DIPLOMATIC AGENDA: Nkunda a double-edged sword

Early this year, Congolese President Joseph Kabila took a gamble that appeared risky. He organised a coup within the ranks of a rebel group, installed a new leader and had his newfound allies place the longtime leader of that group under custody.

Friday April 24 2009

Laurent Nkunda.

Laurent Nkunda: By fighting the ex-Rwanda soldiers and Congolese government troops in eastern Congo, Nkunda was a double edged sword that served President Paul Kagame’s interests in the mineral rich region very well. Photo/FILE 

By HENRY OWOUR

Early this year, Congolese President Joseph Kabila took a gamble that appeared risky. He organised a coup within the ranks of a rebel group, installed a new leader and had his newfound allies place the longtime leader of that group under custody.

The rebel group targeted for Kabila’s grand operation was the National Congress for People’s Defence led by Laurent Nkunda.

Mr Nkunda had waged a war in eastern Congo targeting mainly Hutu rebels known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, accused of atrocities in eastern Congo and government troops.

Mr Kabila’s goal was to fight the same group that Mr Nkunda had been battling for years. But, he sought to do this with the help of Rwanda.

A coup within Mr Nkunda’s group meant that another general, known as Jean Bosco Ntaganda was installed as leader. The fact that Mr Ntaganda is wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for war crimes did not worry Mr Kabila.

To Mr Kabila, the real criminal was Nkunda. Currently, Nkunda is in a Rwandese jail and is likely to be extradited to Congo very soon.

For years, Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi had been a close ally of Rwanda. By fighting the ex-Rwanda soldiers and Congolese government troops in eastern Congo, Nkunda was a double edged sword that served President Paul Kagame’s interests in this mineral rich region very well. That Nkunda would now be under Rwandan custody was for many years an unthinkable scenario.

The bad news for Kabila is that despite the joint operation between his forces and Rwanda’s army that began in January and culminated in a peace deal in March, the fact is that the FDLR is still as active as ever in eastern Congo, pillaging and harassing the local population.

Early this week, the FDLR killed at least 14 people in a raid on a village in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province.

Less than two months since it was signed, the bad news is that the new Rwanda-Congo peace deal will prove as worthless as many others signed before it.

This was actually the fourth deal signed between Rwanda and Congo, the first one having been signed in 1999 with its goal being the tracking down and disarmament of former Rwandan army soldiers in eastern Congo.

The next peace agreement between Rwanda and Congo was signed in Pretoria in 2002. It addressed the need to disarm, demobilise and rehabilitate armed groups in eastern Congo.

There was also an agreement signed in Nairobi by Rwanda, Burundi and Congo, the so-called Tripartite deal that addressed the same issues addressed by the Lusaka and Pretoria deals.
With the signing of the latest deal, Kabila can take pride in only one achievement. He is finally at peace with Rwanda, a country that has invaded Congo twice.

At the same time, in Kinshasa, Kabila appears to have prevailed over his political enemies the moment National Assembly Speaker, Mr Vital Kamerhe, was forced out of office for opposing the deal.

This was all part of the coming of age of a leader who has been seen for years as a neophyte, having taken power after the killing of his father, Laurent in a palace attack in 2001.

Pursue rebels

The departure of Mr Kamerhe and much earlier, the Prime Minister, Mr Antoine Gizenga, who was also a key player in Kabila’s 2006 election victory, opened the path for the kind of deal Kabila had with Rwanda, allowing his eastern neighbour to send troops into the country to pursue rebels.

A sign of the seriousness of the eastern Congo issue was in the call by French President Nicholas Sarkozy for Congo to pursue peace with Rwanda during his visit in Kinshasa mid this month.

Meanwhile, for the first time, eastern Congo is much more quiet, most rebel groups having been neutralised.

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