In the Congo, the UN takes the offense

File this under ‘things the UN should have done ten years ago’.

Two weeks ago the UN approved a ‘search and destroy’ unit for driving the rebels out of the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The UN Security Council plans on sending 2,000 or so troops to the Kivus to carry out targeted offensive operations and neutralize the various armed groups that operate with impunity in the region.

Some of you might be scratching your heads, thinking ‘A peacekeeping force making war?’ Maybe you feel that the UN has no business ‘hunting rebels’. You might also wonder why the army of the DRC doesn’t step up and ‘do the hunting’.

First, the FARDC, the army of the DRC, is almost as bad in some areas as the rebels themselves. It is still suffering from mismanagement and poor training, and in places in the Congo, the army has committed as many atrocities as the rebels have. The government in Kinshasa was more than happy to hear the news of the UN force, if only because it relieved the government from having to take care of the problem.

However, the only groups really upset with the news of the force were, you guessed it, the very rebels the unit is to hunt. Bisimwa, the current leader of the M23, said that peacekeepers would now be waging war on a population of citizens, and then scrambled to make sure that the M23 wouldn’t be on the ‘hit list’.

The FDLR was also upset. The FDLR decried the move by the UN as an act of war. The FDLR, some of you might know, is the same group that once perpetrated the genocide in Rwanda. The group has been terrorizing the eastern Congo now for 19 years.

I have little sympathy for the various rebel groups that have torn apart the Congo for the last 19 years. The international community has tried various things to work with the many rebels. Want a list? Tactics for the last 20 years go as follows: negotiated peace settlements, army integration, bargaining, telling them to stop killing/raping/torturing civilians, setting up the world’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping force, asking them to stop killing civilians, passing legislation at the US/EU state level to block funding for armed rebel movements, conflict mineral legislation, peace talks. That is just a short list of tactics the UN and the Congolese government have tried. The US and EU even recently cut funding to Rwanda, a notorious backer of rebel movements, to stop the violence. Nothing has worked.

Which is why Africanists were very excited to hear the news about the special unit. These rebels are mostly cowards, who have terrorized civilians, ruined lives, raped women, destroyed homes, used forced slave labor, turned children in to soldiers, and in the case of the FDLR, committed genocide. This force offers the best chance the global community has in putting a stop to the violence. Yes, the Congolese state needs legitimate government and state capacity.  Yes, this force might open up a gray area of ‘peacekeeping’. But it has become the only feasible option in a place where nothing else has worked. If it brings peace and security to the people of the Kivus, I am all for it. The number of ‘rebel movement’s is likely to drop, once there is a force that is standing against them.

So a War Criminal Walks Into A US Embassy….

To those who follow developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the fact that Bosco Ntaganda, the Terminator, walked into the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda and turned himself in was kind of a big deal. Ntaganda was the leader of the former CNDP (a Rwanda backed rebel movement in the DRC) and the current leader of one half of the new M23. Yes, it is all very confusing- defunct rebel organizations integrated into the Congolese army, to be born again a few years later with the same leaders and the same backers, only to split in to two rival parts. Welcome to the world of African Studies.

Ntaganda has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for years. He faces seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity (charges ranging from murder, mass rape, and use of child soldiers) for a 2002-2003 rampage the CNDP perpetrated in Ituri. Everyone has know where Bosco has been all this time. He’s been in the Congo, as a general in the army as part of a 2009 peace accord. Then as the leader of the M23. Which just split into two rival factions. And his faction just got it handed to them in battle. So, facing dwindling support from both his rebel base unit, and probably from Rwanda, Bosco turned himself in to the United States Embassy.

Fun fact- the US is not a participant in the ICC. This means that while the US has signed the Rome Statute in 2000, it has never ratified it, making the US not a party to the court. This means that the US can’t ask for people to be tried by the court, can’t turn people in to the court, and can’t be tried by the court. There are several reasons for this, some being the US has a justice system (if Rick Scott of Fl suddenly organized a militia and started murdering people in Georgia to claim territory, the US is able to stop him and try him in our justice system) and every administration has argued that as America remains the dominate military policeman on the planet, our troops are put in ‘war crime-ish’ situations protecting other countries, so it wouldn’t be fair to charge any US military or civilian leaders at the ICC.

So, Bosco’s surrender provided a small headache for the US- they had to work through intermediaries to transfer Ntaganda to the ICC.  The interesting part here will be this week as Ntaganda goes to court the first time, to hear the charges against him, and in the coming years as the trial develops. Whatever Ntaganda testifies, it can’t be good news for Rwanda or the RPF (the Rwandan armed forces).  The reason that Ntaganda handed himself in (the first wanted criminal to ever voluntarily surrender) isn’t clear. Perhaps it was pressure from Rwanda- this to me seems unlikely, as testimony could be potentially damaging and Rwanda has spoken out against the ICC as illegitimate. More likely, Bosco saw the writing on the wall. His rebel movement was falling apart with internal discord, he was rapidly losing support, and any conditions/judgement he faced from either the DRC or Rwanda was bound to be far, far worse than a vacay at the Hague.

Good news is hard to come by in the eastern region of the DRC, so it is good news that Ntaganda will be tried for his crimes. It will be one small bit of justice for the Congolese. Which is very much needed. However, things in the Congo are unlikely to change with Bosco gone. The Kabila government is still weak, the east is still home to many militias, and the domestic problems of land rights, citizenship, and agency still remain. State capacity is everything, and the DRC still lacks that. However, there is one less war criminal roaming about, which is always a good thing.

Peace! Again! For how long?

So, the leaders of the east African states of Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC came together just yesterday and signed a peace deal- this makes the 7,000 one since the beginning of the war of 1996. Okay, 7,000 is a bit of an over exaggeration, but not by much. There was the peace deal that ended the 1996 conflict that saw Mobutu fall, there was a peace deal in 1998 that was suppose to see Rwanda GTFO of the DRC, there was the peace deal in 1999 that said the same thing. Then there were a few in the aughts- the most famous being the March 23, 2009 agreement between the DRC and the now defunct rebel movement the CNDP which recently fell apart leading the new M23 to take Goma and most of the Kivu region, before backing down just because they are such nice guys.

So, Kagame, the dictator (I mean president) of Rwanda once again agrees to stop interfering in the affairs of its much larger neighbor. The only problem is that this peace deal does nothing about the alphabet soup of rebel movements in the region, and does less than nothing to address the underlying causes of the conflict, which have everything to do with land rights, citizenship, and legitimate government.

What does this have to do with the US? Well, the DRC is the sight of the largest, most expensive peacekeeping mission on the planet- MONUSCO. And since the US pays a large part of the UN budget, US money is going to support the mission. However, the US also has a long history of protecting Rwanda and turning a blind eye to the illegitimate occupation of the DRC by Rwandan troops. The US on the Security Council, lead by Susan Rice, also blocks any and all attempts to hold Rwanda accountable for the crimes against humanity that Rwandan troops and Rwandan supported rebel movements commit in the Kivu regions.

This ‘peace deal’ won’t bring peace. Which is a shame. Seventeen years of war has taken its toll on the region. It will take pressure on Rwanda, and a push by MONUSCO to flush the rebel groups out of the jungles. It will also take the DRC government of Kabila to address the many issues that have been tearing the region apart. None of those are likely.