Originally published on Cry For Freedom In Rwanda
I am not the type that likes to simplify conflicts. If possible I try not to. However, I think in some rare instances this becomes a necessity. The film-makers of Kony 2012 have already advanced this argument. I cautiously follow the trail.
If there is one man that makes me less optimistic about the prospects of peace in eastern DRC, it’s one Gen. Bosco Ntaganda.
A lot has already been written and said about the crimes of this “killer king of North Kivu“. Yet he remains rabidly defiant and elusive. An op-ed piece in the New York Times recently noted that he “continues to live a life of leisure” despite a three-year old indictment by the International Criminal Court.
His life might be full of leisure–he said to own several night clubs in the city of Goma and businesses in nearby Gisenyi– however, pleasure for this stateless dictator comes with a high cost for eastern Congo residents.
The “general” has been implicated in rape, the abduction of child soldiers and possible ethnic cleansing.
Why has Ntaganda remained so elusive and untouchable? Is it really possible that the 17,000 UN peacekeeping force is incapable of arresting him? The answer lies in the nature of politics in the fragile states of both Rwanda and DRC.
According to an investigative piece by both Setano Valentino and Anneke Verbraeken, Ntaganda enjoys the support of both Rwanda and DRC. He is literally the dowry that makes possible a marriage of convenience between Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila since 2009. As the two benefit directly from Ntaganda, they have made it impossible for rebel-in-chief to be arrested. The indictment by the ICC has been reduced to a useless and meaningless piece of paper.
Ntaganda was born in Bigogwe, northern Rwanda in 1974. It is region occupied by Tutsi pastoralists just a few miles from the feet of mount Karisimbi. He later migrated to the Namitaba region of Masisi, from where he lived until joining forces with Kagame-led Rwanda Patriotic Front in the early 1990s. In 1994, Ntaganda was among the RPF rebels that took control over Rwanda following the genocide.
Two years later, Ntaganda was part of the Rwandan forces that invaded the DRC. Here, they were successful as well. The war ended with the defeat of Joseph Mobutu ( a brutal dictator and long-term ally of the US). Laurent Kabila was the puppet leader of this Rwandan force, which functioned to legitimize the rebel movement among the indigenous Congolese. However, when Kabila fell out with Rwanda, Ntaganda and other Tutsi soldiers retreated to eastern Congo where they formed “a state within a state”.
That was in 1997. Over the years, there is so much that has changed. Alliances have shifted very quickly in Congo’s dense forests. While, Kabila senior and his Rwandan sponsors were initially fighting against former members of the Hutu army and Interahamwe, Kabila extended his support to the Hutu fighters as a strategy against Kagame.
Ironically the situation today has brought Kabila and Kagame together again. In a region where popular support is not an important determinant of political legitimacy, each desperately needs the military muscle of the other. And this is how Ntaganda has remained relevant and untouchable.
In a nutshell, Ntaganda pursues strategic interests for the pair. For Kagame, he ensures an easy access to eastern Congo’s vast natural resources. Indeed, he has been consistently implicated by UN report into illegal mining and logging of Congo’s forests. He also ensures that the Hutu fighting forces are contained outside Rwanda’s borders. For Kabila, Ntaganda ensures that he maintains “legitimacy” through the rigging of elections.
One has to wonder for how long this lord of impunity will be allowed to reign.
Few doubt his role in Congo’s bloodied history. So much of the killings here happen faraway from the lenses of the camera. They are neither captured nor reported and the victims are soon forgotten.
One of the most documented incident involving him is the Kiwanja massacre in 2010. Journalists with both New York Times and France 24 captured live footage of the massacre. In total, 150 corpses were left lying behind by Ntaganda’s CNDP.
This is one case where the ICC should be praised for boldness.
Many of the killers tied to either Rwanda or Uganda have never made it to the ICC’s list. Ntaganda’s crimes must have been such an obvious embarrassment that the ICC had no option but to act. Even against the wishes of the regional power brokers: Rwanda and Uganda.
However, the ICC has not pressured Rwanda enough. One reason is that Rwanda is not a signatory to the court. Which in itself is a politically calculated move to prevent the court from stepping into crimes committed by Kagame’s regime. At the same time, the court has universal jurisdiction over such serious crimes of the states in question fail to prosecute the suspects.
As I welcome the conviction of another war lord, Thomas Lubanga, I share the same concern with Congolese academic, Pascal Kambale. My earnest hope is that Ntaganda will not be allowed to continue to terrorize our people for yet another full year.