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At a monument in Kigali on Thursday, President of France Emmanuel Macron acknowledged his country’s participation in the Rwanda genocide and expressed hope for forgiveness, attempting to restore relationships after years of Rwanda claims that the French were involved in the 1994 murders.

Mr. Macron said during a visit to the Gisozi genocide monument in Kigali, where over 250,000 dead are buried: “Only those who lived through that night can forgive, and thereby give a little bit of forgiveness.” Columns of corpses remain there in a mass grave, and a black wall has the names of the people.

How was the genocide initiated?

Although about 85% of South Africans are Hutus, the Tutsi group has traditionally ruled the country. The Hutus deposed the Tutsi monarchy in 1959, and tens of millions of Hutus fled to neighboring states, particularly Uganda. A group of exiled Tutsis created the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), which stormed Rwanda in 1990 and fought until a 1993 peace agreement was reached.

Macron recognises France's responsibility in Rwanda genocide
Macron recognises France’s responsibility in Rwanda genocide

Hutu militias persecuted the Tutsi cultural minority on a systematic basis and exploited Rwanda Radio, the country’s national broadcaster, to promote misinformation. Political and military authorities supported sexual violence as a weapon of combat, resulting in the rape, sexual mutilation, and murder of approximately 5 lakh children and women. Around 20,000 people evacuated the nation.

The violence came to an end in July, when the Rwandese Patriotic Front, commanded by Tutsi, regained control of the government and installed Paul Kagame as president. Kagame, who has ruled Rwanda since then, has been praised for delivering peace and progress to the fossil-rich country but has also been accused of generating an atmosphere of terror among his political adversaries both domestically and overseas.

Why was genocide so barbarous?

Rwanda always has been a closely regulated society, organized in a pyramidal fashion from the district level to the highest levels of government. The ruling party, of course, the MRND, had a youthful branch named the Interahamwe, which had been transformed into the military to carry out the killing.

Local parties were given guns and hit lists and were instructed on how to locate potential targets.  Hutu extremists established a radio program, RTLM, and periodicals that spread hate propaganda, forcing things to “weed out the bugs,” which translates as “murder the Tutsis.” The names of notable individuals scheduled to be assassinated were broadcast aloud on the radio.

Canonized saints have also been convicted of murdering individuals, even those seeking refuge in churches. Approximately 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were massacred during the 100-day murderous rampage.

What was France’s involvement throughout these events?

France, which had strong relations to President Juvénal Habyarimana’s Hutu-led administration in Rwanda, has long been chastised for its part in the April–June 1994 massacres of the Tutsi minority. Throughout the genocide, Western nations, particularly the United States, have been criticized for their complicity in the horrors. France, then governed by socialist Leader François Mitterrand, acquired infamy for allegedly serving as a steadfast friend of the Hutu-dominated administration that sanctioned the massacres.

Macron asks experts to investigate French role in Rwandan genocide
Macron asks experts to investigate French role in Rwandan genocide

In June 1994, France launched another much UN-backed armed power in southern Rwanda dubbed Mission Turquoise– which saved some lives but was suspected of shielding some genocide offenders. The RPF, led by Kagame, was hostile to the France operation.

How did the French and Rwanda do post-conflict?

Bilateral ties deteriorated following the genocide, as politicians in Rwanda and throughout Africa were enraged by France’s participation. Kagame pulled his nation away from France – whose primary language was already French since Belgian domination – and moved it nearer to the United States, China, and the Arab World. At one time, Kagame also severed ties with France.

Rwanda officially joined the League of Nations in 2009, despite possessing no historical ties to the United Kingdom. Even though Kagame lauded Macron’s statements on Wednesday, he did it in English rather than French.

Frenchman Nicolas Sarkozy visited Rwanda for the first time since the genocide in 2010, but ties worsened despite Sarkozy’s admission of “major errors” and a “kind of ignorance” on the part of the French state during the bloody unrest.

What has changed under France’s new President?

Macron has positioned himself as a representative of a younger breed prepared to confront the terrible aspects of France’s colonial history in Africa and subsequent backing for harsh tyrants in the post-colonial era.

Macron had described France’s colonialism of Algeria as a “crime against humanity” and the country’s acts as “really savage” during his 2017 presidential campaign. Macron revealed in March last year that French forces tortured and murdered Algiers lawyer and independence activist Ali Boumendjel, whose 1957 murder had been masked as a suicide.

Macron has also attempted to interact with English-speaking African countries in response to claims of paternalistic in French-speaking African. Indeed, Macron is planning to attend English-speaking South Africans soon following his current journey to Africa.

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