Congolese ex-rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda — one of Africa’s most notorious warlords and wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity — unexpectedly turned himself in to the American Embassy in Rwanda on Monday morning.
With an international warrant and an extensive list of allegations including civilian massacre, ethnic persecution, amassing an army of child soldiers, rape, and sexual slavery, Ntaganda “specifically asked to be transferred to the ICC in the Hague.”
Many speculations and questions on the reasons and motives behind his surrender have risen. Observers of the volatile eastern Democratic Republic of Congo believe that a combination of international pressures as well as insurrection from within his own rebel group, the so-called M23, led to his personal handover.
M23 rose to power in recent months after their “capture” of Goma, one of DR Congo’s largest most vital trading cities in the east. M23 cited ethnic oppression of the Tutsi minority in the eastern region as the reason for their mutiny from the Congolese government. However, many speculate that Rwanda’s role in the conflict might be the main catalyst.
Rwanda has a history of supporting Congolese rebel groups in order to gain access to DR Congo’s lucrative mineral trade. Amid a tainted involved history as well as accusations of supplying weapons to M23, a United Nations investigative committee also put out a report that accused the Rwandan government for deploying troops to help the Goma takeover.
Goma is 100 yards from Rwanda.
Additionally, Ntaganda has personal ties to Rwanda — he was born in Rwanda and spent most of his adult life fighting alongside Rwandan-backed Congolese rebels.
Rwanda vehemently denied these allegations and continues to do so today, but as evidence mounted of their involvement in the DR Congo conflict, many Western nations subsequently suspended aid to Rwanda — Britain alone refused to release $33 million in aid to the accused nation.
With international pressures to distance from DR Congo, observers speculate that Ntaganda’s surrender was partly orchestrated by Rwandan officials to save face.
However, other analysts feel that it was much less an orchestration, and more so a last desperate act of survival from Ntaganda. In the past few weeks, there have been reports of heavy fighting between rival factions within M23, with many once-supportive rebels calling for Ntaganda to turn himself in amidst international pressures.
The brewing instability and Ntaganda’s precarious position made him more of a liability than an asset for Rwanda. Officials like Congo’s ambassador to Britain Baranbé Kikaya bin Karubi believed that the Rwandans would have killed him simply because “he knew too much.” With options dwindling, turning himself in to the ICC seemed a better option than facing his former rebel supporters and the Rwandans.
ICC’s effectiveness in recent years has been called into question. Its purpose is to impartially prosecute individuals for the world’s most appalling crimes, but the court’s sluggishly paced trials and failed cases have hurt its credibility. Since its establishment in 1999, the court has indicted thirty people but only convicted one. The one convicted defendant, sentenced to 14 years in jail for similar charges of using child soldiers in war, was also a Congolese rebel leader.
Ethnic clashes and battles of control for Congo’s lucrative glittering minerals have led to the rise of many rebel leaders like Ntaganda since the mid-90s. Many rebel groups similar to M23 have spearheaded insurrections against the Congolese government, citing reasons that range from ethnic marginalization to government ineptitude. However, their rebellions are regularly associated with atrocities and pillaging, which point to motives that may be far less altruistic and much more in the megalomaniac realm.
Despite the country’s potential for growth and commerce with their naturally pristine rain forests and highly valuable natural resources, DR Congo remains one of the poorest, most destitute and chaotic nations on the planet. DR Congo was recently ranked as the world’s least developed country, and ranked last in the 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI). DR Congo disappeared from the 2012 GHI not because conditions had improved, but because the state was so volatile that officials could not collect a sufficient amount of data.
Known by human rights groups as “the rape capital of the world,” government forces and militias use mass rape as a tactic to gain control over the mineral-rich region. The country is littered with “no-go zones” where marauders will pillage, kill, and rape without restraint.
M23 may be combusting and Ntaganda’s surrender is encouraging — but this is no cause for relief or celebration. International organizations must maintain their efforts to bring peace into this war-torn region — for every war lord surrendered, there are plenty more rebels, hardened by years of chaos, to head another atrocious campaign.