In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on Friday lauded his French counterpart, saying Emmanuel Macron has brought a “freshness” into the world of politics. Kagame’s foreign minister has just been elected to head the International Organisation of la Francophonie (OIF) and he said he was not surprised by this historic appointment. Kagame, however, dodged questions about whether this had been a Kigali-Paris backdoor deal to better relations between the countries.
Kagame was full of praise for the French leader when he spoke to FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman and RFI’s Christophe Boisbouvier on the sidelines of this year’s OIF summit, which is the world organisation of French-speaking nations and was held in Yerevan in Armenia.
“I think President Macron has brought some freshness into politics, not only in France, but in Africa and the rest of the world,” he said, noting that he was most likely elected by the French because “he represented something new and different”.
“I’m hoping to see good progress in the relationship between Rwanda and France, [when it comes to] people, leaders, diplomacy. There is a lot of progress and that will bring in so many things, including the strengthening of diplomatic ties,” he said, adding: “If it was two years ago we would be dealing with different people [leaders in France], now we’re dealing with President Macron who I think has an open mind to things.”
Despite Rwanda’s dire human rights record, its OIF candidate, Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, has been supported by France ever since Kagame – while on a visit to Paris – announced her candidacy back in May.
Critics say her appointment is political and nothing but an effort between Kigali and Paris to try to turn the page of nearly a quarter-century of acrimony, rooted in accusations by Rwanda – rejected by France – of French involvement in the 1994 genocide.
The OIF’s outgoing leader, Canadian politician Michaëlle Jean, expressed frustration at the controversial pick in her parting address. Kagame said he had noticed the angry tone in the speech too, but called it “an insult to the wisdom of so many people and so many countries in the Francophonie [members]”.
Kagame also rejected claims that Rwanda’s September liberation of 2,000 political prisoners, including the freeing of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, was an act of goodwill towards France for supporting its OIF candidate.
“After [the] 1994 [genocide] we’ve released so many people, so many times. It’s just an occurrence that happens and that has its own current,” he said.
Kagame also spoke about the upcoming elections in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and why English is now one of his country’s three official languages, alongside Kinyarwanda and French.