Rwanda: Nicolas Sarkozy Due To Visit The Tutsi Genocide Memorial

Father and daughter, both genocide survivors, at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial (source Kagatama). 

What would Bibi have said? What would grandma Bibi have said had she known that 16 years after her murder, the head of the armed forces, Nicolas Sarkozy, would travel from France to pay his respects at her grave at the Gisozi memorial in Kigali, considering that Grandma Bibi was so afraid of the French soldiers who patrolled her area… Iby’isi ni gatebe gatoki;[1] indeed. As for my mother, who is buried next to grandma, I know that she would not have been impressed by all this. She would have said: “It is just showmanship, lip service, nothing more. Do not listen to him. What about my brother and his wife, who are buried a few metres away? What would they have said? My sister-in-law would no doubt have said something like, ‘I worked for you, for your so-called Franco-Rwandan cooperation, but you ran away and left us to die – taking with you your friends the killers, including the Secretary General of the Interahamwe! Your flowers mean nothing to us’. As for my little sister, also buried in Gisozi, I imagine that she would have cried out with the same sad, disillusioned look on her face, that the day in 1993 when the French soldiers demanded her papers in order to check her ethnicity, ‘I died at age 20, because I was Tutsi. A French President can go ahead and put as many of flowers as he wants on my grave. It’s too little too late!’

We do realize that it is for us, the living, that Nicolas Sarkozy is travelling to Rwanda on 25 February for a lightning 3-hour visit. Our dead couldn’t care less.

It must be said, however, that for the survivors of genocide, this sends a strong message. I can never forget how utterly dismayed I felt when, while he was visiting Kigali on 13 August 2001, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Védrine, refused to pay his respects at a genocide memorial site because he did not want to be drawn into the ‘exploitation of the tragedy by the regime in place.’

Needless to say, this event must reflect the truth. Bernard Kouchner has acknowledged that France ‘made a political blunder’ in Rwanda; that is a powerful statement. I am curious to see how the French President will explain France’s policy of lending unwavering, long-term support to a regime which was founded on ethnic division. A regime whose army and militia - trained and armed by France - carried out the genocide in which over a million lives were lost.

The sky is blue. The moment is sombre. Today is Thursday, 25 February 2010. The two Presidents, of France and Rwanda, stand side by side; there is silence in the audience. They are in sombre mood.

What is going on in their minds?

He was told to remove his shoes, shoelaces and watch. Along with his friends, he was led to a cell; he had no idea what was happening; he did not speak French, and, what’s more, no one explained to him what was happening. This was back in January 1992. Having been invited to Paris for peace negotiations, the young military leader of the RPF rebel movement was detained after being arrested in his hotel room by armed police. He was released nine hours later without an apology. This was the first and last time that Paul Kagame travelled to France, a country which prides itself in promoting and upholding human rights.

The French President surely remembers the comments he made on the 8 o’clock news on France 2 television on 20 July 1994, at a time when he was only a government spokesman, ‘Launching a humanitarian operation.is much to France’s credit. [...] Can you imagine what would have happened had the security zone not been in place, had the French soldiers engaged in Operation Turquoise not done what they did with such tremendous courage’? Thanks to Operation Turquoise, the masterminds and perpetrators of the genocide escaped justice in their country and formed the FDLR, a terrorist militia group whose leader still lives in Paris.

Ignace, an elderly man, is attending the event as a member of the Association of Genocide Survivors. He lost his wife and two children in the genocide. He is at a loss as to what to make of all this. ‘France is, and will always be, a sanctuary for perpetrators of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.’ Wasn’t this statement made by two French ministers? Today, the President of France will no doubt have some kind words to say at the place where thousands of victims of genocide are buried. Yet France, along with Congo, is the number one sanctuary for those who committed the genocide of the Tutsi. Sixteen years on, France is still the Promised Land for the likes of Callixte Mbarushimana! They are provided with residency papers, employment and health care and are allowed to operate with total impunity. They have realised that the French judicial system will do nothing more than pay lip service. So what’s the point of all this?

Immaculée, a reporter for the newspaper La Nouvelle Relève, is covering the event. She remembers the remarks made on RFI radio on 1 September 2003 by the then French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin. Mr de Villepin spoke of ‘the terrible genocides in Rwanda’, deliberately using the plural. He thus ushered in a communication strategy consisting in maintaining the argument of ‘double genocide’, something that is unique to France among Western countries

Eustache was one of the founding members of the PSD party back in the nineties. A former university lecturer, now a senator, he has been invited to this ceremony, something he has anticipating for a long time. Chased and hounded during the genocide, he lost a number of friends and his brother to genocide. While he is not Tutsi, he had a reputation for being an outspoken opponent of the regime’s policy of ethnic discrimination. He shudders to remember the remarks made in Kigali on 28 February 1993 by the French Minister of Cooperation, Marcel Debarge, who urged the Hutu to form a common front against the RPF. What followed swiftly, in late 1993, was the creation of what became known as Hutu Power, an ethnically-based alliance between the majority of the opposition parties and the MRND and CDR.

Alivera, an economist, is a senior official in the Ministry of the Economy. She returned from Canada soon after the genocide to help her country after living in forced exile. She remembers what some have termed Rwanda Act II or The Day After. The country was devastated, the infrastructure was in a shambles and the banks were cleaned out; the intellectuals, doctors and civil servants had either been killed or had fled to Congo. She remembers that one country - a member of the United Nations Security Council and the European Union - did everything in its power to ensure that no funds reached Rwanda. The country in question was none other than France. It recently donated 326 million euros to Haiti.

Clad in a spotless uniform complete with medals and standing at attention, John remembers the day in June 1992 when two of his closest friends were blown to pieces right next to him; he escaped with a nasty injury to his left leg and a limp. This happened in Byumba. Facing him were Rwandan Armed Forces, with French soldiers …..setting up the artillery. John glances gravely at the French delegation, but he realises that his country needs peace.

Today is Thursday 25 February 2010. All is quiet. The people of Rwanda are anxiously waiting to hear what Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic of France, has to say…

[1] The wheel is turning.