Spotlight on Africa - What's behind Macron's courting of the African diaspora?
France has recently made overtures to the African diaspora, inviting them to be the bridge between France and their countries of origin. Critics say it's move to regain a foothold in the former colonies. But France's African community could leverage its influence to ask for recognition at home.
In France, there are no statistics on "race" or ethnicity. Racial categories that are commonplace in the US and UK such as white, black or Asian don’t exist.
The logic is simple: to avoid racism, avoid categorising people by race and instead treat everyone equally. This is the Republican egalitarian ethos. It is held up in France as a powerful rebuke of the racist ideology propagated by the Nazi regime.
In World War Two, the former collaborationist regime enabled the roundup of thousands of Jews, based on their race and ethnicity.
However, the experience of discrimination felt by some in France's African community has led to growing calls for more visibility of ethnic minorities.
Today, the French government is reaching out to Africans in the diaspora to help it foster greater connections with the African continent.
Paris has lost ground to countries like China in a scramble for influence in this new Eldorado.
President Emmanuel Macron has said that if Africa fails then all of Europe will fail, and wants the diaspora to serve as a buffer. If they play their cards right, France's African community could leverage their influence to ask for more recognition at home.
So who are they? What are their aspirations? And what effect can the diaspora have on French society? In the coming weeks, RFI's Christina Okello will take you on a journey to explore the rich diversity in France, starting with its African diaspora.
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Spotlight on Africa - Teenage flight of fancy from Cape Town to Cairo
A group of 20 teenagers are set to make aviation history when they fly a light aircraft from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo in Egypt on 15 June.
Together they will fly the length of the continent, covering over 10,000 kilometres in a plane they assembled themselves.
Seventeen-year-old Megan Werner was behind the initiative, and founded U-Dream Global, an aviation outreach initiative that fosters “visionary thinking” to inspire young people to pursue their dreams.
Speaking from Johannesburg, Megan explains more about this project to RFI.
Spotlight on Africa - Rwanda's challenging road to reconciliation
In the 25 years since the Rwandan genocide, the country has emerged to become one of Africa’s success stories. Its remarkable recovery has stemmed from efforts towards nation-building. But some critics argue this bid for ethnic reconciliation is far from complete. In this week’s Spotlight on Africa, RFI's Christina Okello travels to Kigali to explore how Rwanda has dealt with the trauma of its past.
Tucked away in a courtyard away from the main commercial area in Kigali, is a small memorial site dominated by an imposing building of red bricks and white panels. The building is the Sainte Famille church, the largest Catholic Church in Rwanda. It is also where more than 2,000 people were massacred during the 1994 genocide.
“We still remember those people who was killed, who are called Abatutsi [or Tutsi] people,” recounts 19-year-old Nadine Ouwiduhaye, pointing to the names of the victims engraved on a black marble wall.
When violence broke out on 7 April following the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana, many residents from troubled districts of Kigali fled to Sainte Famille church to seek refuge, only to be handed over to Hutu militias by the priest in charge there.
“I’m just looking at these people; they’re too many. This is something like inhumanity. How can people take something like a knife and put to the neck of others, how they can kill their people, kill their child, how people can kill his mother? Just too many questions,” Ouwiduhaye told RFI.
Is God listening?
Up to one million Tutsis and Hutus were killed in a brutal one-hundred-day massacre that has led some to question whether God exists. In his commemoration speech to mark the 25th anniversary since the killings, President Paul Kagame reiterated the poem of a young girl who once said: “Where was God on those dark nights of genocide?”
“People say he was absent, no he wasn’t,” responds Ouwiduhaye.
“Something bad happened, it doesn’t mean God forgot us. He is trying to teach us how we can treat each other, how we can be together. Before, they didn’t have a unit, they just had something like Tutsi, Hutu, Twa. But right now, we are just Rwandan, all of us we are just Rwandan,” she said.
Today, ethnic labels in Rwanda have been erased, and most children like Ouwiduhaye have grown up with the idea of “Rwandaness,” inculcated into them in education camps, known as ingando that try to minimize ethnic differences.
“Many people don’t understand how we have made this reconciliation,” comments Rwandan author Jean-Marie Vianney Rurangwa, who was invited to discuss his work in preserving the memory of the genocide.
Author of four books on the topic, including Au Sortir De l’Enfer (Out of Hell), Rurangwa explains how writing about the genocide can “teach the youth about all those atrocities so that they cannot be repeated.”
Roots of Genocide
Explaining the racist ideology that sowed the roots of hatred between Hutus and Tutsis is a start. Traditionally, Hutus were people who farmed crops, while a Tutsi minority made up Rwanda’s cattle-keeping aristocracy. Because cattle were more valuable than crops, the minority Tutsis became the local elite. Gradually, these class divisions became ethnic distinctions, which were later exploited by German and Belgian colonisers. When in 1959, a Hutu elite toppled the Tutsi royal family, the regime that followed took a staunch nationalist turn, forcing thousands of Tutsis to flee.
“The genocide didn’t just start in 1994,” says Rurangwa. “There were episodes of violence even in 1961,” after the Hutu majority won the country’s first elections; and “right up until 1990,” he said.
