RDC: Gen. Ntaganda is only a pawn in a wider game.

Joseph Rwagatare



When strangers wail louder than the bereaved, you must be on your guard. Something is not quite right. They are hiding something, probably some involvement in the cause of the bereavement. Or they are plotting something sinister against the grieving people or their neighbours.

The wailing is very often unnaturally loud that it must surely be contrived. Other times it is so vicious you can’t distinguish between the loud cries and baying for blood.

This seems to have been the case in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the last several weeks.

The wailing about innocent Congolese civilians killed by armed groups has picked up and is growing louder by the day. As you would expect, the wailers are not Congolese. They are a coalition of foreign activists, NGOs, international organisations and governments.

They want the head of one Bosco Ntaganda, and more, as we shall see shortly. The Congolese general must be delivered to the ICC in The Hague to answer charges that he recruited child soldiers in his earlier life as a rebel.

You can understand part of the reason for their eagerness. They got Thomas Lubanga, another former Congolese rebel, had him tried at the Hague-based ICC and got him convicted of war crimes, including using child soldiers. They have smelt blood and, like hounds, are bounding along what they think is a strong trail.

When examined closely, the real issue is not the culpability or otherwise of Lubanga or Ntaganda.  Both men may have some unsavoury characteristics. They probably have committed crimes in wars that otherwise have some justification. But those are not the reasons they have been hunted. Nor is it justice for the victims.

The selective indictments in a region of the DRC where there are perhaps more armed groups than civilians brings into question many things.

First, why is Eastern Congo so volatile and when did it earn that unenviable reputation? The simple answer is that it has been like that for a long time. However, the region became very unstable when the ex-FAR and Interahamwe fled there from Rwanda with their weapons, organisation and genocide ideology. They were allowed and facilitated to create a political and military organisation that carried out attacks on Congolese civilians and against Rwanda.

These two groups have since transformed themselves into the FDLR and various other smaller groups.

Now, everyone knows of the atrocities the FDLR has committed against the Congolese people. About one year ago, hundreds of women were raped under the very noses of United Nations Peace keepers. Yet we have not heard loud calls for the arrest and trial of the mass rapists and perpetrators of other crimes in Congolese courts, let alone the ICC.

Surely Ntaganda’s supposed guilt is not greater than that of Sylvester Mudacumura, the FDLR commander, or even the Congolese government. It is probably less – because, whatever his crimes, they are not rooted in a vow to exterminate an entire people.

But for some inexplicable reasons, there is complete silence about Mudacumura.

A possible explanation for this is that some of the individuals, organisations and even governments responsible for the mess in the DRC and the wider Great Lakes Region don’t want the extent of their involvement revealed, which the trial of any FDLR leader might well do.

The second reason for selective indictment has to do with the history of Congo. Eastern Congo, as indeed the rest of the country, has really never been stable from the time the country got its independence in 1960.

Intermittent wars fought by various rebel or secessionist groups, and mercenary outfits, especially in the 1960s, left their mark on the region. And responsibility for the legacy of violence and instability rests, not with Ntaganda and Lubanga, but with some world powers and international commercial interests.

The sooner this role is forgotten the better for those involved. And what better way to do it than deflect attention by instigating charges against some people – admittedly with a share of guilt but a shorter term impact and less abhorrent record.

Every time Bosco Ntaganda (it used to be Laurent Nkunda) and the violence in Eastern Congo are mentioned, Rwanda is also brought up in a clear attempt to link them. In effect it is like saying all the ills of Eastern Congo are caused by Rwanda.

There are several reasons for this. One is the time-tested defence mechanism of transferring blame to another. It is another way of deflecting responsibility and turning attention away from oneself.

Now, Rwanda has not always been accused of any such misdeeds in the past. When the country was completely dependent – politically and intellectually – on others; when it had a weak, pliant leadership and bureaucracy, it was deemed incapable of “disrespectful” behaviour. Instead, it was lauded as the paragon of stability, “good manners” and progress.

But the moment Rwanda emerged as a country ready to assert its right to take an independent path and defend the rights, interests and dignity of its citizens, it became a meddler in other people’s affairs. Such bad manners must be punished by whatever means – even if it means making up charges.

So, the attempt to arrest General Bosco Ntaganda and haul him before the ICC are merely skirmishes before swooping on their real target – Rwanda and its leaders. Ntaganda is merely a pawn in a bigger game.



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