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This article was downloaded by: [University of Plymouth Library] On: 21 January 2011 Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 792550710] Publisher Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 3741 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

International Peacekeeping

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France's role in Rwanda and external military intervention: A double discreditingMel McNultya a Lecturer in French, The Nottingham Trent University,

To cite this Article McNulty, Mel(1997) 'France's role in Rwanda and external military intervention: A double discrediting',

International Peacekeeping, 4: 3, 24 44 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/13533319708413677 URL:

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France's Role in Rwanda and External Military Intervention: A Double DiscreditingMEL McNULTYTo understand current conflict in the African Great Lakes region, it is necessary to consider the international response to the Rwandan civil war which preceded it, and from which it springs. Recognition of the failure of this response in its most explicit form - foreign and particularly French military intervention - does not preclude other forms of analysis, but does suggest that ethnicity alone is inadequate to explain the continuation of war. It will be argued in this article that France's Rwandan interventions, far from presenting a 'very positive balance sheet' as official French discourse still maintains, have been a primary cause of the prolongation and extension of conflict in the region; and the failure of these interventions, while discrediting France's role in particular, has also brought the validity of foreign military intervention in general (humanitarian or otherwise) into question.

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Any attempt to understand the failure of the international response to the crisis since 1990 in the African Great Lakes region must first identify and then separate the factors which created the conflict from those which sustained it. Analysis of the former often overshadows the latter, to the extent that the prolongation of a war is explained away in the same terms as its origins. Such an approach may result in a failure to focus sufficient attention on the unilateral support role or active participation of a powerful external actor (which may not have been apparent when the conflict began), and a subsequent failure to expose the paradox whereby that same actor is expected to participate in peacemaking between the principal warring parties. The Rwandan civil war of 1990-94 demonstrates that external (that is, extra-regional) support for one belligerent was a major contributory factor to the prolongation and exacerbation of the conflict, particularly when it became apparent that that belligerent believed the external support to be open-ended and unconditional. Direct comparisons with the Bosnian conflict are unhelpful in this context; despite obvious external involvement in provoking and supplying the combatants, it cannot be said that any foreign (that is, non-regional) power was a direct unilateral participant, with troops on the ground. The

Mel McNulty is lecturer in French at the Nottingham Trent University. International Peacekeeping, Vol.4, No.3, Autumn 1997, pp.24-44 PUBLISHED BY FRANK CASS, LONDON



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Rwandan war is generally perceived in the same terms - as an ethnic conflict sustained by a purely internal or regional dynamic - and this has been used to explain away the severity and durability of the conflict as due entirely to local factors. These interpretations generally blame either ethnicity or 'Anglo-Saxon'/anglophone irredentism. The former suggests specifically that the post-revolutionary administrations in Uganda and Rwanda, and the rebellion in Zaire, are a mirror image or recreation of the sectarian regimes they replaced (or seek to replace); while the latter warns of an American-led conspiracy which seeks to annex valuable chunks of 'francophone' Africa and establish a Ugandan-led Tutsi-Hima hegemony from Kampala to Kinshasa. In contrast, it will argued here that the Rwandan war demands analysis as an intrastate conflict greatly exacerbated by the direct and sustained participation of a powerful external actor, not only through its support for one belligerent, but also through its own role as a combatant. The inability of international organizations to respond effectively to the Rwandan crisis, even when faced with the UN Charter's singular imperative demanding the prevention of genocide, can thereby be explained by a particular failure (or reluctance) to identify this external role, without which the conflict in Rwanda could have been briefer, less bloody and less destabilizing for the entire region. It is intended, therefore, to consider first the role of this external actor - France - as the most powerful force in the equation, in response to the more current interpretations above. Before the outbreak of the current Great Lakes crisis, its origins - in the colonial legacy of division and partition, and in the Belgian-sponsored creation in Rwanda of a sectarian, one-party regime which depended for its survival on the exclusion or elimination of its opponents have been extensively (if not always usefully) documented.1 It is not intended, therefore, to reinterpret the sources of conflict in the region, but instead to consider its longevity (over seven years) in the light of overt external involvement until 1994. Suffice to say that characterization of the crisis as ethnically driven has been used, both wittingly and unwittingly, to downplay or conceal the colonial legacy suggested above, and the centrality of the role of external (that is, extra-African) forces in fuelling, sustaining and prolonging the conflict. Accordingly, Western media coverage typically describes recent events exclusively in terms of an ethnic or even 'tribal' conflict. A countervailing analysis is possible. Although the societies of the Great Lakes were distinguished by separate castes in pre-colonial days, the current segregation into separate 'ethnicities' is a product of the colonial era, used effectively to divide and rule Rwanda's population. The country's 8 million inhabitants pre-1994 are categorized typically as Hutu (84 per cent), Tutsi (15



per cent) and Twa (1 per cent). Rwandan independence in 1962 was achieved on the colonialists' terms, through the Belgian-sponsored overthrow and exiling of those favoured (but, by 1959, anticolonial-minded) Tutsis who previously had administered on the colonialists' behalf. The accession to power of the hitherto downtrodden Hutu majority only reinforced sectarian divisions, to the extent that citizens' ethnic group continued to appear on their compulsory identity card. This practice greatly facilitated the work of the genocidal militias, that sought to eliminate Rwanda's remaining Tutsis as an inherently disloyal national minority, along with opposition Hutus and indeed those of any ethnicity who opposed them.Downloaded By: [University of Plymouth Library] At: 13:24 21 January 2011

Such a rejection of ethnocentric and Eurocentric interpretations demands a plausible alternative; this attempt to frame such an alternative will proceed by arguing, first, that in order to establish a context for the crisis - the Rwandan civil war and its spillover into Zaire - it will be necessary to consider it neither as ethnic/tribal conflict nor as anglophone plot, but as one product of the failure of foreign, especially French, military intervention in Rwanda in 1990-94; and second, that French interventions - Operations Noroit, Amaryllis, and Turquoise - do not present 'a very positive balance sheet', as French official discourse still maintains.2 Their legacy has instead been a prolongation of the Rwandan civil war from 1990 to 1993, a militarization and radicalization of a sectarian regime which allowed it room for the preparation and implementation of genocide, followed by an extension of the Rwandan war to eastern Zaire, and the subsequent escalation of that war. Thereafter, we will consider the validity of French claims to have reworked the motives and practice of its intervention strategy in keeping with post-Cold War trends and demands for humanitarian intervention; and to ask why, if France's first military-humanitarian intervention (Operation Turquoise) was such a success, did France hesitate and demand a cloak of international support when faced, in eastern Zaire in late 1996, with an apparent recreation of the 1990 intervention stimulus (a perceived 'invasion' of a friendly, francophone s