In Kigali on Thursday, Emmanuel Macron hit hard. His speech struck Paul Kagame who did not hide his feelings. The French President continues to deploy his strategy of repositioning his country in Africa, calmly and surely.
« By standing, with humility and respect, at your side, today, I acknowledge our responsibilities. France « has a role, a history and a political responsibility in Rwanda, it has a duty: that of looking history in the face and recognising the share of suffering it has inflicted on the Rwandan people by making silence prevail for too long over the examination of the truth.
Coming from the mouth of a French President on Rwandan soil, and precisely at the Kigali Genocide Memorial where the remains of 250,000 of the 800,000 massacred Tutsis lie, these words are a first in 27 years. 27 years since Rwanda experienced the darkest hours of its history, with the genocide of the Tutsis. In this history, Paul Kagame’s country has always held a grudge against France, which it points to as being responsible for the genocide. France had never wanted to acknowledge this to the point where the two countries broke off their diplomatic relations between 2006 and 2009. But the publication last March of the Vincent Duclert report, which recognises the ‘heavy and damning responsibilities’ of France in the genocide and the ‘blindness’ of President François Mitterrand, will contribute to a thaw in relations between the two countries. Since this report was very quickly welcomed by Kigali as an « important step forward towards a common understanding of what happened ».
For the French President, whose country was already suffering from a lack of popularity on the African continent, it was necessary to make the most of this new, less hostile attitude on the part of the Rwandan authorities to put things right. Moreover, the summit on African economies is an opportunity to invite Paul Kagame to France, whose visits to France have been extremely rare until now. And to push relations as far as possible, to further strengthen the ties between the two countries.
One year before the end of his mandate, which he will willingly do everything to renew, Emmanuel Macron intends to make a big splash by daring to do what none of his predecessors has managed to do for 27 years: make an official visit to Rwanda and publicly acknowledge his country’s responsibility in the genocide, even if he rejects any complicity of France in this tragedy.
On the Rwandan side, Emmanuel Macron’s speech left a taste of disappointment in the eyes of the president of Ibuka, one of the most important associations supporting the victims. « We expected him to make a clear apology on behalf of the French state. He did not do so. Even asking for forgiveness, he didn’t do it, » Egide Nkuranga laments, although he does end up qualifying his remarks: President Macron « really tried to explain the genocide, how it happened, what they didn’t do, their responsibilities […] It’s very important, it shows that he understands us.
For the Rwandan head of state, his French counterpart has made an act full of meaning since the words he said in Kigali have « more value than an apology ». Paul Kagame praised the « immense courage » shown by Emmanuel Macron. This is why the Rwandan President is determined to wipe out the past: « This visit is about the future, not the past. France and Rwanda will greatly improve their relations for the benefit of our peoples, economically, politically and in the field of culture (…) But the relationship between our two countries will never be totally conventional. There is a special familiarity that results from the terrible and complex history we share, for better or for worse. We want to create a strong and lasting relationship, based on priorities that matter to both of us, France and Rwanda, » he stresses.
Can we already, at this stage, speak of the success of this visit of Emmanuel Macron on Rwandan soil? It is probably too early to say. But for a charm operation, the coup seems to be successful for Emmanuel Macron who crossed limits never crossed by his predecessors since the genocide. All this to restore the image of his country on the African continent which seemed to escape him.