Saturday, April 14, 2012

D.R. Congo: Mutinies in the East: Beyond the ‘Terminator’

General Bosco Ntaganda fighting in the Congo
Source: International Crisis Group

Mutinies in the East: Beyond the ‘Terminator’

13 April 2012 by Thierry Vircoulon

The mutiny in DR Congo led by General Bosco Ntaganda, a.k.a “Terminator”, who has been wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges since 2006, is not only a rule of law issue; it is symptomatic of deeper, long-term and unaddressed political problems.

The troubles in the army in Eastern Congo turned into a mutiny at the beginning of April 2012. However, they date back to the start of the year when elements of the Congolese army began to defect in North and South Kivu provinces, and in the Ituri district in Oriental Province. But this time it was more serious, as the authorities faced a series of defections by a specific part of the army in the East: units of the National Congress for People’s Defence (CNDP) led by General Bosco Ntaganda. Ntaganda replaced Laurent Nkunda, the rebel who led Tutsis in North Kivu against the army and the United Nations in 2008. Not only wanted by the ICC for war crimes, Ntaganda also faces accusations in a UN Security Council report on the DRC of leading a trafficking network of natural resources which allegedly has connections all the way to the United States.

The ICC’s recent guilty verdict against Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga for conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen, along with foreign pressure, has apparently convinced President Joseph Kabila to support the ICC’s pursuit of Ntaganda. Ntaganda was an important figure to securing peace in the Kivus and his CNDP supported Kabila in the November 2011 elections, but nevertheless Congolese authorities are said to be determined to arrest him. In order to protect their leader, some CNDP units began to defect and flock to areas traditionally under their control in North Kivu, raising fears of a new rebellion and a repeat of the 2008 crisis that Nkunda triggered. In some areas (Baraka, Fizi and Walungu in South Kivu), the defections have led to clashes and the assassination of military officers by rebels and loyalists. Military reinforcements have been urgently sent to the Kivus.

The mutiny by General Bosco Ntaganda resulted in a rush to North Kivu by senior Congolese army officials, as well as the special representative of the UN Secretary-General, and even President Kabila himself. Loyalist forces, meanwhile, appear to have taken hold of North Kivu, while the CNDP, as a political party, has distanced itself from the mutiny. Ntaganda himself, who has gone into hiding, has said he is willing to stand trial in a local court, although it is unclear whether he and his troops would give up their mutiny.

The following factors reveal the precarious political and security situation facing the DRC in the aftermath of the flawed elections in November.

- The grip of militias on the Congolese army is increasing. The army is a conglomerate of militias, in some cases led by suspected war criminals. Described as a peace offering in 2009, the integration of the CNDP into the army paved the way for their silent military and economic takeover of the Kivus (i.e.: parallel command, refusal to be deployed outside the Kivus, predation against civilians, smuggling of raw materials and land grabbing). Indeed the CNDP demonstrated that integration could be used to make money. All heads of militias integrated into the Congolese army in the East before the 2011 elections claimed similar privileges to those of the CNDP. In a sense, through integration, the militias have absorbed the Congolese army more than the army has absorbed the militias.

- Since the fraudulent elections of 2011, the DRC has been adrift. The death in February of Katumba Mwanke, the president’s right-hand man, has deeply shaken the leadership. Formation of the new government is taking a long time. Administrative and military authorities are thin, resulting in a power vacuum in some areas. The electoral commission is unable to announce a date for the provincial elections, while the five-year mandate of the senate and provincial assemblies has come to an end. The absence of an effective central control has left the peripheries to their unstable dynamics. In North Kivu, beyond the personal case of Bosco Ntaganda, the political representation of the CNDP and the Congolese Tutsis is at stake. The 2011 elections that were supposed to facilitate the CNDP’s entry into national and provincial politics were cancelled in its stronghold of Masisi territory because of fraud. This decision leaves open the question of the movement’s role and the balance of power between communities in North Kivu. Only new elections in Masisi can help to settle the balance of power in the province.

Military and political governance mirror each other, with the unsteady equilibrium of the army reflecting that within the Congolese political class. Regardless of the consequences of Bosco Ntaganda’s defection, for Western donors, the “Terminator’s” mutiny in North Kivu should be an opportunity to rethink some policies and respond to emerging developments, including:

Major shortcomings in army reform, despite the significant investments of many Congolese and donors.
Short-term deals with individual militia leaders eroding the sustainable governance of Congolese security institutions.

Intrumentalisation of the ICC warrants by the Congolese government, which trades the arrest of war criminals for political support from western countries.

The weakening of the presidency since the flawed elections and Mwanke’s death, increasing the danger that the DR Congo will be even less consistently governed.