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Socialism Today 107 - March 2007

Apocalypse Africa

Silent Accomplice

The Untold Story of France’s Role in Rwandan Genocide

By Andrew Wallis

IB Tauris, 2006, £20

Reviewed by

Manny Thain

OVER THE course of 100 days in 1994, Rwanda was plunged into a maelstrom of death and destruction. Between April and July, 900,000 predominantly Tutsi people were slaughtered by Hutu militia and the army, the majority hacked to death with machetes and hoes. Villages were razed to the ground. Women and girls were raped systematically. ‘Moderate’ Hutus and some foreigners also perished.

Silent Accomplice records the inaction of the so-called ‘international community’. Above all, it exposes the complicity of the French state which backed the Hutu regime, and which still denies the role it played. Andrew Wallis draws on accounts from all sides, official documents and eyewitness reports. His book is well-researched and clearly sourced, crucial when dealing with such grave allegations.

He gives useful information on Rwandan society: a study in how Western European powers have cynically exploited the peoples of Africa. In the late 1880s, Rwanda was ruled by Germany. The division of spoils after the first world war handed it to Belgium. After ‘independence’ in 1962, France brought Rwanda into its Central African sphere of influence. The French state’s determination to retain some vestige of world-power status was an important factor in it backing the Hutu regime – it had ‘lost’ Algeria and its colonies in Southeast Asia.

Rwanda is a small country with a population of eight million. It is extremely poor. There are three main ethnic groups: Hutu (85%), Tutsi (12%), and Twa (3%). They share a common language and culture. Ethnic lines were blurred, but the Belgian rulers introduced identity cards in 1933, designating people as Hutu or Tutsi, to divide and rule.

Initially, the Belgians favoured the elite from the Tutsi minority. But as ‘independence’ approached, they and the Catholic church began supporting a Hutu elite, triggering pogroms between 1959-62. Around 700,000 Tutsis ended up in refugee camps in neighbouring Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. The ID card system was retained after ‘independence’.

The French state continued to back the Hutus, including Juvénal Habyarimana, an admirer of Hitler, who led a coup in 1973. He presided over a one-party dictatorship with his wife, Agathe. She would later organise the Akazu, top military and political figures with close links to French policy-makers. The Akazu orchestrated the genocide.

Habyarimana maintained his grip on power through the regimented social structure inherited from the colonial masters. Everyone was part of a ten-house group, which was part of a ‘sector’, which was part of a ‘commune’. The communes were administered by government loyalists. Hutus had an almost total monopoly on jobs. Children were segregated at school.

The Rwandese Popular Front (RPF), a mainly Tutsi guerrilla army, was founded in December 1987 with help from the Ugandan regime. Unfortunately, Wallis does not indicate the RPF’s political programme. The RPF invaded Rwanda on 1 October 1990. The French president, ‘socialist’ François Mitterrand (elected in 1981), sent his personal military adviser to Rwanda immediately. A fabricated report of fighting in the capital, Kigali, was the pretext for sending 600 elite paratroopers. There was no debate in the French parliament about military intervention.

France pursued a dual policy. On the one hand, it armed and trained the Rwandan army (FAR), turning it from an unorganised 3,000 troops to 20,000 in a year. On the other, it brokered talks between Habyarimana and the RPF. On 18 August 1992, the Arusha (Tanzania) protocol was signed, agreeing to move towards a broad-based government. This was denounced as a sell-out by extremist Hutu groups, such as the CDR (Coalition pour la Défense de la République), formed in March 1992. Ethnic hatred was ramped up in the media, branding all Tutsis ‘cockroaches’ and enemies.

The negotiations kept Habyarimana in power and angered the hardliners. In January 1993, the CDR and militia rioted in Kigali for six days, leaving 300 people dead. On 8 February, the RPF launched a new offensive. French intervention stopped the RPF 20 kilometres north of the capital. Habyarimana signed the Arusha accords on 4 August. The French agreed to withdraw and allow the UN in. But with Bosnia and Somalia grabbing the attention of the EU and US, Rwanda was off the radar.

