, Research Paper
“Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century.”
(Fran ois Mitterand)
I was disturbed by the writings and discussions concerning where that blame was to be placed in the Rwandan genocide, ending in a million Rwandans dead. Although a sole unit cannot receive the burden of all those victims, I find it unacceptable to assert that such a gruesome reality can be justified the way Bruno Delaye, chief adviser on Africa for French President Fran ois Mitterand, insisted when he explained, “Africans were just that way.”
Regardless of one s personal opinion if international communities involvement in other countries conflicts is right or wrong, we must recognize the action that was taken and the intervention that did take place. However elementary that may seem, I think in the case of France in the Rwandan genocide, their action is covered up by their non-action. Despite African nations forty years of independence from their French colonizers, France continues to wield considerable political control in many of its former colonies. I will argue France s continued interest in Francophone Africa is due to not only their economic investments but also because of their desire to nurture and expand the French culture, enabling France to claim a larger stake in the international scene. Moreover, I will argue such their selfish quest for prestige and rayonnement (glory), contributed indirectly to thousands of murdered in the1994 Rwandan genocide. Although I am not asserting the desire of France to regain French Honor is responsible for each gruesome act in Rwanda, I find it essential to look more closely at the role of France by questioning both their obvious and discreet tactics as they supported the genocidal government of Habyarimana and Hutu Power.
From the beginning of imperial expansion, economic control has been the guiding principle of French policy toward Africa. Still today, France plays a vital role in the French economy as a source of raw materials and other investments. In 1992 France s rate of dependency on Africa for minerals was 100 percent for cobalt, 90 percent for uranium, 83 percent for phosphate and 70 percent for bauxite. The point extracted from those facts is meant to reveal that despite French claims, French is indeed reliant on Africa for numerous resources.
Still, such an argument cannot justify France s investment in Rwanda, because natural resources are not abundant for French exploitation. However, protection of Rwanda would mean more stability and control in the wealthy region. Backing Rwanda offered a chance to outdo Belgium, its old colonial master, but also to humiliate Anglo-Saxon forces
France s influence in international sphere is strongly reliant on their holdings in Africa. However, that influence changed dramatically at the end of the Cold War when there was no longer a need for a mediator for Africa, resulting in decreased France involvement and influence in the international community. Unfortunately for France, the only remaining claim to french influence in the world systems is their strings attached to Africa.
From the beginning of imperialist exploitation, France looked to expand their powers and culture, far beyond the borders of Europe. As colonizers France looked not to simply expand territory, but expand French culture. La Francophonie, one of France s most powerful institutions illustrates the vital role that culture and language play in French foreign policy. Developed in the early 1960 s, the Francophonie was designed to unite the French speaking people of the world under one common identity, to maintain ties between France and other French-speaking countries, and to protect French language and culture from the encroachment of “Anglo-Saxon” influence.
The force of la Francophonie was evident in Rwanda by France s unremitting support for French-speaking Habyarimana against the invading “Anglo-Saxon” rebels from Uganda. It is recorded that Habyarimana greatly impressed French president Fran ois Mitterand with his assimilation of French values. Fluent in French, supposedly a devout Catholic, Habyarimana used such attributes to strengthen his bond with Mitterand. France s blind commitment to Habyarimana is what many scholars argue shaped Habyarimana understanding of Anglo-Saxon invasion, which supported his decision to embark on the dangerous course of civil war.
Ever more disturbing is “Fashoda syndrome,” which is still very much apart of French political thinking, according to which the whole world is a cultural, political and economic battlefield between French and the “Anglo-Saxons.” As Gerard Prunier explains,
Everybody knows that “Anglo-Saxons,” the modern reincarnation of “les Anglais,” are among the worst enemies the French ever had; and for the French there is no possible peace in the battle against them; any lull in the confrontation is only tactical; nothing less than the total victory of one of the contending parties will bring an end to the conflict.
Thus, French control over Francophone Africa, and the millions of French-speaking people on the Continent, is an essential factor in the “battle” and a major influence on French action in Africa.
To analyze how this “battle” took place in Rwanda, it is necessary to look at both obvious and discreet tactics. I am categorizing military and economic action as an obvious intervention, whereas political debate and decisions I define as discreet. I find it important to recognize that both tactics were equally influential as France used both throughout the genocide.
Obvious tactics would include France s delivery of arms and training of Hutu soldiers. In February 1993 French authorities sent 500 troops to “indirectly command” and assist the Rwandan forces in halting the RPF advances. They also stepped up delivery of arms, sending up to twenty tons of arms a day. France s Operation Turquoise launched in mid-June is another disturbing chapter in their biased involvement. France claimed their motivation was “to stop the massacres and protect the populations threatened with extermination.” However France desired to paint their intentions with Operation Turquoise, an obvious conclusion is although one purpose of the intervention was to save lives, France s trumping purpose was to prevent a victory by the RPF. In fact Vice-President of the National Assembly s Defense Committee Jaques Baumel described the RPF as English speakers from Uganda who were “threatening the privileged position of France in Rwanda.” Such aggressive action in the region seems to require international support. It is through France s discreet tactics that they gained the sort of stature in relations with the African nation that obvious intervention seemed to be justified.
French diplomats and military officers discussed the risk of genocide beginning in 1990 and, according to former Ambassador Martres, the 1994 genocide could have been foreseen as early as October 1993. However, because of France s old loyalties, France continued to support the Rwandan government in discussions with the Security Council where France holds a permanent seat. France also dragged their feet according to Belgian diplomatic correspondence, by preventing the United States and Belgium from addressing Habyarimana after the January 11 telegram, which would support Habyarimana to halt preparations for violence. It is such discreet actions that seem to indicate that France had ulterior motives in Africa. It was not mistaking ethnic majority for political majority. France intervened as supporters of a genocidal government because of their opposition to Anglo-Saxon intervention. The leaders were well informed
as to the dynamics of the situation in Rwanda, and then took action that prolonged the violence.
French government officials still refuse to accept responsibility or apologize for France s role in the genocide. I feel the implications of such action without responsibility for the repercussions cannot be an acceptable path in the international community. As we search for any sort of justice for the tragic events, it is essential to recognize that outside parties were influential in their roles. We cannot stand back and claim innocence when we are aware of these horrible deeds. Such selfish actions should not and cannot be tolerated on the world stage. If we, as a people, desire to have unifying peace we must recognize our responsibility. If such action goes without notice, we will all soon turn our backs on each other, and each one of us will stand alone.
Hollifield, James and George Ross, eds. Searching for The New France. New York,
Human Rights Watch. Leave No One Alone. www.hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda
Martin, James. “Who Cares about Africa?,” America 13 May 1995: 16+.
Omaar, Rakiya and Alex de Waal. Rwanda: Death, Despair and Definace. London:
African Rights, 1995.
Prunier, Gerard. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. London: Hurst and