French imperialism and the Rwandan genocide

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
May 31, 2021

Macron visited Rwanda on Thursday, May 27. The press announced that he would apologize for the role played by France in the genocide in which 800,000 people died in 1994. But he didn’t.

Macron formally recognized, 27 years after the fact, that “France played a part in the suffering inflicted on the Rwandan people by making silence prevail over the examination of the truth.” Every word was weighed to give the impression that the French state was taking at least some responsibility, without actually taking any.

Macron condescended to talk of the past but did so by giving the victims almost exactly the same version as every president has done since Mitterrand, who was in office at the time of the genocide. And he made it sound as if he was doing a lot. It was almost as if the Rwandans should consider it an honor to have their former rulers make the gesture of accepting to come back to Rwanda because they are no longer angry.

Rwanda, after being a Belgian colony, came under French control. Just like the former Belgian colonizer, French imperialism played on the ethnic divisions between the Hutus and the Tutsis. President Habyarimana’s authoritarian regime, which began just before the genocide, relied on members of the Hutu ethnic group and made it possible for France, who supported the regime, to maintain a strong position in that region of Africa. Faced with this regime, the Rwandan Patriotic Front united the opposition and relied mainly on the Tutsis, with the support of Anglo-American imperialism.

When this opposition began to pose a serious threat to Habyarimana’s regime, French imperialism did everything it could to keep him in place. It helped him to arm and train the extreme right-wing militias that his regime had created – militias who spread terror and eventually committed the genocide to which not only Tutsis but also Hutu dissidents fell victim.

By asserting that the time for disapproval has lasted long enough, Macron has made the return of French imperialism to Rwanda official. It’s not that Rwanda represents an important economic interest for French capitalists but it’s part of France’s zone of influence. And, despite its shared responsibility in the death of hundreds of thousands of people, France still considers itself to be at home there.

France may have lost its colonial empire but it’s preserved its domination over the countries that emerged from it, albeit in a different configuration. It ensures that their regimes are favorable to France by giving them financial and military support. This is made easier by the fact that the United States – the uncontested dominant imperialist power since World War 2 – sees an interest in having France maintain order in its former colonial zone.

This is why France permanently maintains troops in Mali, Chad, the Ivory Coast and several other former colonies. There are more than 5,000 soldiers in the Sahel in the name of the war on terrorism but, in reality, they are there to uphold the dictators who have links with France.

In all of these countries, mineral and agricultural wealth is plundered by industrial groups from rich countries, France in particular. Total has control over the oil from Gabon and Orano (formerly Areva) over the uranium from Niger. Large French fortunes have been made thanks to these riches. Boussac, a former textile industrialist known as “the cotton king” and holder of one of Europe’s largest fortunes, had plantations in many African countries. Bolloré who has a whole empire in transport and media in France, has taken over nearly all the ports in West Africa and the railroads too. Not to mention the stranglehold that French banks have on the African economy.

It’s important to be aware that the same capitalists who exploit and fire us here are the true masters of the countries there. They keep them in a state of poverty that leaves those who want to do better no alternative but to flee, hoping to find a better life in Western countries. Look at the thousands of migrants who risked their lives trying to swim to the Spanish autonomous city of Ceuta.

Our future, that of all workers across the globe, is linked. We are exploited by the same people and it is the same social order that we must fight and overturn.