French President Emmanuel Macron was in Rwanda’s capital Thursday, where he acknowledged France’s role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and said he hoped for forgiveness.
Speaking alongside Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the Gisozi genocide memorial in Kigali, Macron said, “I hereby humbly and with respect stand by your side today, I come to recognize the extent of our responsibilities.”
Macron is the first French leader since 2010 to visit the East African nation, which has long accused France of complicity in the killing of some 800,000 mostly Tutsi Rwandans.
The visit follows the release in March of a French inquiry panel report saying a colonial attitude had blinded French officials, and the government bore a “serious and overwhelming” responsibility for not foreseeing the slaughter.
But the report absolved France of direct complicity in the genocide, a point Macron made in his comments, saying “France was not an accomplice,” but that his nation “has a role, a history and a political responsibility in Rwanda.”
Rwanda released its own report that found France was aware a genocide was being prepared and bore responsibility for enabling it by continuing in its unwavering support for Rwanda’s then president, Juvenal Habyarimana.
It was the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane, killing the president, that launched the 100-day frenzy of killings.
Macron said only those who survived the genocide “could perhaps forgive, and so could give us the gift of forgiving ourselves,” and repeated, in Rwanda’s native language, the phrase “Ndibuka,” meaning “I remember.”
Rwanda’s Kagame called Macron’s speech “powerful,” and said his words were something more than an apology. “They were the truth. Speaking the truth is risky, but you do it because it is right, even when it costs you something, even when it is unpopular,” he said.
Macron said he proposed to Kagame the naming of a French ambassador to Rwanda, a post that has been vacant for six years. He said filling the post and normalizing relations between the nations could not be envisioned without the step he took on Thursday.