For decades, Rwanda has been one of nearly 30 Francophone
countries in Africa where the language of business, power, and
civilization has been French.
Up until recently, the French-speaking elite here saw their ties
to Paris as a link to the civilized outside world. Top bureaucrats
and scientists would get their university degrees from France's top
ecoles. Those who returned to Africa would often take up positions
in government after having served briefly as functionaries in the
But today, on the sprawling campus of the Kigali Institute of
Science and Technology (KIST), a dramatic social change can be seen.
Designed in 1997 to be an African version of MIT, KIST is shaping a
new generation of scientists, engineers, and technical minds to help
Rwanda become the Singapore of Africa. English is their language of
English? Mon Dieu!
The change came about in 1994. After a brutal 100-day genocide,
when Rwanda's then ruling Hutu majority massacred some 800,000
minority Tutsis, an English-speaking Tutsi rebel movement based in
Uganda swept into Rwanda, forcing the French-speaking Hutu
genocidaires into exile.
Et voila, Rwanda became Anglophone.
Combined with Rwanda's November 2006 decision to cut relations
with France, the transformation of Rwanda into an English-speaking
country is already creating political and economic ripples
throughout the region.
"France's relations with Rwanda, under former President Jacques
Chirac, completely broke down," says Greg Mills, director of the
Brenthurst Foundation, a think tank in Johannesburg. Mr. Mills
believes that the election of a younger French president, Nicolas
Sarkozy, may provide a needed break. "There is a potential under
Sarkozy for a change. But it's no good saying there is going to be a
change, unless you admit there are things that needed to be
France's current troubles here in Rwanda are an outgrowth of its
post-colonial policy of supporting African regimes in return for
preferential trade and military relations with France. Under Mr.
Chirac, this made regimes less susceptible to coups, but also less
responsive to their populations.
"Jacques Chirac was a supporter of Africa, but he relied on an
intimacy with leaders and the political class that is not going to
be the case with President Sarkozy," says one Western diplomat in
the region, speaking privately. Under Sarkozy, France is more likely
to use its influence in Africa through multilateral organizations,
the diplomat adds.
But there are some aspects of French policy that still roil. The
French-created Common African Franc, or CFA, allows 16 African
countries to trade with each other and with France on a preferential
basis, but economists say it also restricts CFA countries from
trading with anyone else.
Since the early 1990s, and particularly after the 1994 Rwandan
genocide, many French-speaking Africans have begun to see their
relationship with Paris as more burden than boon.
"Not that much has changed since liberation; Africa is still a
profitable region in terms of France's commercial trade balance,"
says Achille Mbembe, history professor from Cameroon, who teaches at
Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. …