Let's follow Rwanda
Paul Kagame, the Rwandan President, says that his country will cement its bitter divorce from France and the French-speaking world, which he holds responsible for the 1994 slaughter of up to one million of his countrymen, by joining the Commonwealth later year.
“There are many benefits for us in joining the Commonwealth — cultural, economic, political,” he told The Times.
Mr Kagame, a lanky former guerrilla fighter with an austere manner, rarely shows any emotion. But the softly-spoken 50-year-old struggles to contain his anger when discussing France in Africa. “They are the ones who armed and trained the militias . . . the evidence is everywhere. They continued to do so even after the genocide started,” he said.
Mr Kagame was brought up as a refugee in neighbouring Uganda, where he learnt to play cricket. He later took command of the RPF and can barely conceal his pleasure at the thought of how Paris will view his country’s membership of the Commonwealth, the 53-member, English-speaking club of countries, most of whom have colonial ties to the United Kingdom. He smiles as he asserts that his “entire experience of France and French influence” has been negative.
Other than the recent creation of the Rwandan cricket board, it is hard to imagine an act more calculated to put French noses more out of joint than joining a body so closely associated with the British Empire and the Queen, who always attends Commonwealth summits. The next one will be held in November in Uganda.
For years, Paris was so concerned about the creeping influence of the English language that it blindly followed a policy of la défense de la ligne de la francophonie (defence of the French-speaking line) and ended up supporting killers such as Habyarimana.
French policy backfired spectacularly. The Habyarimana regime was driven from office. Rwanda’s subsequent pursuit of the genocide planners into neighbouring Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, led to the fall of another French ally, President Mobutu. He was replaced by an English-speaking exile from Tanzania — Laurent Kabila, father of the current President, Joseph Kabila, who can barely utter a full sentence in French.
Maybe we should follow his example, rejoin the Commonwealth (not ignore it as we do now) and cut our ties with the French.