The international community has historically chosen to take Rwanda's side in its vehement denials of interference in Congo, continuing to send almost $1 billion each year to Rwanda's government, which depends for almost half its budget on foreign aid.
In July, however, several Western governments suspended foreign aid payments to Rwanda after reports emerged that it was arming the rebellion in Congo. The United States led the way, suspending a symbolic $200,000 in military assistance (a tiny percentage of its real support to Rwanda). But several of Rwanda's biggest financiers -- including the European Union, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank, many of which channel money directly to the Rwandan treasury -- have continued to gift and loan the government money and have refused to publicly condemn Rwanda's support to the rebels, despite the mounting evidence.
In September, Britain, which had previously suspended its payments, reinstated 16 million pounds in aid to the Rwandan government. Britain's former international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, who enjoys a close relationship with Kagame and whose charity work in Rwanda has been praised by the president, was criticized as a "rogue minister" by British members of Parliament for signing off on that aid on his very last afternoon in office. Other countries, including the United States, have hinted that they will merely not make any "new" aid commitments to Rwanda, but that existing promises -- which amount to several hundred million dollars -- will continue to be delivered.
Simply put, the international community seems reluctant to apply pressure on Rwanda to help end the enormous humanitarian crisis unfolding in Congo. Western countries claim that putting pressure on Kigali could bring new instability to the region -- despite the inherent absurdity in this argument, given Rwanda's destabilizing influence in Congo both now and historically.
Aid donors also fear losing what they consider a model country for development in Africa -- though such notions of development success are strictly economic. While Rwanda has reported striking economic growth since its 1994 genocide, its government is severely repressive and shows scant respect for fundamental human rights.
The latest attack on Goma also highlights the inadequacy of the 17,000-strong U.N. force, which is staffed mostly with soldiers from poor countries -- in eastern Congo, mainly soldiers from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh -- who are sent to such missions as a reward for good service at home. The U.N. per diems represent, for many soldiers, four times their regular army salaries. Peacekeepers often told me they were using their Congo stint to save up for a house or for their children's education -- they were "not in Congo to die."
The U.N. has said that once the Congolese army had fled Goma, it did not stop the M23 rebels for fear of causing civilian casualties. French Foreign Minister Fabius has meanwhile called for a review of the United Nations mission in Congo, saying it was "absurd" that the rebels had been able to parade past the idle peacekeepers. Meanwhile, the Congolese and Rwandan armies have reportedly begun to bomb each other, in the first open hostilities between the countries in years.
The resumption of fighting this spring ended a few years of gradual progress in Congo's east, in which relative stability had been established in the areas around Goma for the first time since 1996. The famous Virunga National Park had seen increasing numbers of foreign tourists keen on visiting the endangered mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. And Goma was enjoying a flurry of new construction, largely of multistory hotels.
What seems clear now is that the M23 rebels have made a decisive push to take over a part of eastern Congo. The Rwandan state also seems to be moving with conviction -- not backing down from its support for the rebellion despite repeated international appeals. And the government has been emboldened by its recent successful bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, despite credible evidence even then that it was supporting M23. And now there is talk in the region of the emergence of a new quasi-country -- a South Sudan-style annexation of mineral-rich territory in Congo.
A peaceful end to this conflict is now difficult to imagine, and it is Congo's civilians who will suffer, as they always have, the most. It is highly unlikely that the M23 rebels can be reintegrated into the Congolese national army once again -- trust has been broken by this conflict. But if the M23 are defeated, sentiments against the Rwandan-speaking minorities in Congo will become even more vitriolic and may well lead to more violence. The rebels, and Rwanda, are no doubt aware of their great gamble.