Category Archives: Bosco Ntaganda

‘Nyama tembo kula hawezi kumaliza’: DR Congo, Ntaganda, Kabila and the road ahead (PART 5 of 5)

The Swahili proverb means ‘You never finish eating the meat of an elephant’. Skullduggery continues.

Though there was a substantial decrease in violence post 2003, low level conflicts in certain pockets continued. Katanga insurgency continues till date. Ituri conflict is primarily between agriculturalist Lendu and pastoralist Hema ethnic groups in north-eastern Congo. Hostilities in Ituri Province started in 1999. The Front des nationalistes et intégrationnistes [National Integrationist Front] (FNI) and Forces de Résistance Patriotique d’Ituri [Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri] (FRPI) fought for Lendu while Union des patriotes congolais [Union of Congolese Patriots](UPC) fought for the Hema. Finally, in December 2003, after the UPC split, fighting decreased significantly in Ituri Province.

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, founder of UPC and the Force patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC)[military wing of UPC], was found guilty by ICC of committing the war crimes of the enlistment and conscription of children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities between 2002 and 2003 and has been sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment. The Appeals Chamber confirmed the verdict in 2014. ICC, in 2014, found Germain Katanga, commander of FRPI, guilty as an accessory of one count of crime against humanity (murder) and four counts of war crimes (murder, attacking a civilian population, destruction of property and pillaging) and has sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment. But Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, former leader of FNI, was acquitted. In February 2015, the Appeals Chamber confirmed the acquittal.

Bosco Ntaganda, former Deputy Chief of the Staff and commander of operations of FPLC has been charged of various war crimes including murder and attempted murder, attacking civilians, rape, sexual slavery of civilians, pillaging, displacement of civilians, attacking protected objects, destroying the enemy’s property, conscription of child soldiers under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities and various counts of crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in 2002-2003 in the Ituri Province. The Chamber found that there was a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population pursuant to an organisational policy adopted by UPC and FPLC to attack civilians perceived to be non-Hema. The Chamber also found that an armed conflict had taken place between the UPC/FPLC and other organized armed groups. The trial has already commenced last month and is expected to be a cyclopean one. Due to the gravity of charges and the number of crimes he is accused of, the trial is of much consequence.  It is the first trial, at the ICC, where a commander will be charged with rape and sexual violence committed against child soldiers under his command. The case is significant because Ntaganda evaded justice for nine long years and even an international campaign for his apprehension could not get Congolese government to arrest him. But astonishingly, he voluntarily surrendered in 2013.

In the political arena, President Kabila is desperately trying to change the country’s constitution so that he can remain in power beyond his second and final five-year term. This has raised a storm of protests in the country. Opposition leaders have openly criticised any such moves. Last week, Moïse Katumbi, the multimillionaire governor of copper rich Katanga Province, a close aide of Kabila and the second most powerful man in Congo, announced leaving the ruling party. Congolese remain profoundly sceptical about their future. This makes the political situation all the more gripping.

African quagmire metamorphosed to cataclysmic carnage : DR Congo, Ntaganda, Kabila and the road ahead (PART 4 of 5)

The escalating disquietude of Rwanda and Uganda with Kabila government led to a protracted tragedy of modern Africa. Kagame’s plan for another regime change in Kinshasa was anticipated by Kabila resulting in his dismissing all Rwandan soldiers and ordering them to return home. Kabila even started recruiting ex-Hutu militias who had been accused of killing Tutsis in the 1994 genocide.

A rebellion group by the name of Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) alongwith Congolese Tutsis and Banyamulenge (ethnic Tutsi of South Kivu of Congo), with active assistance of the Rwandan Army, started a rebellion against Kinshasa. The rebels initially made rapid progress but intervention by neighbouring countries like Angola and Zimbabwe in favour of Congo turned the tables. Robert Mugabe’s dream of becoming a regional power broker and Angola’s concern about its internal security were the primary reasons for their involvement in this foreign crisis. Namibia and Chad soon joined the fray assisting Kabila, whereas Tutu led Burundi government took the side of Rwanda and Uganda. Active military assistance of Angola and Zimbabwe saved Kabila’s regime.

