Twenty years ago, on 6 April 1994, the aircraft carrying Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyrien Ntaryarima, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi respectively, was shot down near Kigali airport as they returned from peace talks in Tanzania. Both died, along with others on board. In the following months between 800,000 and one million Rwandans were murdered; as a central Africa co-ordinator for Amnesty at the time, I remember it all too clearly, not least the wilful flannel deployed during April and May by the Clinton presidency and his secretary of state Madeleine Albright to dodge using the action-triggering term ‘genocide’.
The Rwanda-backed M23 rebels – M23 for 23 March 2009, when a peace deal was signed with Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila – attacked the city of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on 17 November, trouncing the Congolese army in less than three days. Twelve days later they withdrew. But they have not melted back into the hills of Northern Kivu from where they launched the assault. They have put a ring around Goma and are staying put until the power-sharing agreement for which they’re named is renegotiated in their favour. Meanwhile, Goma, a border town of one million people, resembles Berlin in the Cold War, an island linked to the west by an air bridge.
Stephen W. Smith in the LRB, 17 March 2011: We are hypnotised by the 1994 genocide, and oblivious to the atrocities of a regime we regard as exemplary. Aid, we say, must be conditional on good governance – but post-genocide government is an exception. La Francophonie is at best ridiculous and at worst a vector of France’s influence, but the Commonwealth is honourable as it embraces a dictator who favours English over French. Democracy is a precondition of peace – but not in a post-genocidal state. Justice, truth and reconciliation heal – but not the wounds of exterminatory hatred. The invasion and plunder of eastern Congo are criminal – but not when they’re carried out by genocide survivors. Hutu power is bad, but Tutsi chauvinism is acceptable.
When do empires die? The late François-Xavier Verschave, economist and founder of the pressure group Survie, coined the term Françafrique to denote the Fifth Republic’s suffocating relation to its former African colonies. The pun – France a fric – was intended. With Jacques Chirac on trial for municipal corruption while mayor of Paris, the Franco-Lebanese lawyer Robert Bourgi has alleged that the ex-president and his Gaullist sidekick Dominique de Villepin helped themselves to some $20 million in bungs from African dictators between 1995 and 2005. Both men have denied the allegations and issued writs. Chirac has pleaded memory loss to avoid having to show his face at the corruption trial, but remembers enough to know that Bourgi’s allegations are false in all details.