Saturday, October 28, 2006


Colonial rights and wrongs.

EURef recently reported on the latest in the attempts of Rwanda to come to terms with the genocide which took place over a decade ago, by blaming France.

Well, that could be all it is, but this report indicates some telling actions on the part of French troops, including how "French forces lured Tutsis from hideouts in the hills to village centers where they were killed."

That detail comes right at the end of the article, and one senses that, where the media have covered the latest allegations, scepticism has been built in to the reporting. The BBC's article, for example, takes a long time before moving to specifics.

What is not in doubt is that France trained the Hutu military which was active in the slaughter, up to the time of the slaughter (after it there was no need).

Beyond that, the problem is that there are strong political motives to blame France, exemplified here, and there is a history of false claims against (fmr) colonial powers such as this one where the Brits were accused of mass rape of Kenyan women.

The unequal battle and sometime absurdity of African claims against (fmr) colonial powers is comically evident in the understated BBC presentation:

"A forensic examination of police records in Kenya has concluded that all known reports of alleged rape by British army soldiers are forgeries.

This is a major development in the rape cases"

Er, what rape cases?

Still, despite this there is a moral responsibility I would like to highlight, and by that standard the French are well and truly guilty. The moral standards in Africa may be terribly schizophrenic, but if a sane person, for the sake of retaining and enhancing their status in society, facilitated and encouraged a temporarily insane and generally unstable person's desire to kill people, wouldn't they actually be morally guiltier than the mental person?

It may sound like a thin argument, but in the absence of reliable evidence there is much sense in saying that France was responsible for the genocide, an event of remarkable superfluity in Africa's grim trajectory.

The great film Hotel Rwanda begins with a radio broadcast indicating President Clinton's preoccupation with Bosnia, and later another broadcast describes the refusal of the State department to define events as "genocide"- a definition upon which intervention was contingent.

But the part which struck me most was the part where hero of the story, Rwandan hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, calls his Sabena company boss in Belgium as a last throw of the dice when facing Hutu troops bent on emptying his hotel of its Tutsi refugees. The exchange went thus:

Sabena boss: "Who can I call to stop this?"

Rusesabagina: "The French, they supply the Hutu army".

Sabena boss: "I'll call you right back"

The Sabena boss (the film explains) contacts the French President's office. The hotel was spared. QED.

Heavy handed film maker's moralising for the audience, or a summary of action that took place?

The film is accurate and precise about British and US actions at the time, as well as UN and Belgian actions. I wouldn't bet against it over the French involvement. I never bought the army rape allegations from Kenya, though. Some things chime with their contexts, and the French involvemnt in Rwandan genocide is one of them. When you look at their behaviour in the Ivory Coast, a pattern of callousness seems to emerge quite alien from the British amnesia which tends to be our predominant vice.

Google Custom Search