The war, though ostensibly fought for saving the national governments, was primarily to capture and exploit the vast natural resources of Congo. Unsurprisingly, Angola and Zimbabwe Generals started looting, despoiling and grabbing diamond, gold and other mining businesses. On the other hand, Rwanda and Uganda turned eastern Congo into their own fiefdom.  All the belligerents indiscriminately plundered the natural resources at an unprecedented scale. Gradually RCD splintered into rival factions. The war became even more complicated with multitudinous factions changing sides as per their financial interests. Banyamulenge fighters also split into separate factions. Rwanda and Uganda even fought among themselves for the spoils of the war! It seemed as if war would never end. But Kabila’s assassination in January 2001 changed the scenario. Kabila Jr., ‘western educated’ and ‘english speaking’, but a political greenhorn, was put in place of his father.  Since Kabila Sr. was considered as the major impediment to a peaceful settlement of the war, as he adamantly refused to share power, the change of guard was seen as a positive development towards the peace negotiations. Gradually Rwanda too found it difficult to sustain the war as RCD splintered and many joined the Congo government. Many from the Banyamulenge changed sides. Finally Suncity agreement, in April 2002, provided the framework of the multipartite government in Congo. Later in July, the main belligerents Rwanda and DRC signed a peace deal (Pretoria Accord). Congo and Uganda also signed a peace deal (Luanda Agreement). These peace deals led to the withdrawl of Rwandan and Ugandan troops from DRC’s territory and led to a substantial contraction in hostilities. In December 2002, the primary warring factions like the national government, MLC (Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo, a group backed by Uganda), RCD, split factions of RCD as well as the opposition party alongwith representatives of civil society signed an agreement which formally ended the bloody second Congo War. In July 2003, the transitional government was formed.

But Kivu, Ituri and Katanga conflicts persisted despite the formal end of the Congo War. Alleged role of Ntaganda in Ituri conflict is now before the ICC.

Silhouette of labyrinthine rancor (Hutu and Tutsi) : DR Congo, Ntaganda, Kabila and the road ahead (PART 3 of 5)

‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’, Rwanda has been of particular interest to western countries as it lay along the border line between Francophone and Anglophone Africa.

Rwandan kingdom was inhabited by a Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. The Hutus were predominantly agriculturist whereas the Tutsis were chiefs and aristocrats. Though they spoke the same language (Bantu) and shared the same customs, in physical appearance, Tutsis were taller than Hutus. Ethnic divisions were well entrenched. Subsequent German and Belgian rules exacerbated ethnic tensions. Colonial masters favouring Tutsis during their rule extended the Tutsi hegemony over Hutus. Introduction of identity cards by the Belgians in the 1920s formed a deep chasm between the two tribes. Belgians established a Tutsi bureaucracy completely trampling Hutu aspirations. Even education was made a Tutsi monopoly. Hutus were relegated as labourers.

In such an unequal society, came independence in 1962. The new state was led by Kayibanda, a politician completely devoted to the cause of Hutu hegemony. Fearing decimation by Hutu extremists, Tutsis started a never ending exodus to neighbouring countries including Congo and Uganda. The new government’s economic policies were initially in the right direction. Inflation was kept low and GDP increased. But Hutu Tutsi rivalry started showing signs of its revival. Kayibanda’s hate campaign against Tutsis couldnot save his own government and he was ousted in 1973 by the Army Commander, Habyarimana. Kayibanda’s preference to southern Hutus over northern Hutus led to his downfall. Habyarimana installed a one party dictatorship. His party (Mouvement Républicain National pour la Démocratie et le Développement, MRND) was also anti-Tutsi. In the beginning, the fledgling country had relative prosperity. But suddenly a sharp drop in world coffee prices posed grave challenges to its economy. Allegations of corruption also rocked Habyarimana’s regime.

Hundreds of thousands of Tutsi exiles living in Uganda had nurtured their ambitions of returning to their nation. The new ruler of Uganda, Museveni, having taken help form the Tutsi refugees in the overthrow of Obote government, was more than willing to help the Tutsi reclaim their country. These circumstances led to the launch of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1987. RPF’s first attempt turned out to be a misadventure but it provided the French Government an opportunity to increase its influence on the country as Habyarimana had requested for assistance.

Along with the 90s came the democratization wave in Africa. Arusha Accords, signed in 1992, established a transitional government ending the one party system whereby RPF was formally inducted into the Government. But again the peace was shortlived. UN’s role in maintaining peace was strangely limited. On 6th April 1994, Habyarimana’s aircraft was shot down as it flew towards the Kigali airport. His assassination could have been the handiwork of either Hutu extremists or the RPF. But the Hutu extremists pounced on this opportunity to start a chilling extermination of Tutsis, the Rwandan genocide. This barbaric pogrom which lasted for around 100 days, killing around 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis, forced RPF leader Kagame to return to war and he finally took over the capital. Reluctance  of the US and western powers during this genocide was baffling. Soon after Kagame captured the capital, Hutus started fleeing to Congo. This exodus of hundreds of thousands of Hutus included even those who had actively participated in the insane butchering of Tutsis. These Hutus, now refugees in Eastern Congo, started fomenting trouble for the local Tutsis as well as the Rwandan government. Mobutu’s role in the Hutu power zealots increasing disturbing tendencies was viewed with great abhorrence in Kigali. The only alternative before Kagame was the overthrow of Mobutu. With active assistance of Uganda, Rwanda waged the First Congo War. Mobutu was replaced by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a small time guerilla leader. In May 1997, Kabila after being sworn in as the President, changed the name of the country from Zaire to ‘the Democratic Republic of Congo’. Soon thereafter exiled dictator Mobutu died in Morocco.

