It’s hotting up again in the eastern DRC where the government’s intention to arrest a notorious warlord has sparked intense conflict and a refugee exodus. It seems General Bosco “the Terminator” Ntaganda doesn’t want to be arrested. By SIMON ALLISON.
The eastern corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo is threatening to explode into conflict once again. News reports – rarely completely reliable in this part of Africa, where journalism is dangerous and unrewarding – indicate the fragile three-year-old peace in North Kivu has shattered. The government has lost control of two towns, thousands of people have fled their homes, and hundreds of soldiers have deserted.
At the centre of all the reports is one name: General Bosco “the Terminator” Ntaganda, warlord, army chief, businessman, rebel. He’s been involved in the troubles in eastern Congo since they began; involvement of such malevolence the International Criminal Court has charged him with crimes against humanity. “Bosco has commanded the abduction of children in broad daylight, rape, and systematic massacres,” wrote The New York Times. “Evidence against him includes videotape of his 2008 command of the door-to-door execution of 150 villagers.” These charges became more credible with the conviction in The Hague of Bosco’s one-time comrade-in-arms, Thomas Lubanga, found guilty of recruiting and deploying child soldiers.
Nonetheless, while Lubanga faced trial and Joseph Kony was being hunted down on Facebook and Twitter, Bosco enjoyed a high-ranking position in the Congolese army and a life of luxury in Goma, complete with large villa, fine dining and the odd game of tennis. His position was secured by political expediency. Without his cooperation and that of the armed movement he controls, peace in North Kivu would be impossible, ran the government’s argument against arresting him. His one-time rebel movement, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) was integrated into the Congolese Army in 2009, in a move designed to ensure the rebels’ livelihoods while bringing them into the fold.
This tense arrangement was working, to an extent, until the most recent violence, which the government of the DRC disingenuously blames exclusively on Bosco. Julien Paluku, governor of North Kivu, speaking on the government’s behalf, said, “If our units catch hold of him, he will have to answer for all his actions before Congolese jurisdictions”.
But the government is no innocent party. While it’s true that Bosco has taken the soldiers loyal to him and abandoned the Congolese army for his stronghold in Masisi, it’s also true that he had a good, if self-interested, reason to do so. For this we can thank Joseph Kabila’s administration in Kinshasa, which, having just won an election, is consolidating its power wherever possible. Hence Kabila’s recent announcement that Bosco would be arrested and tried before a military tribunal (significantly, not before the ICC). “We ourselves can arrest him because we have more than 100 reasons to arrest and judge him right here [in Goma], and if not here, then in Kinshasa or elsewhere in our country,” said the president.
Jason Stearns, an expert on the politics of the area, noted that international pressure may have had something to do with this rather surprising decision. “Diplomats appear to be taking advantage of the post-electoral turmoil to push some policy points. The compromise with Kabila's government seems to be: we have accepted the fraudulent elections, but if you want international legitimacy, carry out some quick-and-easy reforms. Arresting Bosco is part of this, and on my recent trip to Kinshasa his name was on the lips of many diplomats.” Unsurprisingly, rather than wait to be arrested, Bosco fled and took his men with him.
The sudden aggression between Bosco and the Congolese government will shake up the complex mix of tribal affiliations and political loyalties that make the North Kivu area so volatile. Of particular concern is where Rwanda stands in all this. North Kivu borders Rwanda, and it’s where the remnants of Rwanda’s “genocidaires” fled in 1994. The Rwandan army went deep into Congolese territory to find them, and stayed, claiming to protect the Congolese people who are ethnically Tutsi. Not coincidentally, they helped themselves to some of the DRC’s lucrative natural resources in the process. Rwanda has at one time or another been both an ally and an enemy to Bosco, and their allegiance at the moment is unclear.
Meanwhile, Bosco himself denies that he’s done anything wrong. “I am not involved in what happens here, I am an officer in the army of the DRC and I obey the orders of my superiors," Ntaganda said. "My problem is between me and my superiors…" Unfortunately, his problem is a little larger than that, and, as always, it will be the long-suffering citizens of eastern DRC that pay the price. DM
- As fighting in Kivus intensifies, deeper problems linger on Congo Siasa.
- Bosco Ntaganda, the Congolese ‘Terminator’ on BBC News.
- Thousands flee fighting in the DRC in the Guardian.
Photo: General Bosco Ntaganda addresses a news conference in Kabati, a village located in Congo's eastern North Kivu province, January 8, 2009. A dissident commander who is challenging General Laurent Nkunda's leadership of Congo's Tutsi rebels said on Thursday Nkunda was obstructing efforts to achieve peace in the country's war-ravaged east. REUTERS/Abdul Ndemere.