Some 26 years after Mitterand, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Kigali today for a total of around three hours. The newly appointed French Ambassador to Rwanda, Laurent Contini, had already stolen much of Sarko’s thunder by announcing the big news earlier in the day; the French school in Kigali is set to re-open in September and the French Cultural Centre will re-open “soon”.
All of which left Sarko with, well, just the small matter of a much hoped for, much anticipated “apology”. It wasn’t forthcoming. Here are a few of the highlights from the press and blogs during the day. A selection of images of Sarkozy’s visit, from Paul Kagame’s Flickr account, can be seen above and below,
From The Guardian’s Comment is Free blog,
So far, the only country to have held a credible inquiry into the circumstances of the genocide is Belgium whose troops – the only effective UN contingent in Rwanda – had been hastily withdrawn when the killing began. Ten years ago, the then prime minister Guy Verhofstadt had gone to Kigali and begged the people of Rwanda for forgiveness. “I accept the responsibility of my country,” he said. We are unlikely to ever hear the same from Sarkozy [Linda Melvern] – link
From The Guardian,
Before the press conference, Joseph Habineza, the Rwandan culture minister, who observed a minute’s silence with Sarkozy at the memorial to the mostly Tutsi victims of the genocide, was quoted as saying: “If he apologised it would be a lot better.” link
From Agence France Presse,
“What happened here 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,” [Nicholas Sarkozy] said – link
And again, from Agence France Presse,
The highlight of Sarkozy’s hours-long trip to Rwanda was his visit of the main genocide memorial in the capital Kigali. “In the name of the people of France, I pay my respects to the victims of the genocide against the Tutsis,” he wrote in the visitors book. He observed a minute’s silence in front of one of the 14 mass graves containing the remains of some 250,000 people and laid a wreath.
Sarkozy, whose country Rwanda also routinely accuses of sheltering wanted genocide suspects, stressed he was keen for all those responsible for the massacres to be punished. Accompanied by his delegation, including Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner, and by two Rwandan ministers, the French president spent 20 minutes touring the memorial’s museum.
Sarkozy remained silent when his Rwandan guide tried to elicit an apology and also stopped short of voicing an apology for France’s alleged role in the genocide during the press conference. The guide showed him a portrait of former UN chief Kofi Annan and said pointedly that “he apologised” for the failings of the international community in 1994. – link
From The New York Times,
“He should have stayed more than three hours,” said Sam Kagabo, a journalist in the capital. “The French are here after 16 years. He should have given more respect to Rwandans.” link
From The New Times,
In the current global partnership in development, countries should focus on improved relations for economic growth. This time, the two countries should come up with a final decision on their relations; we will not be closing and opening our embassies every time [Jean D’Amour Ntiyonteze, a motorcyclist] – link
Renewed Franco-Rwandan relations are not about cultural and diplomatic reconciliation. They are about failed politics. – link
And finally, from Kagatama, the best post I’ve read anywhere related to Sarkozy’s visit,
I can never forget how utterly dismayed I felt when, while he was visiting Kigali on 13 August 2001, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Védrine, refused to pay his respects at a genocide memorial site because he did not want to be drawn into the ‘exploitation of the tragedy by the regime in place…’ …Today is Thursday 25 February 2010. All is quiet. The people of Rwanda are anxiously waiting to hear what Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic of France, has to say… [Kagatama] link