To fully understand the nature of the conflict, we must delve into Rwanda’s colonial past. The Germans first colonized the country at the end of the 19th century, then handed it over to Belgium after World War I. The imperial power has externalized the governance of Rwanda by appointing Tutsis, an ethnic minority, to rule over a Hutu majority as well as other ethnic minorities. like the Twa. Belgian indirect rule lasted for decades and forged deep social grievances among rival ethnic groups in Rwanda. Imperial rulers viewed Tutsis as ethnically superior due to their ancestry and physical features (tall and lean) instead of Hutus (shorter and muscular). Inevitably, this systematized ethnic inequality created resentment among Hutus.
In 1959, Belgian leaders even encouraged the Hutus to engage in a violent anti-Tutsi campaign to overthrow the minority government, as real political power would always remain in the hands of the Empire. Therefore, the Tutsi-Hutu rivalry was a Belgian colonial construct aimed at disunifying the country to facilitate colonial domination.
Following the insurgency, waves of Tutsi refugees fled to Uganda and formed the Rwandan Patriotic Forces (RPF) led by current President Paul Kagame. In Rwanda, the extremist Hutu government has killed thousands of ethnic Tutsis over several decades. Meanwhile, Kagame’s forces began to gain the support of Yoweri Museveni by fighting with his forces. Uganda became the main base of operations for the RPF to organize the overthrow of the Hutu government Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR). In 1990, the RPF launched an insurgency in Rwanda against a disorganized FAR, which culminated in 1993 with the Arusha peace accords.
In April 1994, hostilities resumed when Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. the Akazu, an extremist Hutu group, seized the interim power of the government and began to systematically kill ethnic Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus in Rwanda. While it is still not clear which group was responsible for the removal, the Akazu were suspected given the peace agreement and the course of events in the days following the strike.
However, the genocide that would occur years later could have been avoided. Indeed, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) denied Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire the troops necessary to prevent what he deemed to be an imminent threat of planned genocide. In the 1990s, the UN prioritized containing the war in Eastern Europe; it had 70,000 troops in Yugoslavia, while only 2,500 were appointed in Rwanda and never received a mandate to act. The reluctance of the UN Security Council to act in Rwanda as thousands of people were slaughtered every day signaled to the FAR that they could continue to commit genocide.
During the three months of massacre, the great Western powers like France and the United States remained silent, perhaps for fear of intervening under the UN Convention on the genocide of 1948 or of avoiding a another case of public reaction similar to that endured the previous year in Somalia.
France’s role in Rwanda
When Rwanda became independent in 1962, the country immediately fell into France’s orbit of African influence. In the postcolonial era, France had numerous clandestine patron-client relationships with corrupt French-speaking African leaders such as Mobutu Sese Seko (Congo), Ali Bongo (Gabon) and Juvénal Habyarimana (Rwanda). For example, French politicians such as President Mitterrand and his son were convicted of smuggling weapons into Angola in the early 2000s.
In the early 1990s, France armed and trained the FAR because it was in their interest to keep Habyarimana, a key French client, in power. During the genocide, France maintained its support for the Rwandan government and helped the FAR fight against Kagame’s PRF since Habyarimana depended on French military support to conduct its operations. France would have qualified the RPF as “Khmer Noir” (referring to the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia in the late 1970s), even though it was the FAR and the allied militias (for example the Interahamwe) that they supported. ended up committing genocide. The French were aware of the growing possibility of genocide against the Tutsis and continued to support them while vilifying the RPF.
As the RPF regained territory in Rwanda, the extremist Hutu forces of the FAR were more focused on perpetuating the genocide across the country. Towards the final stages of the massacre, France launched Operation Turquoise, who established a safe zone in southwestern Rwanda to protect their genocidal Hutu allies and allow them to escape safely to the DRC (Zaire) to the west. More than a million Hutus were able to cross the border, and many of them perpetuated the genocide against ethnic Tutsis in Zaire, dragging the country into a war that would last for years.
In Paris, the Duclert Commission revealed that the genocide was “a French political, institutional and moral failure”. For example, he revealed “institutional abuses concealed by political authority or in the absence of political control”, neglect of rules of engagement and legal procedures, as well as an “ethnic” reading of Rwanda’s affairs. .
The report criticizes French President François Mitterrand’s deceptive policy proposals for Rwanda. He observed Rwandan politics through the prism of a post-colonial rivalry between France and Britain on the African continent. He positively portrayed the genocidal Hutus led by Habyarimana because of their affinity with the French language and demonized the “Ugandan-Tutsi threat” of the RPF based in an English-speaking country. Mitterrand then used this mistaken thinking to personally conduct foreign policy in Rwanda rather than going through conventional and more responsible government channels.
Subsequently, Mitterrand ignored the clear radical and genocidal signs displayed by the Hutu extremists whom they continually supported. However, the Duclert Commission rejects the idea that France is complicit in the genocide; that is to say that the French troops never intended to assist or participate directly in the genocide. He also denies the charges against France Operation Turquoise in June 1994, specifying that the command had allowed many Tutsis to escape with their lives. Considering that the operation allowed thousands of Hutu genocidaires to escape justice and continue the massacre in the DRC, I remain dissatisfied with the conclusions of the Commission.
Today Rwanda is politically stable and has some of the highest economic growth rates on the continent. Yet the country remains undemocratic due to the RPF’s reluctance to relinquish power or recognize its political rivals. However, there remains a huge diplomatic work to be done to restore relations between Paris and Kigali.
Ultimately, the Rwandan genocide is another example of how the perpetuation of a narrative along ethnic lines for many decades creates social grievances that have the potential to spark violent clashes. However, all of this could certainly have been avoided, and the consequences of the violence are still felt today. The United Nations and the international community failed to respond to signs of an impending massacre, while Western powers denied the Tutsi genocide as it was occurring. This humanitarian catastrophe reminds the international community and the United Nations of its failure towards the Rwandan people.