France and Germany face the past in Africa – POLITICO


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France and Germany want to get out of the past in Africa – but it remains to be seen if they can.

This week, the two countries acknowledged responsibility for their role in the murders of hundreds of thousands of people during the twentieth century in Rwanda and Namibia, a move that analysts say reflects an effort in Europe to restore relations. with key partners in Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron told an audience in Rwanda Thursday that his country “has a duty to face history and recognize its part in the suffering inflicted on the Rwandan people”.

In the 27 years since nearly 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were killed in a genocide that took place in just 100 days, France has not apologized for its unwavering support to the Hutu-led government responsible for the crime. On Thursday, no official apology was offered by the French president.

Hours after Macron’s statement, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas frankly pointed out that his country was responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of people from Namibia’s Herero and Nama minorities during its early colonial occupation of the country. of the last century.

“We have only one word for what the German colonial occupation was between 1904 and 1908 perpetrated in Namibia: genocide,” Maas said in a statement, adding that Germany had agreed to provide 1.1 billion euros over the next 30 years to finance projects in the sectors. like agriculture and health.

France’s recognition came when Macron appeared alongside President Paul Kagame of Rwanda in Kigali. The Rwandan government was angered by a reluctance in Paris to recognize that by cultivating economic ties with leaders across Africa as their countries gained independence, it ignored gross human rights violations in the field. Earlier this year, the Rwandan government even issued a 592-page report detailing the role played by France in the Rwandan genocide.

In the 1990s, France saw Rwanda as an opportunity to counter the influence of English speaking nations like Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania due to its French speaking population. At the time, Paris offered unwavering support for the militant Hutu nationalist regime led by Grégoire Kayibanda, which seized power in 1962 and oversaw the massacres of Tutsi in the following years.

“Macron’s declaration on French guilt in the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide is less about ‘Africa’ policy as a whole than repairing the damage between France and Rwanda in particular,” said Michael Jennings, reader in international development at SOAS University in London. , noting how worried Paris has long been about shifting influence from France as Rwanda joined the Commonwealth despite the lack of historical ties to the UK

Competition for influence from other great powers adds to the sense of urgency in France. In recent years, Russia has made rapid inroads into countries long dominated by former European colonial powers to sell planes, weapons and secure mining projects. And China’s loans to African nations stand out: Beijing even built the African Union’s sparkling new headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Still, analysts said Macron’s move was essentially a diplomatic victory for Kagame, whose government has come under increasing criticism for its growing authoritarianism following the arrest of Paul Rusesabagina, the protagonist of the nominated film. Oscars “Hotel Rwanda” who now faces terrorism charges in his country.

Rwanda hopes that the French desire to maintain good relations will cause it to play a supporting role in deflecting criticism of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front from donors, Jennings said.

Germany’s own acknowledgment of guilt comes as Berlin seeks to expand its role in sub-Saharan Africa by increasing financial aid and contributing more troops to a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.

But there are questions in Namibia as to whether Germany’s recognition and reparations should go further.

The Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA) and the Nama Traditional Leaders Association (NTLA) – groups representing the two minorities slaughtered by German troops – this week rejected Berlin’s compensation settlement. They say it was aimed at supporting the South West Africa People’s Organization, or SWAPO, which has dominated politics since independence in 1990 and is controlled by the Ovambo ethnic group.

Vekuii Rukoro, who heads the OTA, told the Namibian newspaper that the 1.1 billion euros in compensation were far from sufficient.

“This is not enough for the blood of our ancestors. We will fight in hell and back. We’re going to sleep with the devil if it gives us what we deserve, ”he said.

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