Macron Acknowledges French Responsibility in Rwanda Genocide

President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged France’s “responsibilities” in the 1994 Rwanda genocide while denying his country was an “accomplice” in the events that left 800,000 people dead, in a bid to end years of strained relations.

“As I stand with you today, with humility and respect, I recognize the magnitude of our responsibilities,” Macron said Thursday in Kigali, where he’s meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. France is recognizing “the suffering it has inflicted on the Rwandan people by allowing silence to prevail for too long,” he said.

Macron is only the second French president to visit Rwanda after Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.

Last month, law firm Levy Firestone Muse LLP released a report saying France bears significant responsibility for the genocide because it helped facilitate the massacre by arming, advising and protecting the Rwandan government. A Macron-backed panel earlier absolved France, but found the country’s colonial attitude had impeded its judgment in the build-up to the killings.

“This visit is about the future not the past,” Kagame said at a joint press briefing with Macron. “We wish to form a strong and sustainable relationship based on the priorities of our peoples.”

The move to mend relations is part of a broader effort by Macron to address criticism of France’s history in Africa, where it ruled countries including Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali and Algeria for decades. He has supported West African efforts to split from the French-backed regional currency, and the return of African relics and artifacts taken during the colonial era.

Macron has also supported French businesses seeking opportunities beyond French-speaking West Africa, emboldening companies such as Total SE, Vinci SA and Orange SA to increase investment or sign new deals in Uganda, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

As Macron sought to explain why France wasn’t an accomplice in the genocide, he said, “the killers who haunted the marshes, the hills, the churches did not have the face of France.” He continued: “the blood that flowed did not dishonor her weapons nor the hands of her soldiers, who also saw the unspeakable with their own eyes, dressed wounds, and choked back their tears.”

The overture got a mixed reception. Ibuka, an organization representing survivors of the genocide, regretted that the French president didn’t clearly apologize, though it praised his attempt to explain the role and the responsibility of France. Opposition party members in Rwanda meanwhile, said they were disappointed that Macron isn’t condemning Kagame’s push to cling to power with a recent constitutional change.

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