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A year earlier, the scenario would have been difficult to imagine. At the invitation of General Thierry Burkhard, French Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces since July 2021, a group of four officers of the Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) will be received in France from 14 to 17 March.
They will be led by General Jean Bosco Kazura, Chief of Staff of the RDF since 2019. After joining the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebellion during the years of struggle (1990-1994), this soldier – whose family had to go into exile in Burundi – then held several high positions within the Rwandan army. In June 2013, he was appointed to head the UN’s Minusma mission at the expense of Chadian General Oumar Bikimo. This riled Nigeria, which decided to withdraw its troops from the country.
Resumption of military cooperation
The Rwandan delegation expected in Paris will also include Brigadier General Patrick Karuretwa (head of International Military Cooperation and former private secretary and adviser to President Paul Kagame) and Vincent Nyakarundi (head of military intelligence), as well as Colonel Jean Chrysostome Ngendahimana (J3 – head of operations and training). On the agenda was the resumption of military cooperation between the two states, whose bilateral relationship has been improving steadily in recent years, particularly since the election of Emmanuel Macron.
In May 2021, the French president made a highly symbolic visit to Rwanda, with a speech at the Gisozi Memorial in Kigali. It was considered more contrite than the one held eleven years earlier at the same place by Nicolas Sarkozy. “France did not understand that by wanting to prevent a regional conflict or a civil war, it was in fact standing by a genocidal regime,” summed up Macron. “By ignoring the warnings of the most lucid observers, France bore a crushing responsibility in a spiralling situation that led to the worst, even though it was precisely trying to avoid it.”
A few weeks earlier, the report of the Duclert Commission, initiated by Emmanuel Macron, had also helped to smooth out the old dispute between Paris and Kigali, due to the long complicity between the regime of François Mitterrand and that of his counterpart Juvénal Habyarimana.
Things have changed since then, with Rwanda having acquired the status of continental “gendarme”, notably in the Central African Republic (a former French colony), where it intervenes militarily both as part of bilateral aid and under the UN banner, and in Mozambique, where an Islamist rebellion is threatening not only the civilian population but also the gas project of TotalEnergies.
Between 1990 and 1994, the military cooperation between the two states had been at the origin of 28 years of criticism against the role of France alongside the genocidal regime. Since then, it has remained non-existent. A few months after the appointment of a new French ambassador to Rwanda, Antoine Anfré, after six years of vacancy, this visit clearly aims to turn this page.
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