Genesis: How Habyarimana, France became bedfellows

On 3 December 2020 at 08:45

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, former French President has died at the age of 94 after contracting Covid-19.

Giscard, who served as France leader from 1974 to 1981, is among presidents who held office for one term. He fostered France’s foreign relations particularly African countries shortly after Independence.

The relations heavily rooted on cooperation agreements and injecting funds on the continent to maintain great power on African continent.

Giscard d’Estaing was replaced by François Mitterrand.

In December 1962, four months after Rwanda’s Independence, the developing country French as one of official languages, entered relations with France which later got boost when Giscard d’Estaing took office in in 1975.

On 19th July of the same year, the former President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana and Giscard d’Estaing signed military cooperation agreements. It was the first of its kind signed between both countries.

The agreements incorporated clauses stating that France would provide military trainings and help the country to get weapons. It is said that France provided 4 million of its then currency to Rwanda annually.

Analysts link the agreements to France’s role during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi observing that they paved way for support to reinforce Habyarimana’s military to fight RPF Inkotanyi as well as training Interahamwe.

In 1998, France parliament delegated a committee to investigate the country’s role during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The committee summoned people including Giscard d’Estaing to shed light on military cooperation agreements signed with Rwanda in 1975 as they were considered to have fueled France’s role in Rwanda.

Giscard d’Estaing replied that he didn’t understand the laws granting the committee to summon the former president for interrogation to explain reasons for activities or politics implemented by the Government he led.

He explained that what happened between his country and Rwanda has no connection to France’s role during genocide.

In 2009; an author called Odile Tobner run a publication explaining that the major purpose of France, Rwanda military cooperation was to inspect the extraction of minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that the role played during genocide was auxiliary.

Fostering relations

Giscard was the first France President to visit Rwanda where he spent three days.

He was along with wife during their visit to Rwanda in 1979 where they attended the Sixth Conference Franco-Africaine (Franco-African Conference) held in Kigali.

Giscard arrived in ahead of the conference visited various projects in Rwanda and went to Akagera National Park for hunting exercise.

On 18th May 1979, Giscard and Habyarimana with their wives went to former Ruhengeri Prefecture where they visited Ruhengeri Hospital and school of Gendarmerie (a military force with law enforcement duties). They returned to Kigali in the afternoon and signed cooperation agreements.

Part of these agreements include France’s commitment to fund rural development, expansion of Kigali International Airport, building tanks for petroleum products, promoting telecommunication, building a hospital in Gisenyi among others.

Speaking to journalists, both head of states revealed that France would establish a school of nurses additional to Ruhengeri Hospital and providing 50% of funds for expansion of Kigali International Airport.

The Sixth Franco-African Conference ran from Monday 21st May until 22nd May 1979. The conference discussed issues pertaining to advancing Africa’s development and how France can cement its participation.

At the time, President Giscard revealed that despite global economic crisis, France committed to increase budget allocated to countries including those from Africa to one million of the then France’s currency by 50%.

“France is eager for the advancement of social-economic development but it cannot be attained without peace. That is why I found it relevant to hold discussions geared towards supporting African countries in security matters,” he said.

The success of the conference is among factors that promoted the reputation of Habyarimana in France which started perceiving him as a potential gateway to maintaining influence in Africa. To this end, the country also increased funding to Rwanda.

Habyarimana’s good relations with France got further boost as François Mitterrand replaced Giscard.

Giscard and Habyarimana holding talks.