The surrender of Bosco Ntaganda

There are a plethora of unanswered questions over why the former general would have chosen to hand himself in.

The US embassy in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, sits like a fortress in the centre of the city: its mirrored windows and square concrete structure, is similar in architecture to other American embassies in Africa.

As we drove into the visitor’s entrance, I wondered what the staff especially the Rwandans who work here, must have thought when the tall, imposing figure, of Bosco Ntaganda walked up to the gate on Monday morning.

For several years, the US has called for Ntaganda’s arrest and transfer to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

It even added his name to its “War Crimes Rewards Programme”, where people are rewarded for giving information, which then leads to the arrest of those wanted by the ICC.

One man in Kigali, told me with a wry smile on his face, that he believed the driver who dropped Ntaganda at the Embassy “should get the bounty”.

Tight control

I have travelled from the border with Democratic Republic of Congo to Kigali many times.

This is a small, beautiful country, that reminds you of Switzerland, but it is also a very tightly controlled state, with several police checkpoints along the way.

It would have been extremely difficult for Ntaganda to reach Kigali, without the knowledge of the Rwandan authorities.

There are also unanswered questions, like why would the former general hand himself over.

“The Rwandan government probably either forced him to hand himself over,” says Jason Stearns from the Rift Valley Institute. “Or he was so afraid of what would happen if they arrested him, (or [Sultani] Makenga  got a hold of him) he made a run for the embassy.”

The surrender of Ntaganda, probably has less to do with justice, and more about the bloody battles we have seen in recent weeks for control of M23 rebel group based in eastern DR Congo.

Ntaganda’s main rival is General Sultani Makenga, a man who is on a UN sanctions list, and the military head of the rebel group.

The fighting led to the escape of several hundred of Ntaganda’s men into Rwanda. They were disarmed by the Rwandan military, and placed in a camp near the border at a place called Mudende. The camp is more like a former school, with low walls, a courtyard, and a few outbuildings.

We weren’t allowed to film or speak to the former combattants, but we were close enough to have eye contact with them.

Some of the fighters were still in uniform, there were campfires burning, and one jovial group, was dancing to music, which was playing out from a portable radio.

One of the soldiers asked me for a cigarette, however, armed Rwandan soldiers, some with red berets, who surround the compound, wouldn’t let us approach him. It is unclear, what will happen to these men now.

Will justice bring peace?

Although Rwanda is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, it is clear that there is too much international pressure on the county, and that they will have to agree to a swift and safe passage for Ntaganda to the Hague.

However, it is too optimistic to say that justice will bring peace any time soon. There are currently peace talks in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, between the Congolese government and M23.

But there is more chance of a breakthrough now, as one of Makenga’s conditions is his men being allowed back into the national army. And this is more likely now since Ntaganda is out of the way.

However, the Congolese government has less incentive to abide by the recently signed Framework Agreement. The agreement includes a pledge from the Congolese government to reform state institutions like the police and army.

But there are also other alleged war criminals still on the run in eastern DR Congo.

Mark Lattimer, Director of Minority rights group, an international organisation that raises awareness of issues relating to minorities, says that Ntaganda “is not the only one responsible for the mass killing, rape and recruitment of child soldiers that continue in DRC today”.

Rights body Amnesty International is calling on the Congolese authorities to apprehend Sylvestre Mudacumura, the military commander of another rebel group operating in the area known as FDLR, or the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. “So that he too is surrendered to the ICC.”

The demise of Ntaganda brings some closure for his victims and their families, however, DR Congo is only a small step closer to peace.