France Apologizes, America’s Turn

France Apologizes, America’s Turn

President Sarkozy at Rwanda's Genocide Memorial
President Sarkozy at Rwanda's Genocide Memorial

Apologizing is hard and noble. It’s America’s turn.

Today, France apologized to Rwanda for its actions that contributed to the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Like the Belgian Parliament’s historic apology to the Congo for its ancient king, Leopold, (which included substantial reparations) these are difficult and noble acts.

“What happened here is unacceptable and …forces the international community… to reflect on the mistakes that prevented it from anticipating and stopping this terrible crime,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Reuters today.

It’s now America’s turn; Bill Clinton’s in particular.

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 could have been stopped. Numerous books and hundreds of pages of oath-sworn testimony, not to mention popular films, have documented the neglect of western countries, mostly the U.S. and France, from taking action earlier enough.

The UN general on the ground commanding a pitiful 500 troops saw it all coming. He pleaded with the General Assembly to do something.

The U.S. and France blocked his requests.

The genocide began.

France’s explanation was born of a long colonial involvement in the area. In a nutshell, there have always been little Hutus; they were the aboriginal hunter-gatherers of the area. In about the 6th or 7th centuries, the tall Watutsis (Tutsis) invaded the area.

The Tutsi herders represented about 15% of the population; the Hutus about 85%, but for more than a millennia the Tutsis over lorded the Hutus in a remarkably European feudal system.

During the colonial era France wanted to remedy this. That, too, was noble, but a half century of colonial rule is not enough to change the life ways of thousands of years.

The European colonial era ended not on any noble proposition. It ended because the colonial powers, Europe, were devastated by World War II and could no longer afford their colonies.

Belgium and France were the colonial powers in this region, and they raced to end their involvement with little recognition that all they had done during their occupation was make matters worse between the Hutus and Tutsis.

The first major massacre was 1972. Six more followed before the catastrophic genocide of 1994. Even today in Hutu/Tutsi conflicted Burundi, war rages. Not even Nelson Mandela’s decade long involvement in Burundi has stopped the fighting.

But in Rwanda it could have been stopped. But France ever championing the underdog, talked itself into believing that the event which started the genocide, the missile strike of the Hutu President’s plane returning to Kigali from a peace conference, was a deliberate act of the Tutsi.

Until today, in fact, France contended that the current President Paul Kagame of Rwanda was principally responsible for the missile strike.

He may have been. I don’t think we’ll ever know, several lower judges in France continue to bring charges against Kagame and others. Recently, a Rwanda government official was arrested when she entered Rwanda and charged with events leading to the genocide.

But French President Sarkozy is cutting to the chase. Whether it was Kagame’s gang or not who shot down the plane, France and the U.S. could have stopped the genocide, and they didn’t.

France contended for too many days after the fighting started that it was the Hutus fault, and it blindsided itself to the fact that in the beginning it was the Hutus who were the murderers.

Sarkozy has now admitted all of this. And apologized.

And America?

Well it was different with us. Bill Clinton was burned beyond belief by the defeat of Blackhawk Down in Somalia. We know much less about Africa than France. The one defeat-fits-all syndrome made Clinton believe we could be burned again in Rwanda.

We wouldn’t have been. The UN on the ground could have stopped the genocide. I think that some critics who claim Clinton was just being mean are ridiculous. I think he was just… dumb.

The world is grossly interconnected. We need our leaders to be aware as much of tiny places of trouble like Tblisi and Kigali, as they are fixated on Tehran.

After the genocide, France spent $900 million dollars in helping Rwanda recover. The U.S. spent $1.1 billion. Even from the crass business cost perspective, we both made very bad decisions.

Thank you, France.

And now, America? I wouldn’t hold your breath.