“Forgetting would be a mistake,” he adds, saying how writing about his experience and the identity battle he’s faced since, has been “cathartic” not just for him but for others. “Sharing pain can be a kind of healing.”
Accusations of genocide denial
Yet officials accuse critics of trying to create an alternative truth. In their crosshairs are people like Hutu opposition leader Victoire Ingabire. The government has long accused her of inciting “divisionist” (i.e. Hutu v Tutsi) rebellion, an allegation she has always denied.
Last September, Ingabire was freed from prison after eight years in detention, following a decision by Kagame to pardon over 2,000 inmates. She continues to campaign for what she believes is the truth.
“I ask for justice for all Rwandans, it does not mean that I minimize the importance of the Tutsi genocide,” she told RFI.
By everyone, Ingabire means the thousands of Hutu civilians who were killed by Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) forces as they hunted down those who had committed the genocide in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, which later expanded into calamitous regional wars.
“The crimes committed by certain members of the RPF are never mentioned. We are not allowed to discuss it. So how can we talk about reconciliation?”
Yet everywhere reconciliation and unity are espoused by the state. When speaking at the 25th commemoration of the genocide, Paul Kagame vowed to never allow such large-scale violence to ever happen again.
And indeed, there has been none. Dissent too has been carefully stifled throughout the RPF’s time in power, much to the dismay of rights groups.
Moreover, government indicators such as the Rwanda Reconciliation Barometer, an opinion survey conducted every five years, routinely reports that more than 90 percent of Rwandans believe their communities have fully reconciled.
This reconciliation has been based on a collective memory of the past to construct a post-ethnic national identity.
The aim is to get people to “come out of their traumatic memories and divisive identities and go for nationhood,” explains Eric Ndushabandi, director of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace.
The political choice is to say “You have been taught this, you have been reading this, but the truth is this,” he told RFI.
Dealing with trauma
Common experiences often allow individuals to cope when memories are particularly traumatic. But some Rwandans want to simply forget.
“There are traumatic wounds, which come back,” comments Ndushabandi, who runs community dialogue sessions between survivors and perpetrators in villages. “People are looking at their scars and traumatic memories and they say, oh, this proximity and inter-relationship; it’s still very problematic.”
The other concern is that promoting one Rwandan identity could provide “an escape route for people who have to take responsibility for their deeds,” reckons Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a research chair on historical trauma and transformation at the Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, who participated in activities during the 25th commemoration of the genocide.
While nation building is “a tremendous idea, that we as South Africans can learn from, the problem is when people immediately replace the idea of being ‘I am one Rwanda’, without taking accountability and acknowledging what they did. I think that’s where the slippage lies,” she told RFI.
The trauma of the genocide remains endemic throughout the population and affects the youth in particular, despite many of them being born after the mass killing.
“I cannot say that I was not affected by it [the genocide], because my parents, my grandparents are affected by it,” says Rwanda University student Deborah Chisozo.
“This is a painful time for everyone because they’re telling us stories, about that history, that was a very dark time here in our country,” she told RFI, as the country observes a 100-day mourning period for the 800,000 Tutsis and 30,000 moderate Hutus who were killed.
“I feel bad, some of my friends are having trauma because of that time. But we’re going to pass it and we have hope that we’re going to have a beautiful country.”
There are “encouraging signs,” coming from the youth, says Vincent Sezibera, a professor of psychology at the University of Rwanda.
“Wherever you go, you have clubs of young people,” made up of “children born from survivors and children born from perpetrators, collaborating together,” he told RFI.
The youth were the centerpiece of this year’s tribute. “They send a clear message that a child born from a perpetrator is not necessarily a perpetrator, and they even go on to say that the perpetrator of yesterday is not necessarily a perpetrator of tomorrow,” adds Sezibera.
Such youth clubs have taken on names such as Ikisere, which means hope in Kinyarwanda, the official language. “I’m surprised by their resilience but also the creativity of the young generation. And yes, it gives me hope,” he said.
Spotlight on Africa - One month on, Chadian diaspora still angry over French air strikes
Chadians living in France and Germany have been demonstrating against French air strikes supporting Chad’s longtime autocratic ruler, Idriss Deby. The strikes on 3 February were intended to prevent an armed group from Libya from toppling the president. Instead, they have sparked familiar accusations of French interference in African politics.
French authorities have defended the strikes against Chadian rebels, insisting that it was Deby himself who invited them in.
But is Paris overstepping the mark? And, is President Emmanuel Macron's hopes of resetting France's fraught relationship with Africa now in tatters?
Click 'Play' above to listen to this week's Spotlight on Africa.
Spotlight on Africa - Spreading the word of dementia amongst Nigeria's growing elderly population
With one of the largest populations in Africa, Nigeria has nearly 200 million people. And with that is a rise in the number of elderly people, but many are unprepared with seeing loved ones suffer from the problems of dementia. But with traditions still very intact, often those suffering from the effects of dementia are feared to be witches, wizards or possessed by a supernatural spirit.
In this edition of Spotlight on Africa, hear about one woman's campaign to spread the word of dementia and to ensure that those suffering from the brain disease are getting the help they need.
You can read more about it here