Instability and human rights abuses are nothing new in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s volatile East. Yet familiarity will not bring any comfort to those affected by the turbulent events of recent weeks, which hit new heights on Friday as troops loyal to rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda sent hundreds of DRC soldiers fleeing into neighbouring Uganda, killing a UN peacekeeper in the process.
Ntaganda, an indicted war criminal, is infamous throughout the region and the world for the rapes, massacres and recruitment of child soldiers frequently undertaken by his men. Comparisons to Joseph Kony are by no means an exaggeration of his ruthlessness: Ntaganda is reported to have once overseen the butchering of some one hundred and fifty civilians in a single day. Those living under his control tonight have every reason to be fearful.
Over the years Ntaganda’s loyalties have shifted, yet he has always retained strong ties with Rwandan rebel leader- turned president Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Ntaganda, also an ethnic Tutsi, served under Kagame when the RPF overthrew the genocidal Hutu government in 1994. In subsequent years he operated in the DRC, eventually integrating his force into the official army in 2009.
In recent months however, Ntaganda has broken ranks and, accompanied by a band of approximately six hundred troops known as M23, has seized control of territory outside the town of Goma, displacing thousands of people in the process. Despite the chaos and human rights abuses unfolding, Kagame’s government has covertly provided a stream of weapons, recruits and equipment to bolster Ntaganda’s position, increasing the prospect of an even more protracted and bloody conflict.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of the current situation was the revelation last month that the USA was blocking the release of a UN report detailing Rwanda’s involvement. Yet such behaviour, whilst wholly unacceptable, is hardly surprising. Kagame has long exploited guilt over the international community’s utter failure to act during the Rwandan Genocide, in order to foster a healthy worldwide support base for his administration, despite its utterly abusive actions both inside Rwanda and across the Congolese border.
Now, with Ntaganda flexing his muscles further, using Rwandan troops and guns to fuel further conflict in the DRC, it is time for the USA and other Kagame-friendly states to put real pressure on the despotic President. Rwanda is expected to take a seat on the UN Security Council next year – a good starting point would be to block this at all costs, until Kagame ceases his support for one of Africa’s most brutal war criminals.