On the last 22 March, the Congolese tutsi rebel general, Bosco Ntaganda was transferred to the Hague-based International criminal Court (ICC). Yet, everything remains yet to be solved on the ground in the Kivus, where the M23 rebels are creating all sorts of obstacles to the deployment of the African intervention brigade.
Human rights NGOs applauded Bosco Ntaganda’s transfer to the ICC on the last 22 March., which marked the end of a long saga. The general was indeed wanted by the ICC which issued in 2005 a warrant of arrest against him for his alleged crimes against humanity including the recruitment of child soldiers which were committed in 2002-2003 in the Ituri district of the Province Orientale in his capacity of commander of the Union of Congolese Patriots militia. Yet, for the last eight years, the UN troops in the Kivu didn’t make any attempt to arrest him. Moreover, he benefitted from the protection of the Kinshasa government after he overthrew in 2009 the leader of the Tutsi-led rebel National Council for the Defence of the People NCDP, Laurent Nkunda and eventually became the commander in second of the Congolese army in North Kivu.
But after the condemnation of his accomplice Thomas Lubanga in March 2012, the Congolese President Joseph Kabila was submitted to an increasing international pressure to arrest him and hand him over to the ICC. But Bosco who felt the danger, organised a mutiny in April 2012 but was not followed by all ex-NCDP Congolese soldiers. Indeed, colonel Sultani Makenga, a supporter of Nkunda prohibited his troops to join Bosco whom he considers as a traitor to the cause of the North Kivu Congolese tutsis.
But Kabila’s reaction which consisted in stopping the Amani Leo operation against the Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, to punish Bosco, triggered a harsh reaction from Kigali which according local observers gave its support to the Movement of the 23 March (M23) which was created in May 2012 by Makenga. Basically, the M23 was asking for the implementation of these agreements concluded between the NCDP and the government which included the insertion of its troops within the Congolese army and the repatriation of Congolese Tutsi refugees from Rwanda to North Kivu.
In fact, the split of the M23 in February 2013 and the defeat of its supporters incited Bosco to escape from Congo and eventually he surrendered himself to the US embassy in Kigali. There were many speculations about his decision, including his possible wish to escape from death, since high ranking leaders both in Kigali and in Kinshasa may not be happy about him revealing all their plans to the ICC.
At the same time, since Kigali did not really raise an obstacle to his surrender and to his extradition suggests that Rwanda which has been threatened by foreign partners of a suspension of aid, owing to its support to the M23, is willing, is trying to improve its relationship with them.
It is against this background that on the 28 March, the UN security council voted its resolution 2098 for the creation of an African brigade of intervention against the armed groups in Kivu. In principle, the brigade which should include South African blue helmets who are already part of the UN Mission for the Stabilisation of Congo (MONUSCO) but with a stronger mandate allowing them to impose peace, and also Malawian and Tanzanian troops, will be incorporated within MONUSCO. It should include over 3,000 troops including three infantry battalions and artillery company, reconnaissance and special forces companies whose task will be to neutralise and disarm the armed groups.
Some NGOs are worried however that the UN’s choice in order to solve the insecurity problems in North Kivu has been only a military one, which does not leave much room for negotiations over the political and social grassroots of the problems. The paradox is that the perspective of the deployment of the brigade has rather helped to increase tensions in Kivu.
Since early April, both sides have adopted much tougher positions at the Kampala peace talks which have been fruitless since their beginning in December. The Kinshasa government says the rebels must accept to surrender their weapons as a preamble for negotiation. Meanwhile, Sultani Makenga’s M23, in a communiqué released on the 1st April said that instead of encouraging a positive outcome at the Kampala talks, the UN have decided to wage war against one of the sides. And on the 2 April, the political chairman of the M23, Bertrand Bisimwa warned the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid against the humanitarian consequences that the war accordingly waged and planned by the UN Security Council will inflict to innocent people. Once of the causes of the rebels’ irritation is that the Congolese Foreign Minister, Raymond Tshibanda has declared that it is no longer envisaged by Kinshasa to integrate M23 fighters inside the Congolese army and that the M23 has no choice but to cease to exist as a political military movement.
The problem however is that Kinshasa is not really in a position to hold such hardline rethorics, as long as the brigade is not deployed. And the M23 has been precisely doing everything it could to prevent its deployment. During the first half of April, it has organised meetings in the areas under its control to call the local population to raise against the brigade and on the 8 April, it has blocked a convoy of 11 trucks loaded with construction material for Monusco at Kibumba.
Meanwhile, UN Security council members are aware that the brigade will not solve all problems, as long as the Congolese army remains a weak force, which is owed namely to Kinshasa’s inability or unwillingness to carry out the reform of the security sector. There is also a feeling that the North Kivu question will not be solved as long as Kinshasa does not accept the repatriation of Congolese tutsi refugees from Rwanda. Meanwhile, the World Food Program (WFP) has to cope with the need to feed over 220,000 displaced persons in the province. Yet, Bosco’s arrest and transfer is nevertheless a strong signal sent to all warlords in the Great Lakes since it has put an end to impunity.
But Congo has many challenges to address simultaneously, including the deterioration of security in the strategic mining rich province of Katanga, which is also President Kabila’s electoral stronghold. Indeed, on the last March, a new tragic episode occurred with the death of 35 people during a clash between a Mai Mai group and the Congolese army, in the provincial capital, Lubumbashi. Some 250 rebels armed with machetes, bows and arrows and some rifles marched through the town, calling for a better treatment for the rural poor and calling for the independence of Katanga