Friday, February 16, 2007

French Lesson

The talks over the Darfur crisis - or Central African war if you prefer - seem to have gone ok. Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic have agreed not to support the assortment of rebels attacking each other's countries. And the UN's given a timely warning of the spread of militia violence into the bits of eastern Chad flooded with Darfur refugees. Hopefully everyone will finally agree to let a UN-led force in to support the current weak deployment from the African Union. Equally hopefully, that would limit the spread of the violence. We've heard all this sort of thing before, but there's reason to be very cautiously optimistic, which is something.

The French can probably feel pretty pleased with themselves having knocked heads together at the summit in Cannes. But this interview with Rwanda's President Kagame offers a lesson in how the French style of diplomacy has failed in Africa in the recent past. As the leader of a Tutsi rebel army it was Kagame who led his people to victory in the 1994 civil war, but not before up to a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu civilians had been slaughtered by Hutu militia. Kagame hates the French for their arms shipments to the Hutus before the genocide began, and their continual attempts to blame him for kicking off the whole thing by assassinating the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi. They won't let that allegation drop, so he's finally turning his back on them to join the Commonwealth.

One subtext of the French involvement in Rwanda before 1994, and in the Darfur crisis now, is an effort by Paris to retain its influence over French-speaking Africa. That led them to arm and support some of the world's most evil men in Rwanda, who went on to carry out a terrible genocide. If France is to play the honest broker now, it must leave such selfish ambitions aside.

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