By Paul Ejime
After 27 years of recriminations between Paris and Kigali, France has finally acknowledged that it bears “overwhelming responsibilities” for the 1994 genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in Rwanda.
The Report of a French government Commission released recently said that much but insisted that France was “not complicit” in the 100-day killings. The same Report went further to blame the French president at that time Francois Mitterrand for his “failed policy” on Rwanda.
It was generally agreed that France and the international community including the United Nations (which pulled out its peace-keepers on the eve of the massacre), could have done more to prevent or stop that carnage in Rwanda.
It is on record that France supported the Hutu-led Rwandan government of President Juvénal Habyarimana against the minority Tutsi-dominated rebel forces supported by Uganda. It was the shooting down of the plane carrying President Habyrimana and his Burundi counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutu, on 6 April 1994 that triggered the genocide by the extremist majority Hutu against moderate Hutu and the Tutsi.
Speaking during his recent visit to Rwanda, French President Emmanuel Macron asked for “forgiveness” from the survivors of the genocide, but fell short of apologizing for France’s role in the killings, because according to him: “apologies is not the right word.” This can be considered as mere semantics from a French leader seeking to reset relations between his country and Africa for the better.
Macron’s “pro-Africa” stance involves his campaign for financial support and debt relief for African countries. Before his Rwandan visit, he hosted a summit in Paris on the financing of African economies in the wake of covid-19 adverse consequences.
And after attending the funeral of assassinated Chadian President Idriss Deby, a former French ally, followed by his Rwandan swing, Macron also visited South Africa, where he had well-publicized bilateral talks with President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Indeed, there has never been any shortage of positive diplomatic noises on the need for improved Africa-France relations. But what are Macron’s real motivations? Is it the usual “political shuffling” close to an election year (he is seeking re-election next year), are there genuine efforts to mend or strengthen relations with the continent or, for Paris to come clean of its colonial past? What changes are expected, if any?
In another context, there are muted fears that the military leadership in Mali might be leaning more toward Russia, which is making strong inroads into Africa, including signing a military cooperation agreement with Mali in 2019.
But what about the apparent double standards displayed by Paris and the international community toward the recent military takeover of governments in Chad and Mali? Both countries host the 5,100 French Barkhane forces fighting terrorism and Islamist jihadists in the Sahel. But while Mali has come under the hammer over the coups, Chad appears to have escaped without scrutiny.
The African Union and the regional bloc ECOWAS have suspended Mali’s membership. France and the U.S. have also suspended military cooperation and assistance to Mali after the second coup in that country within nine months.
Macron, after threatening to pull French troops out of the Sahel, and accusing the Malian junta of veering toward “Radical Islamism,” now says that France will “transform” its military operation in the Sahel.
He has provided very little details, but the reading in defence quarters is that France plans to replace Barkhane Mission in the Sahel with a France-led European Takuba Taskforce, which has U.S. support, and to which countries such as Sweden, Estonia and the Czech Republic have already committed. The task force will require strong commitment and foot-on-the-ground participation of host countries.
In general terms, relations are lopsided between France and its former African colonies from which Paris benefits to the tune of an estimated Euro-500 billion annually, including from the so-called “colonial tax.” Apart from the political control, the strong influence which Paris wields in many of these countries includes its right of first refusal to the exploration/exploitation of mineral resources and management of their economy through the CFA franc currency tied to the Euro and which is literally managed by the French Treasury.
France has more than 10,000 troops in 23 Francophone African countries with which it has defence/military pacts. Five of the countries, Gabon, Cameroon, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Djibouti have permanent French military bases, while Chad is the headquarters of the largest non-permanent French contingent of 5,100-Barkhane forces with about 4,500 of the troops deployed to restive Mali.
Paris recently announced the suspension of military cooperation and aid to the Central African Republic (CAR) following the power tussle between France and Russia for influence in that gold and diamond-rich African country.
Traditionally, French military cooperation involves training, joint military operations and deployment of military advisers to assist the security forces of the beneficiary countries. The support in some cases entails direct involvement of French troops and assets, such as in January 2013 when French Operation Serval forces reportedly halted the Islamist jihadists’ march on Bamako. This was after the Malian military had toppled the government of elected former President Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012.
