What French ambassador to Rwanda remembers about his country’s support to Habyarimana’s regime

On 12 April 2022 at 01:12

France’s role in Rwanda’s dark history during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi culminated in spoiled relations that are back on the mend following the country’s willingness to stop covering its responsibility.

France’s role during the Genocide is mainly related to its support to the Government of former President Juvenal Habyarimana as Tutsis were being murdered on the basis of their identity.

French Ambassador to Rwanda, Antoine Anfré has said that the time has come for his country to end silence on its involvement.

He was speaking at the commemoration talk bringing together diplomats accredited to Rwanda and the Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement (MINUBUMWE) held on Monday 11th April 2022.

Amb. Antoine Anfré served as the second secretary of the French Embassy in Uganda (1987-91) and later as the first secretary.

That is when he started following up issues of refugees in Uganda and the region.

As RPA launched attacks to the regime of Habyarimana, he explained that the country sought support from three countries including Belgium, France and the then Zaire led by Mobutu.

The ambassador revealed that Belgian soldiers did not spend long time in Rwanda while those from Zaire left a bad reputation where Habyarimana himself wanted to take them back home as they were accused of crimes including looting and rape.

“Only French soldiers stayed for long until 1993 under Opération Noroît. However many people draw much attention on Operation Turquoise which started from June 1994 as Genocide was being executed,” he said.

Through Opération Noroît, Antoine Anfré revealed, France helped Habyarimana’s soldiers to repulse the first attack of RPA soldiers during which their commander Maj Gen Fred Rwigema was killed.

At the time, Habyarimana’s soldiers mostly used helicopters that ‘one might be curious to know who piloted them’.

The ambassador stressed that the former regime had been mired in bad governance characterized by ethnic discrimination.

Amb. Anfré further stated that the French soldiers were trained enough to conduct operations and received orders from France.

“These soldiers were sent on the order of president Mitterand. He wanted to support Habyarimana who was an intimate friend. They were here from 1990 until 1993,” he noted.

As the soldiers supported Habyarimana to repel back RPA attacks, MRND was in advanced preparations of Genocide.

Amb. Anfré said that it was an addition to previous attempts to kill Tutsis on accusations of being the country’s enemies.

As the envoy said, France had enough information on the preparation of Genocide.

“I was a junior diplomat being the second advisor to the embassy in Kampala from 1987 until 1991. In May, I returned to France and wrote a report that we are going through the wrong path in Rwanda that we are heading to the worst direction, where one million people would be killed in 100 days,” he revealed.

Antoine Anfré stated that he knew ‘RPF was eager to win’ the war even though the beginning seemed complicated.

“I kept saying that RPF will once take power in Kigali. I also maintained that the more the war lasts long, the more many people would die. I observed that as a junior diplomat who had witnessed how NRA fought to take power.”

Amb. Antoine Anfré said that he got more suspicious as the then Rwandan leaders continued to sow ethnic discrimination.

He explained that there was a small group of people in France that did not consider the situation in the right context for the sake of getting promoted and allowed such activities to continue by making wrong analysis on the leadership of Habyarimana.

At the time, the envoy narrated, the group from France reported that the Government of Habyarimana democratic on grounds of the establishment of multiple political parties that included CDR and Hutu Power noting that there is freedom of expression with reference to RTLM and Kangura.

“They chose to ignore all these facts. Whoever rose an alarm from France would be silenced because they were convinced that the leadership of Habyarimana would have been defeated, had it not been the support of France,” said Amb. Antoine Anfré.

At the time, he explained, America had lost soldiers in Somalia where it seemed that the then US President Bill Clinton was not willing to get involved in what was happening in Rwanda.

As Genocide was topped by RPF, there were more mistakes as Genocide perpetrators were helped to cross to DRC with their weapons.

Genocide perpetrated by Rwandans

Amb. Anfré has said that RPF kept soldiering on until it stopped the Genocide against the Tutsi even though many victims had already lost lives.

He however stressed that Genocide was executed by Rwandans despite France’s involvement in the dark history.

“The Genocide was perpetrated and stopped by Rwandans. It is apparent that the international community, first of all France, overseen the Genocide that would have been prevented,” Amb. Anfré observed.

“It was not however prepared by French people but was prepared by Rwandans, some of whom were tried in Arusha, in France while others are roaming in France….”

Amb. Anfré said that France has been denying its role in Genocide insisting that it is time to put it to an end.

“We all know what happened here. There are findings of Duclert report commissioned by the President of the Republic. Researchers reviewed archives for two years to investigate French role during Genocide. The commission finally concluded that France had a huge responsibility in activities that led to Genocide,” he noted.

Amb. Anfré highlighted that knowledge about Genocide will continue to be shared as it contributes to the fight against Genocide denial and trivialization.

Else, he said that France is intensifying efforts to try Genocide suspects through trials held in Paris.

The recent cases include those of Claude Muhayimana who was sentenced to 14 years in December 2021 and Laurent Bucyibaruya being tried among others.

“We want to handle at least one case every six months. It might not be enough but efforts are put in place on collaboration between leaders, Police and the judiciary that French and Rwandan judiciary are working together on this,” Amb. Anfré noted.

The future of Rwanda and France

Amb. Anfré has said that more efforts need to be put in place to strengthen bilateral relations given that both countries are envisaging joint projects.

He explained that there are opportunities for future collaboration between both countries through the promotion of French language and other prospective areas of cooperation.

“France wants to be back in the right direction with Rwanda. The visit of President Macron and admitting the role of France had a great significance that we can focus on the future after getting on common ground regarding our past,” Amb. Anfré revealed.

He explained that his country has many projects like fostering collaboration in different projects in the areas of transport, hosting conferences and sports events among others.

Amb. Anfré further stated that the World Cycling event to be held in Rwanda in 2025 will be the first of its kind hosted in Africa where both countries will work together to ensure it is a success.

France recently announced US$500 million grant to Rwanda until 2023.

Among others, French Development Agency (Groupe AFD) has provided Euro 218 million funding to Rwanda from 2019 up to date

French Ambassador to Rwanda, Antoine Anfré has said that the time has come for his country to end silence on its involvement.