part of Macron’s goals of diplomatic rapprochement with Rwanda and was deliberately commissioned as to come out before Macron’s planned visit to Rwanda later this year. This visit is highly significant as not only would Macron be the first sitting French president to visit Rwanda since Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 but he would also be the first to visit during the official period of commemoration for the victims of the genocide.

It is likely that whilst the conclusions of the report will be welcomed by both sides, they do not go far enough to fully satisfy Rwandan grievances and further actions will be required in order to institute warm relations. The report saves its strongest condemnations for French actions on which the debate has been largely settled, and doesn’t explore in detail those areas of remaining contention.

For example, the report’s main conclusions were that France supported the Hayramina government as part of a policy of avoiding an anglophone, RPF victory in Rwanda. To admit as much is conceding very little on France’s behalf. The policy has already markedly failed, and there is little prospect of being able to bring Rwanda and Burundi back into the French-speaking orbit. Rwanda and Burundi are currently pursuing closer political and economic ties with surrounding East African nations, with the goal of forming an eventual federated state where English and Swahili speakers would massively outnumber French speakers. France, then, is risking little by admitting to this mistake.

Accepting “heavy and overwhelming responsibilities” is, however, much further than the French government has gone in the past and so represents a step in the right direction. It has been described as such by the Rwandan government, but certainly should not be considered as settling the issue. The report touches upon issues surrounding operation Turquoise, namely that the presence of French troops allowed many genocidaires to escape to DRC and to France, but does not go as far as meeting the Rwandan government’s position on the matter. Rwanda has consistently complained about former Hutu government and military officials now living in France and has shown skepticism about the will of France to bring these officials to justice.

It does appear that some form of diplomatic rapprochement is desired by both sides. The report does help tentative steps be taken towards achieving that rapprochement, certainly further than France has gone before, but it is not as significant a step as Macron claims and is not likely to be enough on its own. The major remaining issue is France’s perceived protection of escaped genocidaires. Until France helps bring the remaining perpetrators to justice, relations between France and Rwanda cannot be described as warm.     

Categories: Africa, Politics

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