But more tribulations were in store for the Congolese as Kabila changed his allegiance, finally culminating in recrudescence of hostilities.

From Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” to Kleptocracy : DR Congo, Ntaganda, Kabila and the road ahead (PART 2 of 5)

Reading Joseph Conrad’s exalted novella “Heart of Darkness”, one can cogitate about the abysmal plight of Congolese people. The antagonist Kurtz’s barbarity showed the devilish behaviour of Belgian ivory traders.

The once personal property of Spanish Monarch had been plundered mercilessly. Its extraction of precious metals added to the misfortune of battered Congolese. The egregiously brutal Belgian colonial rule in Congo has been considered by many historians as the worst example of imperialism. The Belgian ruled the colony without any consultation with the local populace. There were virtually no rights to the Congolese people. The natives loathed the Belgians. Higher education was not available to the Congolese except in Catholic seminaries (and that too for a handful). There was not a single Congolese doctor, engineer, architect or lawyer. There was no representation of the Congolese in government administration too. The counties vast natural resources were continuously being exploited by the Belgians. Post the World War II, as neighbouring French colonies started gaining independence, political activities in Congo could no longer be halted. A group of young educated Congolese launched Mouvement National Congolais (MNC). Then in 1959 a sudden spurt in rioting in the Capital forced Belgian Government to take steps towards political reforms. But the tide of nationalism increased and Belgium understood that it would no more be possible to rule Congo. Violence spread to other parts of Congo too. Finally Belgium agreed to the independence of Congo and fixed the date as 30th June, 1960. In the elections in May 1960, MNC won the largest number of seats but was far from majority. Inspite of Belgium’s efforts to keep MNC out of power and put a moderate government, MNC succeeded in getting majority support through a coalition of twelve different parties. With not even a week remaining for the transfer of power Lumumba had a tough task ahead. The transfer of power, though bought an end to the colonial rule, could not bring peace or prosperity to the unfortunate Congolese. There was a mutiny in the Army, which Lumumba accused Belgian officers of fomenting. Within days of independence the mineral rich State of Katanga showed signs of secession with active connivance of Belgian troops. Country had descended into chaos as soon as it was independent.

After not getting sufficient help from the UN, Lumumba asked Soviet Union for military help. Such an action immediately raised cold war tension resulting in United States planning to eliminate Lumumba. The United States finally staged a coup through Colonel Joseph Mobutu, the Army Chief of staff, in September 1960. The struggling Congolese independence leader, Lumumba, was finally beaten and executed by Belgium backed rebels. The murder of Lumumba sent shock waves throughout the world. Belgium was condemned internationally for its involvement in the leader’s murder. Lumumba, who challenged Western hegemony, had become a famous political martyr (It was only in the year 2002 that Belgium formally admitted to its involvement in the affair). Even the UN Secretary General, Hammarskjöld, was killed in an air crash in Tanzania in September 1961. He was en route to negotiate a cease-fire between Katanga (mineral rich province of Congo) secessionists and UN troops. Till today there is a strong doubt regarding the reason of the crash and many believe that the carrier was shot down. Mobutu took over the reins of the chaotic country.

Mobutu’s long regime had some initial successes. Inflation was brought under control and output substantially increased. The Copper mining industry was nationalized. A large number of development projects were declared. Law and order improved dramatically. He changed the name of the country to Zaire. All towns with European names were given local names like capital Léopoldville to Kinshasa etc. But Mobutu’s self aggrandizement started taking its toll. He created a single national political party Popular Movement of the Revolution (Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution or MPR). He positioned himself at the top of the party and started assuming complete political power. Not content with political power alone, he stated amassing vast personal wealth. He started assuming grand titles, a personality cult surrounding Mobutu became the norm of the day. He himself took the name Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (meaning “The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”!) His ever increasing lust for wealth finally turned towards the foreign enterprises. He seized thousands of foreign owned companies which included plantations, farms and factories, without compensation. But these companies were handed out to his cronies. Mobutu and his family members were the main beneficiaries. Mobutu’s misrule has no parallel in modern history. But curiously USA and western powers continued their patronage. Eventually the inevitable happened – a complete financial doom. Mobutu’s ignominious regime ended in 1997, but cataclysm was forthcoming.