There’s a new fad that’s all the rage in eastern Congo these days. It’s called the shortcut.
Simply take your victim, make sure he or she is tied and bound well; then chop off their arms. Then chop off their legs.
Welcome to one of the world’s most routinely unstable spots, where the party is back for those with guns and a killer instinct.
Six months ago, hundreds of thousands hopelessly fled a shapely rebel force that intended to bring down the Kinshasa government, and the media, diplomats and foreign armies moved in.
Those refugees, who at times criss-crossed their own tracks five times in a day, flushed the front pages of newspapers in far off Los Angeles.
The conflict in eastern Congo, which opened a new chapter in late January, when Rwanda and Congolese forces came together to fight a myriad of militia in the region, has changed little since then.
It’s not as sexy at it used to be – when a media-friendly rebel defeated phantoms of the Rwandan genocide and almost kicked out a government few had the patience to defend.
Laurent Nkunda, a ruthless warlord who invented a country, posed for National Geographic and led his disciplined army in easy routs of the government, is gone.
The reporters who interviewed him, who came to the war-torn North Kivu capital of Goma to watch a city and country fall to its knees, have left as well.
The diplomats, from France, the United Kingdom and the United States, they all stayed for just a couple hours.
Now, with the Rwandan military out of the picture as well, and the substitute teacher – Congo’s own army – getting little respect, it’s just back to normal in eastern Congo; a circus-act of an inept national army and splintered rebels running around in circles.
Though the United Nations says demobilisation numbers from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – remnants of those who committed genocide in Rwanda in 1994 – have quadrupled in the last month, fighting continues.
In South Kivu, where World Food Programme and UN officials say a new offensive by the Congolese army will intensify greatly in May, a prison-break sparked by a rebel attack across the border from Burundi sent over 200 inmates into the wilderness.In North Kivu, where the Rwandan army met up with its Congolese counterparts to disarm both Mr Nkunda’s rebels as well as the FDLR, homes are being burnt down and a mix of rebels and renegade Congolese troops have displaced over 100,000.
Human Rights Watch says the number is closer to 250,000, the same number displaced by Mr Nkunda’s offensive in late October.
In Lubero territory – Nkunda’s old stomping grounds – 255 homes were razed to the ground, and five children burned to death in a small village by the FDLR.
In the nearby town of Luofo, Mai-Mai rebels – who are supposed to be working with the government and other neutral militia – invented the Shortcut.
“Can we say it’s worse than the way it was before, no,” says Jim Farrel of the World Food Programme. “But it’s pretty damn bad.”
The United Nations force in the Congo, the wealthiest and most powerful of any UN peacekeeping force to date, has again not done enough, already reiterating that it was into place to take over from the Congolese army in both fighting the FDLR and keeping the country secure.
Criticism from all sides says the UN is again not doing enough.
What brought Congo to the world’s attention was not its ills, but a single man and his ability to turn a hodge-podge of violence and regional power vacuum into a singular force with mighty direction.
All of a sudden, to an amnesic world, there was a narrative, and Mr Nkunda, who mixed ethnic protection and a mighty sympathizer in Rwanda, became the narrator.
The tables for the man turned in late November when his antics became too real and the region bent to its knees.
His national ambitions became embarrassing and one of his senior officers, Bosco Ntaganda, turned villages into killing fields, ruining Nkunda’s image.
In early January, Ntaganda, reportedly offered a half-million dollars in cash and a senior security position by Kinshasa, led a coup within the rebel group. Two weeks later Mr Nkunda was detained by Rwanda and nothing has been heard of him since.
No more Nkunda. No more CNDP who may take over the country. Journalist, diplomats, world gone.
Rwanda and Congo couldn’t complain about that.
The two countries both described their ensuing joint-operations in North Kivu major successes in ‘breaking the back’ of the FDLR, but the most total damage it did was to Nkunda’s own Rwandan-sympathetic CNDP.
The bulk of the FDLR are operating in South Kivu and in a new report first disclosed by Voice of America called the joint-operations, which concluded in late February, a failure.
Now, Mr Ntaganda – also known as The Terminator wanted by the International Criminal Court for all the usual crimes, including rape, massacre and recruiting child soldiers, is playing a senior role in the new operations against the FDLR. While Congo has confirmed his role, the United Nations mission to the country and official watchdog over the war, continues to deny his role.
“They are acting like ostriches with their heads in the sand,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in the Congo told the BBC recently.
“It’s time now this is addressed head on. Rather than denying or ignoring the role being played by Bosco Ntaganda, the UN should be actively seeking his arrest and transferring him to The Hague.”
In a part of the world where morals are hardly governing ideologies, they have lost all power.