Le Genocide Rwandais de 1994: Une Etude sur les Implications du Conflit Franco-Américain pour L’intervention Humanitaire (The Rwandan Genocide of 1994: A Study of the Effects of Franco-American Competition in Francophone Africa)

101 Pages Posted: 7 May 2012

Date Written: April 26, 2004


Le conflit diplomatique franco-américain qui s’est déclaré pendant le génocide au Rwanda en 1994 a été le résultat des politiques opposées de Washington et Paris vis-àvis du pays des mille collines. Dès les premiers signes du génocide, les Etats-Unis ont été confrontés au paradoxe d’intervention : s’interposer en ayant peu à y gagner et au risque de tout perdre. Ce pays africain étant d’un intérêt stratégique, politique ou économique limité pour les Etats-Unis, Washington décida d’éviter le conflit en retardant le déploiement d’une force militaire. De son côté, Paris, qui avait développé une relation étroite avec le gouvernement hutu du Rwanda, n’a pas pu se dégager d’une politique corrompue, même après le déclenchement du génocide. Ainsi, ces deux pays occidentaux agissaient au Rwanda selon des politiques contradictoires, au détriment de presque un million de Tutsis massacrés.

The diplomatic conflict that arose between France and the United States during the Rwandan genocide of 1994 resulted from the two nations’ conflicting policies toward Rwanda. From the very first signs of genocide, the United States was confronted with a difficult choice: intervene with little to gain and at the risk of losing everything. The small landlocked country situated in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa was of little strategic, political, or economic interest to the United States. And so Washington decided to avoid the conflict by delaying deployment of its military force to the region. On the other side of the Atlantic, France had developed a close relationship with the Hutu-led Rwandan government. Thus ensnared in a corrupt foreign policy vis-à-vis the Rwandan leadership, Paris would not disengage from its existing policy even after the start of the genocide. These two nations thus followed contradictory policies, to the great detriment of nearly one million Tutsis.

My thesis defines an international, and more specifically, Franco-American, framework for analyzing the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the corresponding failure of the global community. While the political and cultural clash between France and the United States could be said to stretch back to the 19th century, my discussion centers on the heightened level of competition between the two countries in the African context during the 1990s. During the Cold War, American foreign policy toward francophone Africa was complementary to that of the French government. Preoccupied by an ideological struggle to contain the Soviet Union’s influence, the United States supported France’s cultural and economic monopoly over certain developing countries, especially in francophone Africa. After the end of the Cold War, the two countries became less interdependent. France still based its foreign policy toward former colonies on its historic economic and cultural ties with the region, while the United States pushed for economic liberalization and democratization in accordance with the “Washington Consensus.” Given the close economic relationship between France and francophone Africa, Washington’s increasingly aggressive stance on economic liberalization put France on the defensive, thus renewing tensions between the two countries.

The tragic events of 1994 are set forth as striking evidence of a transitioning global geopolitical structure and the disastrous effects of two nations’ failure to find common ground in a humanitarian crisis. My objective is to deconstruct the Rwandan genocide in order to demonstrate to what extent the disagreement between the United States and France prevented other countries from responding reasonably to the crisis. I first consider the essential elements of French policy toward francophone Africa and the implications of this policy for the Franco-American relationship over the course of the Cold War. I then examine traditional US policy toward the region and how it changed from 1989 to 1994. I dedicate one chapter to depicting the violence that erupted on April 6, 1994 and the ensuing months. My analysis proceeds by way of examining Rwanda’s historical context since the beginning of the colonial period, underlining in particular the country’s integration in the international system and resulting Hutu leadership. I then discuss the Franco-Rwandan connection prior to and during the genocide and the US reaction to the genocide.

I do not attempt to respond to the most difficult questions such as: Who is responsible for the genocide? Was the genocide avoidable? I assume that the Rwandan genocide constitutes an avoidable conflict given an appropriate international humanitarian response. My analysis aims instead to situate the events of 1994 in an international context, at a time of global transition when the policies of the United States and France in Africa were at odds.

Note: Downloadable document is in French.

Keywords: Rwanda, genocide, France, Franco-American, francophonie

Suggested Citation

Sharma, Elizabeth (Bitta), Le Genocide Rwandais de 1994: Une Etude sur les Implications du Conflit Franco-Américain pour L’intervention Humanitaire (The Rwandan Genocide of 1994: A Study of the Effects of Franco-American Competition in Francophone Africa) (April 26, 2004). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2052275 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2052275

Elizabeth (Bitta) Sharma (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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