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Victoria Uwonkunda Headshot

The Tide Is Changing

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The first time atrocities started in the Great Lakes region, the international community had eyes on Srebrenica killings and Ratko Mladić. Two years later when the Congo war fully blew up, the world was still trying to make some sense of two of the worst genocides in recent human history, so we paid little attention if any at all.

After Rwanda, the international community said "Never again," yet it would seem that whenever Africa is ripped apart by conflict and wars, the very same community is looking elsewhere. Darfur soon followed and instead of acting, we kept calm and carried on.

So when a recent UN report condemned the Rwandan government and accused them of supporting insurgent militias in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), what does the international community do? Nothing. One would assume that if a body like the UN gathers experts to compile evidence and proof that M23, the new militias wreaking havoc in the region, received direct assistance from Paul Kagame's government, something would be done. President Kagame has since vehemently denied the charges, unsurprising really, as anyone accused of such serious allegations would.

President Kagame has for a long time enjoyed the support and praise from the world's biggest and most powerful leaders and governments. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has called Kagame "one of the greatest leaders of our time," and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who frequently makes regular trips to Kigali and currently acts as Kagame's unpaid adviser, goes as far as calling him a close and personal friend. The good relations between Kagame and the US were cemented when in 2009 Kagame's eldest son, Ivan Cyomoro, was enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

But it seems this relationship is souring. The United States, one of Kagame's staunch supporters, last week halted its military aid to Rwanda amid allegations the government was supporting M23 and Bosco Ntaganda, the militias' leader who was indicted by the International Crime Court six years ago for war crimes and use of child soldiers. The $200,000 amount may seem like a small act, but coupled with recent comments from the head of the U.S. war crimes office, Stephen Rapp, to the Guardian saying that the "M23 was reinforced by Rwanda" and warned "individuals who were aiding them from across the border could be held criminally responsible," one can begin to wonder if the love affair between Kagame and the U.S. has run its course.

Kagame's seemingly unshakeable support from the international community, with the U.S. and UK at the forefront, is riddled with the guilt of not having stopped the devastating 1994 genocide that killed nearly a million people in just 100 days. But for how long can we afford to remain silent for our past sins? When we said "Never again," what did we really mean? Are there certain people we were alluding to and not others? Aren't the women and young girls in the DRC, who are raped and killed by these militias on a daily basis, worth our attention?

The U.S. has finally publicly spoken up, but what about the UK? When will David Cameron, whose government is Rwanda's biggest bilateral donor with an astounding £83 million in annual aid, openly make a statement? How is it a country like the UK sits by and does nothing while one of their foremost aid recipients is accused of "aiding and abetting" crimes against humanity by the United Nations? Wouldn't the Department for International Development (DFID) question whether some of the aid money bestowed on Rwanda is being used to support the M23, as the UN report suggests?

We've stood on the sidelines for far too long now, we watched the crackdown on freedom of press, jailing and killing of political opponents and journalists who speak against Kagame and his government. When will we voice our concerns for the plight of the innocent millions of people who continue to suffer for mineral resources, that this war is based on? As long as the powerful West remains silent, mothers and daughters will continue to be raped, fathers and sons will continue to be slaughtered. And history repeats itself. As the saying goes: "Evil wins when good men fail to act."