French President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit Rwanda today to cement renewed ties with his counterpart Paul Kagame following years of acrimony and recriminations between the two nations over the 1994 genocide.
Analysts say France needs warmer relations with Rwanda to remain relevant in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, hence the first visit by a French head of state since the slaughter.
Rwanda severed relations with France in 2006 after a Paris judge accused Kagame and nine aides of shooting down former President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane in April 1994 the spark for the massacre of 800 000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The central African country vigorously rejected the indictments. It accused the French government of having trained and armed extremist Hutu militias responsible for the violence, as well as continuing to harbour top genocide suspects.
Francois Grignon, Africa head of the International Crisis Group think-tank, said Sarkozy’s Rwandan and African policy was forward-looking and less influenced by the legacy of previous administrations.
“French African policy is becoming more and more pragmatic, oriented and guided by economic interests more than seeking permanent influence on Africa for the sake of it,” he said.
“It is less and less burdened with legacies of what previous regimes have done.”
During the three-year diplomatic rift which ended last November, Rwanda signed an UN-backed peace deal with long-time foe the Democratic Republic of Congo and joined two Anglophone blocs, the Commonwealth and the East African Community.
The former Belgian colony also changed its language of instruction in schools to English from French, although much of the country only speaks the local language, Kinyarwanda.
This week, the presidents are likely to discuss development projects, trade and justice issues relating to the roughly 100 genocide fugitives living on French soil.
Kagame is expected to pressure the Sarkozy to act on requests by Kigali to arrest leaders of the Hutu rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FLDR), who have destabilised eastern Congo for more than a decade and a half.
Since renewing ties, four French judges have visited Kigali seeking information relating to 10 suspects accused of having masterminded the genocide.
Pic: President Paul Kgame of Rwanada