Early in the New Year, a French judge, Marc Trévidic, will release the report of his investigation into the causes of a 17-year-old plane crash that killed the former president of Rwanda and was used as the pretext for the 1994 Genocide.
In Kigali, there is tempered optimism that Trévidic’s findings will bring to an end a campaign by some in the French establishment to muddy history’s waters — an effort designed specifically to downplay France’s role in the genocide and, worse, place blame at the feet of the mostly Tutsi victims for the horrific fate that befell them.
Before the million dead had been buried, apologists and deniers — not to mention the perpetrators themselves — began to lean heavily on the counterintuitive assertion that it was the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front that downed president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane in April 1994.
If true, some argued, this established that the killings that took place over the subsequent three months were not premeditated acts of genocide as much as violent retribution by a grieving people on behalf of a fallen leader.
To many among the French military and political elite, the RPF made an irresistible target since it helped draw attention away from their own role in training, arming and advising the Hutu extremists who orchestrated the genocide.
The plane crash conspiracy theory also helped reinforce the prevailing view — a very useful one for culpable parties — that Africans are inherently prone to senseless violence and, in the words of former French president Francois Mitterand when asked about Rwanda, “In such countries, genocide is not too important.”
Genocide deniers found a hero in Marc Trévidic’s predecessor, Jean Louis Bruguière, whose 2006 report into the plane crash — which concluded that the RPF and current Rwandan President Paul Kagame were responsible — led to the indictment of several senior members of the Rwandan government. The report created a whirlwind of media attention but has failed to withstand the slightest waft of scrutiny.
Bruguière failed to examine the site of the crash, or indeed visit Rwanda at all.
He neglected to conduct even the most cursory examination of the available physi