There Are No Good Guys Here: Bosco Ntaganda

8 Apr

When I told you in my previous post that Kony’s tactics although vicious were not unusual I meant it. On March 14, 2012 Thomas Lubangu Dyilo, leader of rebel militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots ( UPC) during the Second War in the Congo, was convicted by a three- judge panel at the International Criminal Court, in the Hague, Netherlands for war crimes against children during the years 2002-2003. The charges levied against him were: 1.) abducting children against their will. 2.) enlisting children to serve as soldiers in a rebel militia. and  3.) requiring children to fight in combat. Lubangu was arrested and sent to the Hague in 2005 and if given 30 years, the maximimu sentence, could spend the rest of  his life behind bars. This is the first trial ever conducted by the ICC although it has served as an established court for ten years.

Reaction to his sentence the next day was subdued around his District of Ituri, located in the northeast section of the DRC especially among his Hema supporters. Most consider him a hero, who saved them from the wrath of the Lendu. The villagers did not believe that there would be a conviction, so are still trying to make sense of the news after hearing it on a local radio broadcast yesterday. Many residents insist that he will not spend time in jail adding that if he were sentenced to prison then other  militia leaders known for their abuse of children should be arrested and made to stand trial too.  Still others think that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction over events in the DR Congo and should leave them alone. A few feel betrayed even angry about the verdict claiming – “He didn’t do anything worse than other rebel commanders had done.”  No riots or violent outbreaks have erupted around the district as of yet, but a general sense of uneasiness and caution permeates the local  markets and cafes.

And Lubangu was not the only one who had war-related warrants issued against him by the ICC. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui are Lendu commanders who have been charged with crimes against children, mass murder, rape, and sexual enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, intentional attack against the Hema population, pillaging, and destruction of property in the village of Bogoro, Ituri district in the eastern DRC from January to March 2003.  Katanga is the proclaimed leader of the Force de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI) and Ngudjolo is the leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI) at the time of the charges although as part of the peace agreement at the end of the Second Congo War both were integrated into the National Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (NADRC) and held the rank  of general in this army until the time of their arrest.

 Katanga was arrested by DCR troops, surrendered to United Nations officials, then sent to the ICC in October of 2007. Ngudjolo was also surrendered by DRC officials and sent to the Hague a year later. In March 2008 the court decided to join the Katanga and the Ngudjolo Chui cases together because the two defendants would be prosecuted for the same crimes.

In 2008 the court accepted all but three of the charges against Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui both Generals in the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC). They listed seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity. They found that there was insufficient evidence to try Katanga and Ngudjolo for inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and inhumane acts.

On March 25, 2012 Jerome Kakwavu, another militia leader was indicted by the DRC military court accused of raping two women, the youngest of whom was thirteen years old at the time.. From 1998 until 2006 during the Second Congo War Kakwavu led the rebel militia group known as the UDC/FAPC.  He was also absorbed into the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC)  at the end of this conflict and was serving as a general in this army at the time of his arrest. 

And now that leaves Bosco Ntaganda, an infamous figure in Central African politics who by all accounts is one of the most powerful people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and as far as my sources can tell is undoubtedly the wealthiest. General Ntaganda was also indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006 for enlistment and use of child soldiers in the 2002-2003 Ituri conflict, in north-eastern DR Congo but has not, as of yet, been arrested and turned over to the United Nations Authorities in Kinshasa like his former compatriots. President Kabila has made no move to arrest Ntaganda and although he has cooperated with ICC in the past by arresting and packing off Generals Lubanga, Ngudjolo, and Katanga everyone on the ground in the DRC  understands that Ntaganda may be too closely connected to the Rwandan government for President Kabila to detain him without jeopardizing his presidency or possibly causing a military coup in which Ntaganda will surely challenge him for the leadership of the DRC.

 In a most tactful response President Joseph Kabila alluded to this possibility during a news conference in October of 2011 when under criticism from several International Human Rights groups for not going after Ntaganda, he answerd, “peace outweighs all other considerations.”

