On France’s Half-Admission of Guilt, Time is Truth’s Greatest Friend

France’s half-confession sets new terms of engagement with an African country; it’s a recognition that the colonial terms, which cannot offer the kind of respect due to an exceptional adversary, are counterproductive

As I reflected on President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to Rwanda, a saying which I once stumbled upon came to mind: “The greatest friend of Truth is time, her greatest enemy is Prejudice, and her constant companion is Humility.” Indeed, the truth about France’s role in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis has, for years, struggled to find its rightful place in French society. On the one hand, many French continue to have a hard time reconciling the tales and myths around France’s “enlightened” civilization with the reality of their government’s complicity in the most heinous crime against humanity. On the other hand, racial prejudice, which adds insult to the injury of denying the humanity of genocide victims and survivors, distorts analytical frameworks by granting the benefit of the doubt to a government whose guilt would have been established decades ago had it not been a western superpower. But time is undoubtedly truth’s greatest friend; and resilience, ideological clarity, humility and wisdom, among many other liberation values, have played an essential role in rendering France’s admission of guilt, albeit half-hearted, inevitable.

When, in 2015, the then Rwanda’s head of the National Intelligence and Security Services, Lieutenant-General Karenzi Karake, was arrested by UK authorities, in yet another episode that demonstrates the West’s continued support to genocidal forces in their quest to criminalize the RPF-led government, President Kagame rightly underscored that such efforts would not produce their intended outcome for a number of reasons.

“First it is France, second it is Spain, now third it is the UK…I think it is good. I really feel happy that of all, people, it happens to us, Rwandans. Maybe if it had happened somewhere else, it would just disappear. But here, it is happening to the right people. The right people who want to stand up to this and who will always stand up to this…We don’t have the power of wealth, of military strength, of technology, of all kinds of things that these countries have or pride in, but we have one thing or a couple of things…We have the power of resilience,” President Kagame said.

His speech was a stern condemnation of these manoeuvres and manipulations whose ultimate objective was, and still is, to conceal the overwhelming responsibilities of countries whose criminal actions on the ground and at the Security Council, in 1994, enabled a foreseeable genocide; they did this either by refusing to acknowledge that a genocide was underway; by actively sabotaging UNAMIR efforts to intervene; or, by refusing to condemn France for continuing to provide military, financial and diplomatic support to the genocidaires. Indeed, the powerful western individuals, governments and “independent” organizations behind the repeated and ongoing assaults on the rebuilding and the healing of a wounded nation have failed to reckon with Rwanda’s resilience.

This failure itself is incomprehensible considering that this was, and still is, a nation that had overcome one of the fastest and most devastating genocides in human history; a nation rebuilt by outnumbered and outgunned freedom fighters who not only stopped the genocide against the Tutsi but successfully repatriated millions of Hutu refugees compatriots held hostage in former Zaire while almost single-handedly overthrowing a dictator at the helm of a country 89 times the size of Rwanda, among other great achievements. This failure to reckon with Rwanda’s resilience can only be attributed to the usual contempt that is rooted in racial prejudice. In this regard, France’s half-confession sets new terms of engagement with an African country; it’s a recognition that the colonial terms, which cannot offer the kind of respect due to an exceptional adversary, are counterproductive. Most importantly, it is an acknowledgement that Rwanda’s incredible story of resilience holds a special place in the hearts of Africans and that France’s past attempts to demonize the heroes behind this story were undermining whatever objectives France wants to achieve in Africa. As the saying goes, if you cannot defeat them, join them.

As an African, a Burundian, I cannot but admire the humility and wisdom displayed all along this
liberation journey by the leaders of Rwanda. It certainly takes rare humility and wisdom to grant an exit route to a defeated adversary in order to avoid unnecessary casualties. This was evident when genocidal forces were allowed to evacuate liberated cities and towns. Back then, RPA military leaders understood that a cornered enemy with nowhere to run would fight to the death, leading to unnecessary losses that the RPF could not afford. This attitude and wisdom is still evident today in Rwanda’s acceptance of Macron’s half-admission of guilt. Indeed, despite all the goodwill on the French President’s part, the reality that he presides over a society dominated by reactionary forces in denial of their government’s criminal past was not lost on Rwandans. If his only choice had been to admit full responsibility, Macron would have certainly chosen a blatant denial rather than “blindness”; after all, he is the President of France and France’s interests – which heavily depend upon the defence of its myths and tales – would supersede whatever good intentions he might have had as an individual. This is most likely the reason why President Kagame and President Macron entrusted the next generations of Rwandans and French with the responsibility of pursuing a common understanding of France’s role in the Tutsi genocide, in hopes that time will ultimately mend fences between the two nations. It is they who will discuss the true meaning of the exit corridor that Rwanda’s leaders have allowed France to pass through as the latter grapples with its own meaning of dignity.

However, Rwanda’s magnanimity would run counter to the values of liberation if there was no
ideological clarity supporting it. Accordingly, the full recognition of the humanity of the victims and
survivors of the genocide remains non-negotiable. Not only because such a recognition is a shield
against recurrence but also because it gives value (agaciro) to African lives, by extension. The message to the world is that assaults on African lives should not go unpunished and that no (western) entity, however powerful, can belittle an African people and rewrite their history at will; these times are coming to an end.

To his credit, President Macron agreed to these terms. His moving eulogy to genocide victims, his staunch rejection of the double genocide conspiracies peddled by genocide deniers, his promises to continue the historical work around France’s role and to fast track legal proceedings against genocide fugitives that have found refuge in France, not to mention his government’s previous decision to criminalize the Tutsi genocide denial, are all encouraging signs.

The liberation journey is certainly not over, but there is a saying that has lately become more Rwandan than French: “Les faits sont têtus.”

This article was first published in the July 2021 issue of the Pan African Review Magazine, African Liberation Special.

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