About one year ago, I wrote an appeal for the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC to facilitate the arrest of Gen. Bosco Ntaganda. My hope is still nothing but a pipe dream.
Since 2006, Gen. Ntaganda is on the International Criminal Court's (ICC) wanted list but has remained elusive. This is despite the fact that he maintains a visible presence in Goma, a city on the shores of Lake Kivu.
Needless to say, Ntaganda continues to wreck havoc, and is notoriously involved in massive violations of human rights--including the rape of Congo's women. What's more? he is reaping millions of dollars in profits from the illegal sale of minerals and forced taxation on the most vulnerable communities. He is a big obstacle to reform in a region that needs it urgently.
Some of the crimes committed by Gen. Ntaganda have been more obvious. In 2008, his army of thugs killed 150 people in the village of Kiwanja. Reporters by France 24 visited the scene, finding bodies of women and children littered all over the area. The videos from the scene continue to haunt me. Yet four years later, not much has changed.
The recently released UN experts report on the DRC, offer new insights into the networks of Gen. Ntaganda who goes by the deserved nickname of "the Terminator". Hardly surprising, his links extend into neighboring Rwanda.
Who is Bosco Ntaganda?
Purposefully so, not much is known about his early life. What we know is that Gen. Ntaganda got his formative military training from the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), a movement of Tutsi rebels that aimed at ousting the then Hutu dominated regime in Rwanda. At the time, the RPF desperately needed to increase heir ranks of fighters. Ntaganda might be Congo-born, but in this part of the world, ethnic ties often transcend borders.
After the RPF's victory in Rwanda, Gen. Ntaganda continued with his expedition, playing an important role in the first Congo war. When the then president of DRC, Joseph Kabila sought to expel Rwandans from the military, Ntaganda and his fellow ethnic fighters balkanized the eastern region. From 1998-2003, much of the Eastern region was under their [Rwanda's] control. Back then, Rwanda used the rebel group, Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) as the political proxy.
In 2003, the Rwandan and Ugandan occupation of the DRC came to an official end. Rwanda's original pretext for invading and occupying the DRC had been to combat elements of the Interahamwe and the former army. However, at some point down the road, they had abandoned this mission and focused in stead on looting Congo's minerals. Thus by 2003, the Hutu fighters were still intact. They operated under the acronym FDLR.
Tutsi fighters such as Laurent Nkunda, Bosco Ntaganda and Jules Mutebutsi, used this pretext for the second time and started rebellion. This is how the so called Coalition for the National Defense of the People (CNDP) was born. Its main goal though was to secure mining and other commercial interests for the broader Tutsi elites.
Is the situation changing?
We often get so pessimistic that we forget that some things are actually changing. In the past, very few people questioned Rwanda's incursions in the DRC. Today, the pressure has increased, and the crimes there are increasingly being subjected to international scrutiny. This is a dramatic change from he previous decade.
So crucial is the scrutiny that a few of the actors have pending judicial warrants. Laurent Nkunda, the founder of the CNDP is a "guest of the state" in Rwanda. The government there keeps him home, which reduces his "effectiveness". In fact, it was the international scrutiny that forced Rwanda to take this unprecedented action.
With Ntaganda, someone needs to put him on a leash.With the largest peacekeeping contingent in the DRC, it is regrettable that the man continues to celebrate impunity. In fact, the worrying trend is that the DRC army has started to work with him. During this year's election, he was a crucial asset, forcing people vote the "right way".
What does the UN report of experts say?
It is clear from the report that Ntaganda continues to enjoy unconditional support from Rwanda and the DRC, which has mutated him into a super gangster of some sort, completely above the law.
Ntaganda owns several properties in Goma and Gisenyi, Rwanda. He also has several bank accounts in Rwanda, and his wife is regularly spotted there. It was reported that Gen. Ntaganda makes a cool $15,000 every week from taxes on the border between DRC and Rwanda. He also the main supplier of gold, which earns him a lot more. Some of his commercial clients include the NBA player, Dikembe Mutombo.
It is also claimed that Ntaganda crossed over to Rwanda two times last year, but Rwandan officials failed to arrest him claiming that he is not their problem. By all indications, Gen. Ntaganda is still a key destabilizing factor. Arresting him will have a big impact in restoring security in the region.
Is there a long term solution to the cisis?
The long term solution must address the root causes of violence in the eastern region. Specifically, it must resolve the FDLR problem since CNDP and Rwanda use it as a pretext for further violence. So far, the international community seems to prefer a military solution to the problems in the Kivu. The strategy has miserably failed and with devastating consequences on civilians.
The UN expert's report states that, "the FDLR remains the most militarily strong and politically significant rebels group" in eastern DRC. This is despite being subjected to numerous military offensives. The FDLR has also continued to commit atrocities against the Congolese population. However, they see themselves as freedom fighters, and refuse to put down arms until their demands are met.
The tragedy in our region is that we have not seriously considered alternative methods of conflict mediation. With the clear absence of democracy in the region, almost always, rebels groups are the only avenue for regime change. I do need to state the presence of cruel dictatorship in Rwanda, gives legitimacy to some of FDLR's grievances.
A stable future lies in dialogue, and my hope is that Rwanda wills Seriously consider talking to the FDLR. Yes, the FDLR is a dirty movement with elements that are accused of genocide. Hypocrisy aside, it is the same case for Kagame's army. There are no angles in this macabre game. What the people urgently need is peace and some form of justice!
Click here to access the latest UN report of experts.