But the maintenance of French troops in Africa is becoming as controversial in France as it is abroad with some French opposition politicians calling it counter-productive or a wasteful enterprise. It is also fuelling anti-French sentiments in some African countries such as Mali, Chad and CAR, where critics argue that the deployments only further France’s strategic interests and imperialistic grip on its former colonies.
While the suspension of French and American military assistance or withdrawal of troops could add to the international pressure to nudge the Col. Assisi Goita-led government in Mali toward democracy, some defence analysts argue that French military intervention could and do contribute to the instability in some of these countries. This is because the governments of some of these countries use the French military boost to entrench themselves in power and oppress/terrorize their own citizens.
The absence of such “military support,” the analysts posit, could help reduce if not eliminate the negative tendencies of over-dependence on foreign powers and allow the growth of democracy and good governance in those countries.
It is baffling that despite the deployment of the French Barkhane forces and the 15,000-strong UN Mission, MINUSMA, Mali remains in security turmoil with its mineral-rich northern region as the epicentre of terrorism, as well as separatist and Islamist insurrections in the Sahel. The situation is such that more than 60% of the entire Malian territory including the north and central regions is a hotbed of insecurity from where the Islamist jihadists continue to launch sporadic deadly attacks on neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
So, what difference will the Takuba Taskforce make?
The reduction or withdrawal of foreign forces could either complicate or ameliorate the security situation in the Sahel. However, a lasting solution to the chronic instability in Mali and other former French colonies in Africa must necessarily address the deficiencies in their socio-economic and political governance systems, to allow these nations to manage their resources and defence architecture without undue outside interference.
Libya is a classic case of disastrous foreign interference in Africa. France and its Western allies supported the rebels that toppled and killed Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi in 2011, and this is largely to blame for the heightened insecurity in the Sahel.
For balanced Africa-France relations, military and other supports and cooperation must be need-based, mutually beneficial and devoid of hidden agendas or hypocrisy.
Speaking during Macron’s recent visit to Kigali, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who had severed diplomatic ties in 2006 with France over the 1994 genocide dispute, welcomed the French Government’s new Report as “a good beginning” to the normalisation of relations between both countries. While noting that truth could be “risky,” but “heals,” the Rwandan leader insisted that those who “made the decisions should bear the greatest responsibility” for the 1994 genocide.
On the economic/financial support being canvassed for Africa, he stressed that “it is not about acting on behalf of Africa, but cooperation with Africa, as a strong partner on the needs of Africans.”
Kagame also stressed that “racism and genocide ideology” must be dismantled, adding that “Africa does not have a monopoly of bad actors,” in an apparent reference to the often-cited problems of corrupt leaders and bad governance on the continent. Corruption, mismanagement of resources and bad leadership in Africa are condemnable and cannot be excused. But it is also true that imperialism/neo-colonialism and continued external interferences are contributory factors to the perennial instability and under-development of Africa.
In a related development, another controversy has ensued over Germany’s apology for its colonial-era genocide in Angola, but refusal to pay compensation. The European nation says it would only provide 1.1 billion-Euro as “voluntary support,” but Angolans consider the amount insufficient, with opposition leaders and activists in the country demanding instead, a negotiated and adequate compensation.
For any genocide compensation or reparation to be meaningful, it must be a product of frank and unconditional negotiations followed by a mutual agreement between the victim and perpetrator countries as happened with Germany’s payment to Israel for the Holocaust of between 1941 and 1945.
Since there are precedents, Africa should not be treated differently in a World that preaches human rights, justice, equity and fairness. It is only fair that the Holocaust principle should also apply in dealing with the many injustices against Africa, including the slave trade and colonialism, two events from which the continent has never recovered.
Also, with the rift over the conduct of French forces during the Algerian war of independence (1954-62), still unsettled, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, United Kingdom and their co-travellers must be made to take responsibility and where guilt is established, pay for the atrocities and injustices they committed in Africa.
Africa must continue to demand justice, equity and mutual respect in its dealings with the rest of the world, and on their part, African leaders must ensure that human rights and governance best practices are respected and entrenched in their own countries and across the board. Charity begins at home!
*Paul Ejime, an Author and former Diplomatic/War Correspondent, is a Consultant on Communications, Media, Elections and International Affairs.