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Rwanda - France:  Ill Diplomatic Relations

By Rutagengwa Claude Shema

Regional Coordinator

Great Lakes Peace Initiative (GLPI)

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Rwanda-France, ill diplomatic relations

-By Dr. Claude Shema-Rutagengwa


Conflict background


The year 2006 ended up with cutting ties between Rwanda and France. This is a result of an unsolved conflict of more than a decade. No doubt, there my have some victims who suffered in one way or another because of this broken relationship.


Diagnosis: Rwanda is a former Germany and later on Belgian colony. After independence, the country became a close friend of France, especially during President Habyarimana’s regime until the 1994 genocide. Therefore, untranscended conflict of former Rwandese refugees (the Tutsi majority) in neighboring countries caused an escalation of the conflict up to a high level in 1990, when RPF Inkotanyi launched the first ever heavy attack over the regime of Kigali.

During the 4 year of fighting between Rwanda central government (Hutu majority propped up by France) against RPF-Inkotanyi (Tutsi majority backed by Uganda), French soldiers were present on the battlefield, militarily supporting the Kigali regime.

During negotiation efforts between those two belligerents, some mistakes were made which may be have  increased conflict between RPF-political party leaders like Kagame (first elected president in Rwanda after 1994 genocide),and many other Rwandese high officials.


Some elements to consider:


1. Understimation and humiliation of an influential element

In 1992, during negotiation efforts, France called Kagame and other RPF officials to go to Paris for some talks, meeting with a certain high French diplomat in charge of African affairs called Paul Dijoud. And negotiation talks became a serious humiliation and mistreatment and moral torture until Kagame’s delegation was put in jail by French police (Kagame interview-The Monitor 4th December 2006, 

2. France as actor in conflict, not as development partner

France played an important role in the war against RPF-Inkotanyi. For that reason, France must not consider itself a donor country or development partner of Rwanda’s new regime, since it has been playing a key role in war against an actual ruling party-RPF - as its former enemy. Serious talks on how to forge new diplomatic relations with Rwanda, and confessions in front of the survivors of the genocide, including acknowledgement of responsibility. This would show precious and significant willingness for a new golden era of bi-lateral cooperation between those two countries.

3. France and Genocide

The role of France in the 1994 Rwanda genocide is clear. Unfortunately, France is unwilling to acknowledge its responsibility in that cruelest human massacre of this century. And yet, RPF-Inkotanyi seems to be the one and single force that stopped that genocide.

4. France meddling in Rwanda affairs 

 It was a decade ago that France was also accused of meddling in Rwandan affairs, and undermining Rwanda’s interest at the same time, as it used to do in many other countries like Cote d'Ivoire etc...


1. Linguistic and culture interest

English-speaking people may in one way or another boycott/challenging the French language, and this is also perceived as a greater change and an obstacle within the entire region of African Great Lakes, with greater impact to the interest of France in its former allies (Rwanda-DRC-Congo Brazza-Burundi).

In another words, the imminent death of Francophone and Cooperation Francaise in the region.

2. Underlying and old latent conflict

->Former enemy during 1990-1994 liberation war (Habyarimana Regime vs. RPF/Inkotanyi

->Repeated allegations against France over 1994 genocide involvement

->Downing former closer friend-Habyarimana and killing more than three French crew members (Rwanda presidential plane).

3. Accusation of war crimes and crimes against humanity

 This is one of the key issues, also of the illness and weak relations between those two countries. France accused RPF leaders (the actual Rwanda ruling political party) for murdering thousands of civilians during the liberation war.

Prognosis: After a conflict which lasted more than a decade, the escalation took its pick on 24th November 2006, after the report of an anti-terrorism  French lawyer Jean Louis Bruggiere, and with allegations over Paul Kagame and other high ranking officers of RDF (Rwandese Defence Forces),and former RPF/RPA rebellion soldiers) and some other RPF members as well. The French Judge also launched an international warrant for arrest of all suspects. Then the government of Rwanda cut diplomatic ties with France and asked all French people who reside in Rwanda to pack their stuff and leave the country of thousand hills, Rwanda. As a consequence, almost all French interests in Rwanda closed down, with the French embassy padlocked, etc...

On the Rwandan side some interests have been seriously touched as well, like students who were studying at some French schools which have been closed infinitely, and Rwandese diplomatic staff in Paris, some staff of Rwandese citizenship who were  working with France embassy in Kigali, etc...Some alternatives are on the way on both sides, in order to win the maximum for each side’s interest.

Rwanda: quite Francophone (French speaking countries organization-France) and seeking for Commonwealth (British-English speaking countries organization) membership, and strengthening its diplomatic relations with other great countries like UK, USA, and Canada...

France: Possible strong diplomatic relationship with neighboring countries (surrounding Rwanda) like DRC, and Burundi, with  possible efforts by all possible means to take President Kagame and his close collaborators before ICTR in Arousha or in the international criminal court in the Hague for crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Some therapy: The judicious way of solving this long-lasting conflict can increase it instead of decreasing an existing tension between those two former friends, Rwanda and France. And it is very difficult to find a proper solution to this conflict. But here are some ideas:

-clear and deep research on the downing of the plane of former Rwandese president-Habyarimana (and some French soldiers on board), by using usual existing technical research, including black box.

-decreasing the level of nervousness on both sides, in order to ease dialogue between France and Rwanda.

-Reconciling/restorative justice.

All above mentioned ideas are possible only if there is willingness by both sides, and under facilitation by third parties (probably UK, Canada or USA).