Pascal Simbikangwa jailed: is there any hope for normal Rwanda-France relations?

123884-nicolas-sarkozy-et-paul-kagame-a-kigali-le-25-fevrier-2010Four years ago, French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, became the first French head of state since Francois Mitterand to visit Kigali. During a joint press conference with Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, he uttered these words, “what happened here (Rwanda) is unacceptable, but what happened here compels the international community, including France, to reflect on the mistakes that stopped it from preventing and halting this abominable crime”.

The crime that he was talking about was the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. A crime that ended up killing hundreds of thousands of innocent and defenseless men, women and children simply because of an accident of birth.  Talking about his country’s “gross misjudgment”, he explained France’s unhelpful attitude during the days, months and years before the killings started on April 7, was due to a sort of “blindness”.

I watched the press conference quite skeptically. It seemed to my untrained eye that the French establishment was doing the bare minimum to save face while the Kigali establishment was trying to simply move on from the utter breakdown in diplomatic relations. These relations had been severed by the Rwandan government in 2006 as a result of French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere’s arrest warrant for nine prominent members of Kigali’s political and military elite. The warrant accused the nine individuals of planning and executing the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s aircraft, an incident that was the spark that ignited the genocidal fires.

During that period, thousands of Kigali residents took to the streets to protest the arrest warrants because they were seen as politically motivated. I was one of those protestors. I remember that the downpour was coming down quite hard as we marched from various points in the city to the national stadium where we listened to impassioned speeches. I was personally fed up with what I felt was an insidious attempt by the French government to bring the Rwandan government, a government I supported, to its knees.

I had grown up hearing stories about French soldiers not only training and arming the very people who killed some of my own relatives, but also how France used its influence in international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF to frustrate the newly-installed rebel government in the early to late nineties, turning off the much needed financial taps.  Throw in the fact that many of the people who are believed to have played a major role in the Genocide lived and worked on French soil, and I would have been fair to say that I was not a fan of the French.

Agathe Kanziga Habyarimana, the wife of the former president and the reported head of the ‘Akazu’ (the little house) and power behind the throne, was given asylum in France. She’s been actually asked to leave France by the immigration authorities but she’s still living in Paris. There is a Rwandan arrest warrant out for her but no one is acting on it. Another well known fugitive living in France is Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka. He was the head priest at Saint Famille Church in Kigali. He is accused of pointing out the Tutsi’s to the Interahamwe killers among the parishioners who sought refuge in the church and raping them. He’s been living untouched in France despite the French promise that they would try him.

Just a months ago a French upper court denied Rwanda’s extradition request for former Rwandan officer, Laurent Serubuga, who is wanted for genocide.

With all our past history, the recent conviction and sentencing of Pascal Simbikangwa to 25 years for genocide will hardly change the way Rwandans perceives France. His conviction means nothing to us honestly. France hasn’t yet faced its past in Rwanda by actually admitting its role. And it’s not going after those who perpetuated those crimes living in its borders. Until that happens, Simbikangwa’s trial and conviction is mere window dressing.



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