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The former colonies want France out. This African country says, Bienvenue!

After decades of wielding political, military and economic power across Africa, France is scaling back its presence on the continent as it faces significant resentment in many of its former colonies. me. However, one country has emerged as an exception: Rwanda.

Like other African countries sought to reduce French influenceRwanda is embracing it, celebrating French culture, language and cuisine, despite decades of frosty relations with Paris over its role in Rwandan genocide in 1994. In return, French companies are increasing their investments in Rwanda.

Détente is being supported by Rwanda’s longtime leader, Paul Kagame, has attracted France as a much-needed security partner in Africa and secured Rwanda millions of dollars in trade and development funds. The warmer relationship is also rare good news for French President Emmanuel Macron, who has facing a wave of outrage across Africa and then crushed by the right side in this month’s European parliamentary elections.

“We have a partner in Kagame,” Hervé Berville, French Foreign Minister, said in an interview in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

For decades, diplomatic rancor and hostility have characterized the relationship between the two countries. Mr. Kagame accused France, and in particular the government of then-President François Mitterrand, of facilitating Rwandan officials’ oversight of the 1994 genocide, in which about 800,000 people were massacred.

The relationship was so broken that in the early 2000s, Rwanda abandoned French in favor of English in classrooms, expelled the French ambassador, closed international schools and French cultural centers, and blocked French state radio.

But things began to change when Mr. Macron came to power. In 2021, a report he commissioned conclude that, although France was not complicit in the genocide, it bears “severe and heavy” responsibility for it. Rwanda published their own report a few weeks later and accused Paris of providing “solid support” to the government that carried out the genocide in order to maintain its own influence.

Mr. Macron visited Rwanda Immediately after the reports were published, a series of events began that led to rapprochement between nations.

By mid-2021, France appointed a new ambassador to Rwanda. The French Development Agency inaugurated its new office in Kigali. France donate hundreds of thousands of Covid vaccine doses during the pandemic.

French corporations pour millions of dollars into real estate, technology, entertainment and tourism. Last month leaders of more than 50 French companies attended the conference African CEO Forum in Kigali, French officials said. Some of them, including the head of TotalEnergies, personally met Mr. Kagame.

In Rwanda, French has been brought back into schools. Mr. Macron opened the newly built French cultural center. Rwandan youth are now dining at restaurants serving French cuisine. Rwandan artist and fashion designer perform and exhibit their work at major French cultural institutions.

“Everywhere you look there is French and France,” said Mashauri Muhindo Memcan, a teacher in Kigali. He said a few years ago, he was the only French teacher at the school, but now he heads a growing department with six French teachers.

For France, the new cooperation with Rwanda reflects Mr. Macron’s efforts to Find allies and business partners on a continent where rival nations like China And Russia To be compete for influence.

But it also aims to engage the younger generation in conversations about the past, to “avoid repetition,” said Mr. Berville, the French minister. “We need to be vigilant,” he told a group of French and Rwandan students in Kigali on a recent afternoon, wearing a dark tie over a white shirt, à la Macron.

Despite warmer relations, the two countries still have disagreements.

France has accused Rwanda of supporting rebel fighters who devastated neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, something Kigali has long denied.

Rwanda remains angry that France did not accept more responsibility for the genocide. Those tensions surfaced during the 30th anniversary of the genocide in April, when Mr. Macron been pushed back about admitting France’s failure to prevent genocide.

But Rwanda and France have strengthened their defense cooperation, even as French troops were expelled from several African countries, incl Mali, Niger And Burkina Faso.

Despite its small size, Rwanda has used its military to increase its influence on the international stage, especially through peacekeeping missions. And France, wary of another military intervention, has seen Rwanda as an alternative to deploying troops on African soil, said Federico Donelli, a professor of international relations at the University of Trieste, who has wrote a lot about the Rwandan army, said.

This was the case in Mozambique, where France supported the deployment Rwandan army fights insurgency in Cabo Delgado province. The area is home to a multibillion-dollar gas project owned by France’s TotalEnergies.

France also promoted Rwanda’s participation in Mozambique in the European Union, Donelli said. block Rwanda’s mission is funded with an amount of 20 million euros, equivalent to 21.4 million USD.

Mr. Donelli added: “France sees Rwanda as a perfect partner in the new African agenda. “Paris’s political costs, both domestically and on the continent, are lower. And Kigali will gain both fame and economic benefits.”

In addition to security issues, France also increased development funding for this landlocked country. The French Development Agency has spent half a billion euros to create jobs and renovate medical facilities. In April, the two countries signed a development cooperation agreement worth 400 million euros, or about $429 million.

France is also paying for vocational training for thousands of Rwandan university students in fields including mechatronics, a field that combines mechanical engineering and electronics.

On a recent morning, several French officials toured a French-funded and built university in Tumba, a town about 20 miles northwest of Kigali. Students there gather in classrooms and laboratories to study industrial automation and operate robotic systems.

“Rwanda is ready to change, improve and even build systems that can benefit the whole world,” said Arthur Germond, Rwanda country director for the French development agency, who led the tour. Ministry of Africa”. “We want to support that vision.”

For some Rwandans, the changing relationship brings new opportunities.

For years, Hervé Kimenyi, a comedian, limited himself to performing in French as Rwanda shunned the language and his audience dwindled. But with relations improving, he is now starting a comedy club that will feature comedy, poetry and music exclusively in French.

By doing so, he said, he hopes to reach both older and younger Rwandans as well as French-speaking students and professionals from other parts of the continent, mainly the West. Africans, who now call Rwanda home.

For Mr. Berville, the French Minister, strengthening relations with Rwanda will require addressing challenges that both countries face, such as climate change. But it will also involve France taking active measures to reflect on the past, including Trial of genocide suspect still living in France.

Mr Berville said that was the only way to improve relations “irreversibly”, regardless of who succeeds Mr Macron in the next French election. He said: “Words are good but actions are even better.”


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