In a state visit to the DRC last week, the Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didieu Reyenders warned President Kabila that his creditability was being called into question by members of the international community because of his failure to arrest General Ntaganda. This warning was particularly insensitive and outrageously hypocritical considering it came from a country that refused to censure its own king, Leopold for the atrocious crimes he committed against the Congolese people of the DRC when he personally owned this country in the late 1900’s.  

Bosco Ntaganda is a 39 year old Rwandan, who has alligned himself with the Hema in the East Congo conflicts.  He ia a Rwandan Tutsi, and former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army who fought for the overthrow of the Hutu government in Rwanda in 1994. He is something of a flamboyant character, always impeccably dressed, and known to enjoy the finer things in life such as haute cuisine eaten in the finest hotels. It is commonly known that he was first invited into the DR Congo to hunt down and kill the remaining Hutu who had fled into the DRC and taken refuge there after the Rwandan War ended. Eventually he joined the Union of Congolese patriots (UPC) –  Lubangu’s boys, and became its chief of military operations. It is common knowledge in Ituri that he distinguished himself by engaging in several massacres of Lendu civilians and by developing training programs for child recruits

He has very close ties to officials in the present Rwandan government and has continued to reside in Goma, near enough to the Rwandan border to cross whenever he chooses. He visits Rwanda  frequently and has been allowed to pass back and forth even though the United Nations Security Council declared him “a sanctioned individual” subject to a travel ban and to having all of his  assets frozen. Obviously this international censure has not affected his movements nor his wallet. 

By 2005 he had left the UPC and joined the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP)  where he served as its chief of staff. He  fought throughout the Second Congo War in this position. When the war ended in 2006 he was inducted into the DR Congolese army as a  general even though he was already wanted by the ICC. And now my story will morph into something more like a cheap “B” movie rather than a serious post about human rights violations

 About a year ago Ntaganda’s story became outrageously fantastical and would not have been believable except that the entire account was officially recorded in a report issued by a United Nations investigation team. A retired NBA basketball player, born in the DR Congo, persuaded an American oil executive and a few other investors to hand over 10 million dollars to gold traders in Kenya and DR Congo in order to purchase 4.5 tons of pure gold ingots that would be worth 30 million US dollars if sold on the world market. Several Americans representing the oil executive’s interests would eventually hand over 5 million dollars to two bogus gold traders in Nairobi who would then con them into leasing a jet in order to fly to Kinshasa where they would be forced to hand over another 3 million dollars US  to – wait for it- none other than General Bosco Ntaganda.

 And the story gets even better. As soon as the plane landed it was met by soldiers in the Congoloese Army who took the Americans’ passports and confiscated the plane. The Americans were brought to a hotel to meet Ntaganda where he told one of them to return to the plane and bring 3 million US dollars back with him. Once the money’s had been brought back and handed to Ntaganda it suddenly disappeared. Everyone in the airport was in on this scam except for one lowly customs agent who demanded that the passengers who had just disembarked from the plane  open up their luggage for inspection. Imagine his dismay when he caught sight of the remaining two million dollars in cash that had been left on the plane. For a man who will probably earn less than $300 US dollars for the entire year it must have been a incomprehensible sight.

The next day the Congolese government seized the plane, arrested all passengers and crew, and removed the two million dollars US.  Then in a dramatic about-face the Congolese government dropped all criminal charges against the Americans. When the United Nations team interviewed Ntaganda he informed them that he had been working with Kabila’s government all along to bring these criminals to justice and that he was the one who had uncovered this gold smuggling operation. He reminded them that he was only doing his civic duty to his country. When asked to produce the 3 million dollars US that he had requested be brought to him he handed over a large satchel with 3 million dollars of poorly counterfeited bills  inside.

Word on the streets of Kinshasa confirmed that Ntaganda was now the proud owner of 3 million dollars US and that he had masterminded the entire deal.  It was also common knowledge that he had been given the lion’s share of the other five million US dollars turned over to the bogus gold traders in Nairobi. Everyone was aware that Ntaganda was several million dollars richer in a country where anyone can have another person murdered for a five dollar bill. So now Ntaganda had a lot more money to add to his war funds. Everyone knows that no deals take place in the eastern Congo unless Ntaganda is given his fair share.

