After three years of broken diplomatic relations, French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives in Kigali today. It is the first time a French president has landed on Rwandan soil since the genocide in 1994 and an attempt to reinvigorate ties:
Speaking to journalists in Kigali, President Paul Kagame confirmed that the visit was on and that it had “implications on how we carry forward this relationship (between France and Rwanda).”
Now that diplomatic ties have been renewed with both countries sending their respective envoys to each other, there is a general feeling in Rwanda that the continued failure by the French to own up and apologise for their failures could derail full restoration of Franco-Rwanda relations.
According to the French press, the stake in the rapprochement between the two countries is more cultural than economic.
However, renewed Franco-Rwandan relations are not about cultural and diplomatic reconciliation. They are about failed politics.
The French have all but lost their economic stronghold in Sub-Saharan Africa and are trying to finagle their way back in. Sarkozy is trying to patch up the policy pitfalls of Mitterand and Chirac, but lacks the influence or impact. Kouchner, Sarko’s Africa man, thinks everything is a humanitarian crisis and doesn’t have the political savvy to engage countries that haven’t been hit by disaster in a mutually beneficial way. Sarkozy’s two-stop Africa trip to Gabon and Rwanda, an oil producer and extractive resource powerhouse respectively, illustrates the bluntly forward and increasingly ineffective French agenda in Africa.
On the other hand, the Kagame administration is smug with the visit. Now that they are a commonwealth country, they don’t need to worry about French patronage politics. Rather, Kagame can use the two countries tumultuous relations to shift focus from Commonwealth Election Monitors and human rights criticism of the regime back to Kagame’s favored arena of genocide politics. In their meeting today, Sarkozy and Kagame are scheduled to discuss genocide fugitives living in France and ways to ‘work past’ the French indictment of Kagame for purportedly killing Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. Moreover, bringing back the French into the equation might symbolically quell internal Rwandan frustration over the quick Anglicization of the country. Either way, Kagame gets to dictate the rhetorical agenda.
The likely outcome of the meeting: Sarkozy goes home with his tail between his legs as the French continue their failed Africa policy and Kagame gains more control over this week’s political agenda in Rwanda. The underlying benefit: Kagame most likely convinced Sarkozy to bring him a fruit basket.
Update: Graham at KigaliWire pointed out that Sarkozy is stopping in other African countries as well. However, France is not following the list supplied by the Tanzanian Daily nation. France has added Mali and skipped over Equatorial Guinea, in a confusing and bizarre move that reveals more floundering than cohesion.