The French were obsessed by language

An old story, but still worth telling:


February 16, 2007

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 summit 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. 

“The French were obsessed by language,” he said. “I remember when I was invited to Paris in 1992 as part of a peace initiative they were angry I could not talk French. 

“That night security agents burst into my hotel room and ‘detained me’, even though I was a guest invited by them.” 

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, 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. 

Today, the large French Embassy in the centre of the hilly Rwandan capital Kigali stands empty and a heavy padlock and chain bar the entrance of the Franco-Rwandan cooperation centre. 

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