Will Ntaganda finance his own rebellion now or has he already made a deal with the Kabila government by funneling the two million US dollars their way to overlook the arrest warrants issued on him by the ICC? If you’re looking for good guys in this story, there aren’t any -accept for the customs agent- maybe. The opportunity to amass personal fortunes worth millions of dollars seems too overpowering a motive  for men to continue to act morally or decently especially in a country where the average person make less than $2.00 US a day.

I had started this post on Ntaganda on Monday of last week but by Thursday, April 6th there was more interesting news. For some reason Ntaganda left Kinshasa and headed back to Goma where he barricaded himself away in the ex-CNDP Head Quarters in Runyoni and Mushaki taking one month’s worth of pay destined for the FARDC regiment in Lubero with him.  

Then several commanders in the Congolese army (FRDC) defected and around 300 of his most loyal troops about 35% of the troops formerly militia under his CNDP command went with him taking their guns and ammunition with them.. They have regrouped in  Mushaki,  Runyoni, in the Virunga National Park, Bunagana/Rutshuru  near the Ugandan border; and Katale. They have set up roadblocks where they continue to extort money from vehicles using the local roads. Ntaganda has reason to be nervous especially after he heard that his former boss Thomas Lubanga had been convicted by the ICC on March 14.  It has been estimated that about 2,000 soldiers currently serving in the DAR Congo Army (FRDC) could follow him having already served under him in the powerful Rwandan –supported rebel militia named the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) during the Second War in the Congo. According to current reports, more CNDP rebels have left their current FRDC units.

More Congolese troops situated in the northeast might join him just because they have gone for months now without being paid fair wages by the Kabila government or because have been reassigned to new regiments without confirmation of their previous ranks. They know from word on the street that Ntaganda has a lot of money and they know from experience that he has the organizational skills to effectively lead them. Kabila’s government in a move to stop the rebel skirmishes in the northeast and end the conflict for good in 2009 integrated the former rebels into the main Congolese army including Ntaganda. Some say that this was a very foolish move on Kabila’s part that will eventually lead to Ntaganda taking control of the entire army then the government much like the dictator Idi Amin did in Uganda.

This situation will get very interesting in the next few weeks and may ultimately decide the fate of the Congolese people. Ntaganda must have heard something  that troubled him or he wouldn’t have left his current location in such a hurry and if he’s moving to an old militia headquarters he may be looking for a fight. Will Rwanda continue to stand by Ntaganda or will they silence him in order to avoid being exposed for their dealings in “conflict minerals”? If the International Criminal Court tries him, he might just tell all that he knows about the intrusive and corrupt business practices conducted by the other countries that border the Congo. I can see this ending one of four  ways: 1.) Ntaganda will make his move ( with the support of Rwanda) and stage a military coup in which Ituri and the rest of the Northeast region will secede from the DRC. 2.) Ntaganda will suddenly disappear because Rwanda will see to it that Ntaganda never makes it to The Hague to stand trial.  3.) Kabila will give in to the commanders’ demands and continue to protect Ntaganda from the ICC and the United Nations.  or 4.) The ICC will get its way because Kabila will follow through and Ntaganda will be removed from the Democractic Republic of the Congo once and for all. Whatever happens I have a feeling it will all end in one very dramatic conclusion!

A dear friend once compared the current situation in the northeast Congo, one of the most violent places on Earth right now, to the famous “bar” scene in the movie “Stars Wars™”.  He cautioned, “”You know that someone is about to  make a move  but you’re just not sure which killer will strike first.”       Heads-up Ntaganda!

Kat Nickerson   Kingston        RI     USA

 For those of you who want to read the entire story about the NBA basketball player and Congolese gold I have included the link.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-warlord-and-the-basketball-star-a-story-of-congos-corrupt-gold-trade/253813/1/

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