Small Wars Journal

Book Review - Silent Accomplice: The Untold Story of France's Role in the Rwandan Genocide

The second in a promised trilogy of Rwandan reviews from Tom Odom, serial SWJ

contributor and highly regarded Small Warrior. 

Link to review #1.  #2 follows:

A review of:

Silent Accomplice: The Untold Story of France's Role in the Rwandan Genocide

Andrew Wallis, London: I.B. Tauris &Co Ltd, 2006.

Reviewed by:

Thomas (Tom) P. Odom

LTC US Army (ret)


Journey Into Darkness: Genocide In Rwanda

As a member of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization in 1988, I once

spent a week on observation post duty in El Arish, Egypt with a French Army captain

of Vietnamese-French heritage.  I remember that week well because he convinced

me to try Nuc Mong (rotten fish oil sauce).  To my relief, it did not taste

fishy.  Seven years later I attended a diplomatic function in Kigali, Rwanda

where to my surprise my former El Arish comrade was introduced as the newly arrived

second secretary of the French embassy.  Unlike the Nuc Mong in 1987, his arrival

in Kigali in 1995 was most definitely fishy.  He was using a different name

and he pretended not to know when I grabbed his hand and addressed him by what had

served as his first name the last time we met.   This encounter only increased

the sour taste I had in my mouth regarding French activities and policies toward

Rwanda before, during, and after the genocide.

I offer that vignette as a metaphor well suited to introducing Andrew Wallis's


Silent Accomplice: The Untold Story of France's Role in the Rwandan Genocide.

Wallis offers a wider review of French and Rwandan sources in discussing France's

relationship to the Rwandan tragedy.  His interviews with French and Rwandan

sources, especially members of the former Rwandan military are quite valuable. 

Wallis sets these interviews against a larger examination of the Mitterrand regime

that is in itself damning.  France or at least France as defined by that peculiar

relationship between the French exterior forces and the French presidential cabinet

put as priority number one maintenance of the Francophone African club. In the case

of Rwanda, Mitterrand and company would seek to maintain a repressive regime even

as it plotted and executed a full blown genocide against its own people.  Worse,

France would continue to openly and covertly support and succor that regime as it

lost the war. That support continued after the war ended.  Despite Wallis'

title, France pursued this policy openly and defiantly.  As a survey of this

episode with an attention to French and Rwandan sourced details, Wallis's book does

offer new insights.

On the other hand, Wallis's work is not as well researched as its jacket proclaims. 

First of all he is not revealing an untold story.  Gérard Prunier's

The Rwanda Crisis

and Linda Melvern's

Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide

both walked down this path on the Rwandan genocide.  They remain the standard

baseline for journalistic coverage of the war and genocide.  Prunier was actually

inside Operation Turquoise as an "advisor." Such credentials are hard to match. 

Melvern has done tremendous work in sifting through the available evidence that

has emerged after the clearing of the camps in Zaire and the International Tribunal

in Arusha.  Wallis falls short of matching their work.

Still I recommend this book to all who want to understand what happened in

Rwanda.  I would especially recommend it given current French and

French-proxy efforts to market the "two genocide" pabulum espoused by the

surviving Hutu extremists and their supporters.