Officially, French ‘advisers’ were training the FAR. But present in the camps were members of the Hutu militia – Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi. The militia were not simply undisciplined mobs. They conducted targeted assassinations as well as massacres. They tortured, smashed opposition political groups, and spread ethnic hatred.

One of the claims of the French state is that it had no prior knowledge of the impending apocalypse. Yet, as early as 1990, the French defence attaché in Kigali wrote to the foreign office in Paris detailing Tutsi fears of genocide. In 1993, Belgian intelligence services reported that the Interahamwe were armed to the teeth. On 11 January 1994, UN commander in Rwanda, Romeo Dallaire, warned UN HQ that an ethnic massacre of immense proportions was being prepared.

On 6 April 1994, the jet carrying Habyarimana to Kigali was shot down, almost certainly by Hutu extremists. Immediately, the influential RTML radio blared out incitement to violence against Tutsis. Within hours, presidential guards started killing those on pre-planned lists. The full-scale genocide had begun. Hutu militia set up roadblocks, using ID cards to pick out Tutsis.

The French sent in more paratroopers. On 9 April, Agathe Habyarimana and eleven family members were flown to a life of luxury in Paris. Interahamwe were butchering all those they took for Tutsi, while the French embassy hosted the formation of an ‘interim government’ of Hutu extremists.

Thousands of Tutsis were killed trying to get to the Amahoro stadium, ‘guarded’ by Belgian forces. Another 2,500, including 400 school children, fled to the ETO college. On 11 April, French troops arrived at ETO to evacuate Europeans. As the soldiers drove off with them, Hutu militiamen moved in, killing at least 2,000 Tutsis. More than 20,000 were slaughtered at the Nyamata convent, another 5,000 at Ntarama church. In Bisesero, near Lake Kivu, of an estimated 70,000 Tutsi inhabitants at the start of April, around 2,000 remained. The wretched, starving survivors hid in mineshafts in the hills, among decomposing bodies.

With descriptions such as these, reading this book is a traumatic experience. Wallis does not sensationalise. His is a sober account. But the scale of the barbarity is overwhelming.

On 21 April, the same day as the Nyamata massacre, the UN voted to reduce its pathetic ‘force’ by 90 to 270. Rwanda’s UN representatives spoke of deaths on both sides due to civil war. French representatives trotted out the racist line that it was a "tribal war", "the way Africans were" (p106). In fact, the genocide was meticulously planned, organised by experienced political operators, some of whom had been educated in the ‘best’ French academies.

The French called for a ceasefire. This would have stopped the RPF and maintained the Hutu elite in power. They peddled the ‘double-genocide’ line: both sides were committing atrocities. French troops were increasingly sickened at backing the Hutu militia. Some disobeyed orders in order to help Tutsi survivors. Others ensured that piles of corpses were filmed, at least, so the news got out.

The FAR and militia pushed the Hutu population into retreat with them, into a so-called ‘safe humanitarian zone’ (SHZ) in the southwest. With the fall of Kigali on 4 July, up to 1.5 million Hutu refugees were on the move. The only people benefiting from the SHZ were those implicated in the genocide. They were being protected and taken to safety in Zaire or France.

On 19 July, a new broad-based government was sworn in. Rwanda, however, had been ransacked and wrecked by the retreating Hutu regime. Nearly a million people were dead, in churches and cellars, strewn across roads, dumped in forests, rivers and lakes. A third of the population was displaced. Any infrastructure was completely smashed. The World Bank offered $35 million but demanded the $6 million ‘debt’ from Habyarimana’s regime be paid first. The EU agreed $200 million, but it was vetoed by France.

This is the bleakest of stories, but one which must be told. Andrew Wallis has done us all a service for documenting part of it here. No doubt there is much more to be learned about these terrible events. From world-power exploitation to rule by sectarian psychopaths, the Rwandan people have suffered the most brutal treatment. The trauma of those 100 days in 1994 will be seared into their consciousness for years. The cynical role of the French capitalist state in pursuit of its narrow interests – replicated by all the others in different regions at different times – is a reminder of the vital necessity of socialist change, and a decent future for all peoples.


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