Rwanda threatens to sever ties with France

Saturday October 15 2016

The next stage in Rwanda and France’s precarious relations — currently marred by the reopening of an inquiry into the 1994 shooting down of a plane carrying former president Juvenal Habyarimana — could be determined by the person who wins the French presidency next year, analysts say.

“The authorities in Kigali are probably hoping for a [Nicolas] Sarkozy victory in the French presidential elections so that diplomatic ties can resume,” says Dr Phil Clark, a reader of Comparative and International Politics and a professor at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

However, Sarkozy is yet to secure his party’s nomination, meanwhile a victory by Alain Juppe, a strong contender in the primaries, would be ominous. Mr Juppe was France’s minister for foreign affairs during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and is considered among Kigali’s top enemies.

Opinion polls released this Thursday indicate that Juppe would surpass Sarkozy by 14 points in the first round and possibly prevail in the second round to win the ticket to take on the incumbent, François Hollande, who opinion polls show would be defeated if he stood for re-election.

Last week, French investigators said they wanted the testimony of Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former general in the Rwandan military, who has turned into a vocal critic of President Paul Kagame, pointing to further deterioration in an already difficult relationship.

READ: France reopens probe into 1994 assassination of Rwandan president


The decision attracted immediate rebukes from both President Kagame and the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide in Rwanda.

Although there have been several enquiries into the shooting down of the plane in past, analysts say the problem with these investigations, which has helped perpetuate the issue, is that all were conducted either by France or Rwanda, the two parties with a direct interest in the outcome.

“The issue of who downed the plane gets used as political football between the two countries. This could go on until a more neutral party can investigates the matter and provide much greater clarity,” advises Dr Clark.

In 2012, French judges appeared to support the thesis that the attack on the plane originated from territory then controlled by Habyarimana’s military in Kigali; a position shared by the Rwandan government. Analysts now say reopening the investigation could be an attempt by France to mask its complicity in the genocide.

On Monday, while opening the judicial year, President Kagame warned of a possible severance of diplomatic ties with France.

“We are going to start all over again, and I have no problem with that …If starting all over again is a showdown, then we will have a showdown,” Kagame said.

READ: President Kagame warns of showdown with France over genocide probe

The continuing anti-France rhetoric in Kigali carries echoes of 2006, the year in which Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations with France after a French investigating magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguière, issued nine arrest warrants against Rwandan officials in connection with this case.

Though diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored in 2009, France has not had an ambassador in Rwanda after Kigali rejected Hélène Le Gal, France’s choice for the role.

READ: What next as Kigali-Paris diplomatic row deepens?

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