The all important question that has been the centre of the dispute between France and Rwanda has been: Did President Paul Kagame order the killing of the former Rwandan President Habyarimana? When Juvenal Habyarimana, then president of Rwanda’s plane was shot down by missiles fired from the ground, he left a whole mystery that still remains unsolved in 2016. In the plane was Cyprian Ntaryamira, the leader of Burundi and other senior Rwandan officials but it is known that the ultimate target was the leader of Rwanda. His assassination was the spark that lit Rwanda in the 1994 genocide leading to 800,000 deaths. French investigators announced last week that they will re-open a probe with investigators intending to hear evidence from Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former general who claims President Paul Kagame was involved.
Kagame has rejected allegations of any involvement in the death of Juvenal Habyarimana and criticised the French for re-opening the probe. He said, “The judicial system of Rwanda is not subordinate to France or France’s interests,” adding, “If starting all over again is a showdown we will have a showdown, there is no problem about that.” Kagame feels the revival of the investigation will damage relations between his country and France which was considered to have been in support of the Hutus in the genocide which mainly claimed Tutsi lives. The Rwandan President has also said, “It is France that should be in the dock being tried, not anybody in Rwanda and not Rwandans.”
Who assassinated the President?
A deposition submitted by Faustin Nyamwasa revealed that he (Nyamwasa) had heard Kagame say, “Habyarimana’s plane was brought down by our own forces.” Nyamwasa made the accusation in 2012 in a South African court where he also testified on threats to his life. However, an Independent commission released findings of an inquiry into the assassination titled “Report of the Investigation into the Causes and Circumstances of and Responsibility for the Attack of 06/04/1994 against the Falcon 50 Rwandan Presidential Aeroplane, Registration Number 9xR-NN. The Commission has however been criticised for being politically motivated as appointments were made by the Kagame government. The Commission found that blame had to be pinned onto a group of Hutu extremists which effectively exculpated Kagame. With the Commission’s independence in question, the findings have been taken with a grain of salt. Several subsequent French investigations have failed to reach any conclusion. In 2006, Rwanda and France again cut ties after a French judge called for the Rwandan president to stand trial. No one can know for certain who killed the late Habyamarina unless more evidence is adduced.
The blame game
In 2014, President Kagame again levelled allegations against the French just before the commemorations. Just as Kagame has promised a showdown, the French had called for their leader to “defend the honour of France, its army ad its diplomats.” A diplomat then said there was an interest in maintaining good relations with Kigali but not “at any price”. France was to then shun commemorations which Rwanda called an “overreaction”. Former leader, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 acknowledged that France had been “blind” and that it committed a “grave error”. This admission of guilt though vague is good enough and shows that France played an active role in the genocide. It is suspected that Hutu extremists, unhappy with the then President’s agreement to the Arusha Accords which were a roadmap to sharing power in Rwanda. Prior investigations have proved that the army possessed the sort of artillery used to down the plane but Kagame’s RPF did not have any documented access. It remains to be seen what will happen after the investigation is re-opened but already, Paul Kagame is showing signs of an intention to call out the West for its self-appointed adjudicating role. Kagame may have issues to clarify but France will be best advised to stop meddling in African affairs.