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France and Rwanda strengthen relations, increase cooperation

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Rwanda's President Paul Kagame walk to hold a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kigali on May 27, 2021   -  
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LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP or licensors


It's a statement many were awaiting in Kigali.

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron "recognised" France's role in the 1994 Tutsi Genocide. 

Despite saying France was "not complicit" in the mass murder, he acknowledge it had ignored warnings of the impending massacre.

"The killers who haunted the swamps, the hills, the churches did not have the face of France. She was not an accomplice," President Macron said, speaking at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

"The blood that flowed did not dishonour her weapons or the hands of her soldiers, who also saw the unspeakable with their own eyes, dressed wounds and choked back tears." 

"France did not understand that by wanting to hinder a regional conflict or a civil war, it was in fact standing by a genocidal regime. By ignoring the warnings of the most lucid observers, France assumed an overwhelming responsibility in a spiral that led to the worst, even though it was precisely trying to avoid it," the French President added.

"But France has a role, a history and a political responsibility in Rwanda", Emmanuel Macron stressed.

Kagame pleased, Rwandans demand an "apology"

A statement, nothing short of the truth, according to his Rwandan counterpart, President Paul Kagame.

"This was a powerful speech with a special meaning for what is taking place now and which will resonate well beyond Rwanda", the Rwandan President said. 

"His words were something more valuable than an apology," Paul Kagame added.

But this view isn't shared by all Rwandans. Jean de la Croix Ibambasi, whose Family was killed during the genocide, followed the French President Speech from his Kigali home. 

"We remember the French who went to the check points, who worked with the ex-FAR, and who helped them to distinguish between the Tutsis and the Hutus", genocide survivor Jean de la Croix Ibambasi, told AFP.

"We cannot forget that easily, we need to be honest, they have participated, they helped", he adds.

He says France should have apologised.

"It was time to say sorry, without going around it."

Nevertheless, he is happy the French President came and hopes the relation between the two countries will improve. 

"What is good is that he recognised the role of France, diplomatically, but he still did it. It's not like before."

Several activists, such as Egide Nkuranga, the president of the main survivors' association Ibuka, expressed their disappointment at the lack of a "clear apology on behalf of the French state".

However Egide Nkuranga added that President Macron "really tried to explain the genocide and France's responsibility. It is very important. It shows that he understands us."

President Macron excluded the use of the word "apology"

"I hear that the associations would have liked me to ask more directly for either an apology or a pardon. I think that "apology" is not the right word. I think that this acknowledgement is what I can give, a pardon, it is not me who can give it. I hope so."

Towards a renewal of Rwanda-France relations

The French President also used this opportunity to detail the strengthening of relations with Rwanda, with the signing of a joint declaration of intent, aimed at development aid.

"We have decided to increase our development aid to unprecedented levels. 500 million euros will be committed over the 2019-2023 period around the main priorities of our dialogue with Rwanda, in particular health, digital and the Francophonie", Emmanuel Macron said during a joint declaration.

The French President should soon appoint an ambassador to Rwanda, a symbolic gesture to close a vacancy of 6 long years.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame said this would enable the two countries to "forge a strong and lasting relationship" based on common priorities.

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