On April 2nd, 2014 the African Diaspora [mainly Congolese and Rwandan] gathered in Brussels to denounce presidents Joseph Kabila and Paul Kagame respectively of Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. They had been invited to participate to the 4th meeting Europe-Africa. Protests against these two leaders have been going on for years. With the Ugandan president Joweri Museveni, the three presidents are responsible of the death of more than 8 million African souls in the Great lakes region. Last year the organization Don’t Be Blind This Time staged in London a series of events advocating for justice for the victims. Spanish journalist Rosa Moro interviewed Ambrose Nzeyimana, member of the organizing team, on the movement behind the advocacy work he was involved in. The following interview is reproduced prior to an upcoming event of Dying in the Great Lakes region to be held in Madrid on May 10th 2014.
Rosa Moro: I think there is a new fresh air in advocating about the situation in Congo and Great Lakes region, with young people like Congolese historian teacher BK Kumbi [part of the leading team of Don’t Be Blind This Time], that gives us all great hope. Am I right?
Ambrose Nzeyimana: Yes and No. I don’t think the new fresh air in advocacy comes from the fact that involved people from the region are young. I think they are instead realizing more and more that they need to work together and be more innovative in their approach, because their enemy has many faces and uses sophisticated tactics and tools to kill, oppress and intimidate people of the region and cover up its trails of crimes. It is not about youth mainly but about the level of consciousness which is taking hold of that segment of the population from the Great Lakes region and the fact that the tragedy has been there far too long and does not seem to end; consequently, by not doing something, everyone is starting to realize that this would be to condemn future generations. We [young and old] are taking more and more responsibilities in the face of the present and future of our people.
Rosa Moro: It seems that the West is tired of sorrows and it’s not interested any more, if at any time it has ever been, in this human suffering.Ambrose Nzeyimana: You are right saying that the West is perhaps tired of sorrows, if at any time it did seem to care. There is some sort of sorrow fatigue from Westerners because of who is telling the story, the reason and how it is being told. Africans want to write their own story, not to have it interpreted in a way that serves Westerners’ interests. It is not even about sorrow. Africans are not asking for aid or any sympathy, but to be left alone in dealing with their own affairs peacefully without direct or indirect western interference, using sometimes local proxies. In fact, it would be mutually beneficial if that was to happen. For example I find it difficult for a Westerner to point to the responsibilities of their own government when all its institutions show daily to its public that they are doing all the right things in every area of the nation’s life including its foreign policies and economic interests. There can only be people for example from the Great Lakes region who are victims of that government’s practices seen as perfect in the eyes of its general public to point to what for example US, UK, Belgium, Germany or EU as an institution are doing which is harming our people back home.
Rosa Moro: What do you think about this new momentum given by young people like BK Kumbi and others, with social media, with more and more people with no fear any more in the Diaspora? Will it work? Will it reach some new goal? Is there any similar human momentum in the African region?
Ambrose Nzeyimana: When one is testing a new approach or idea, they don’t know yet its full potential until they put it at work and see what it is capable of achieving. It is true BK Kumbi has used social media very effectively particularly in mobilizing signatures for petitions for specific actions in recent months. On my side I have been using facebook, twitter a bit less, but my blog The Rising Continent very extensively. What such mobilization has been achieving is also raising awareness on issues of the Great Lakes region among a wide range of people who would not be bothered otherwise, because of their lack of information.
The more people like BK Kumbi there will be the more their action will have some impact. In the African region there are logistical and political limitations, which impede people from operating as effectively as those based in Western countries where for example internet access is easier and freedom of expression much more available, where people are not prosecuted for their ideas.
Another element to take into consideration is the motivation behind each individual commitment to doing something. There are millions of people from the Great Lakes who have been affected by the human tragedy but their responses have been very varied. A very tiny minority, even so small to be effective, has become very active to respond through advocacy to the suffering experienced by entire nations.
Some new goal the current activism could achieve is the creation of a stronger advocacy network of Africans well versed into the issues that their continent is faced with. This new group of activists could become central in shaping new directions of foreign policies of countries interested in the continent.
Rosa Moro: Until the big protest in Paris, September 2011, staged by Congolese, Rwandans and Burundians, against Kagame’s visit to Sarkozy, I didn’t see before a united struggle. It’s more and more clear, among the Diaspora at least, that the civil society from Great Lakes has come together, identified the root causes and those responsible for their common problem and are willing to fight as one. Am I right? Since when the different peoples of Great Lakes have united?Ambrose Nzeyimana: It took many years for the Diaspora from the Great Lakes region to understand the issues their people are faced with as connected with those experienced in neighboring countries. The origin of that difficulty originated from the lack of reference to such connection among the leaders of opinion in different communities of that Diaspora. It is only around 2009 that for example politicians from the Rwandan opposition and civil society started emphasizing the intertwined problems for people of the region. They sought and started building bridges between particularly Congolese and Rwandan communities. Those among us who saw that connection much earlier had already began using the framework of seeing issues of the region not separate from one country to the other.
Rosa Moro: How have you participated in this event?
Ambrose Nzeyimana: I was part of the organizing committee and particularly helped in getting different authorizations to stage the event in Central London.
I discussed the idea with BK Kumbi that she had suggested. I found it very original and supported her in getting people from different communities behind it.
Rosa Moro: In a few words, why should we all go to the next Dying in the Great Lakes region event?
Ambrose Nzeyimana: This movement that the event of Saturday 14/09/13 has started is about the ongoing tragedy in the Great Lakes region and particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo. If the rest of the world is keen to the fact that we are all human beings, if some of us are victims of wars or genocides, wherever we are, we have a moral obligation to stand against any forces behind such tragedies.
Mandela in South Africa came out of prison in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment, not only because of the actions of his ANC movement inside the country, but also significantly because of an international strong lobbying campaign which worked persistently for his release. In the case of the Great Lakes region, more than 8 million souls have been decimated in the last two decades. I am strongly convinced that a global campaign to address the root causes of that tragedy could change the ongoing situation, if well handled.
Rosa Moro: How do you see the future of the Great Lakes?
Ambrose Nzeyimana: The future of the Great Lakes region depends on what its people will make of it. There are evil forces represented mainly by present criminal leaders who are ruling in those countries [Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo]. These leaders [Joweri Museveni, Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila] are supported by some western governments with their multinationals exploiting Congolese resources. On the other side there are their victims and those who are trying to change the prevailing situation for the better. The future will however depend most on the determination of the forces for change consisting of citizens from the region and Diaspora and their resourcefulness.
Articles of Rosa Moro about the event Dying in the Great Lakes region held in London on September 14th, 2013.
Petition to sign: http://www.change.org/petitions/african-union-african-governments-acknowledge-the-genocide-against-the-people-of-the-dr-congo?utm_campaign=petition_created&utm_medium=email&utm_source=guides