Rwanda and France restore relations

It’s been a busy week here in Rwanda. With the visit of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, diplomatic relations between Rwanda and France – which were severed in 2006 – have all but been restored, bar the formalities of appointing an Ambassador and opening an Embassy. However, the continued to-and-fro between the two countries is intriguing. Firstly, there’s the sticky issue of language.

In 2008, Rwanda decided to move away from French to English as the mode of instruction in schools. However, Rwanda is officially a tri-language country. French language signs, like the one above, are still visible everywhere. On the streets, French is generally spoken more often than English. Here is the original reasoning for the switch to English,

“When you look at the French-speaking countries — it’s really just France, and a small part of Belgium and a small part of Switzerland,” Theoneste Mutsindashyaka, Rwanda’s state minister for education, said in English. “Most countries worldwide, they speak English. Even in China, they speak English. Even Belgium, if you go to the Flemish areas, they speak English, not French.” link

Secondly, on the day after Rwanda was received into the Commonwealth in December, 2009, the government announced it’s intention to restore diplomatic ties with France. Although, this apparently was purely coincidental,

“For the Commonwealth, you all know it has been in the pipeline for over 10 years,” [President Paul Kagame] said. “It has been a long step and we finally reached there. Something that has been happening for the last 10 years can have no connection to something that happened recently. It has been 3 years since we severed relations,” Kagame said in reference to the two incidences. link

Thirdly, on the day Kouchner arrived, AFP reported the findings of the probe into the downing of the plane carrying former President Juvenal Habyarimana in April, 1994,

The Rwandan panel said it did not see any French involvement in Habyarimana’s assassination, but noted that French military officials stationed in Rwanda as part of a military agreement with the late president’s regime had had access to the plane wreck. The investigating committee said the French officials walked away with the downed aircraft’s flight recorder and missile debris. link

On the same day, France said it intended to push for the opening of a genocide court in Paris,

France wants to speed up the way it prosecutes genocide and crimes against humanity, creating a special investigative unit in a Paris court as more suspects allegedly linked to Rwanda’s genocide are turning up in the country… The ”judicial center” would handle such crimes that involve anyone — French or not — who lives in or travels to France, Justice Ministry spokesman Guillaume Didier said. ”The homeland of human rights, France will never be a sanctuary for those behind genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity,” the ministers wrote in a column in the daily Le Monde newspaper. link

In addition, the 2006 lawsuit issued by the French Judge Louis Bruguiere which forced Rwanda to cut relations seems partly dead in the water because of the work of a French journalist last month. Jean-Francois Dupaquier “exposed” the manipulation of evidence in the Bruguiere case in an interview with key witness Richard Mugenzi published in Billets d’Afrique. A summary of his report was published in Rwanda on the same day as Kouchner arrived in Rwanda,

Dupaquier in a tell-it-all interview said that Mugenzi later revealed that the messages broadcast in clear language on public media after the attack on April 6th had been manipulated and were dictated to him (Mugenzi) by Col. Anatole Nsengiyumva, in what seemed as a planned move to trigger off the Genocide. link

Finally, we are told this morning that, according to Foreign Minister Kouchner, French President Nicholas Sarkozy will visit Rwanda next month,

“Yes, there is a plan for Sarkozy to visit, but it always difficult to be absolutely sure— let’s talk about February 26 this year,” said the French foreign minister. link

One thing’s for sure, at least according to the Rwandan folk I’ve spoken to, Kigali City dwellers are keen to see the French back so that the French Cultural Centre opens again. I’m told it was one of the only places of entertainment and culture in the capital and it has been sorely missed over the past three years. I’m hoping their return, and the Japanese and Vietnamese arrivals, will jolt the city’s restaurant scene with a much needed gastronomic boost…

In case you missed it, France24 broadcast an excellent report earlier this week about Franco-Rwandan diplomatic relations and the linguistic switch – see the video below,

Photo taken from the Kigali Wire Flickr account

One Response to “Rwanda and France restore relations”

  1. […] a goodwill gesture to gain favor with the Rwandans before President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit later this year. A Rwandan woman in Virunga national park. Photo by Alan Nudman Rwanda gained its independence […]