Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Congolese war lord Thomas Lubanga of recruiting children and sending them into battle. The conviction is good news for his victims, but it does not match the scope of his crimes. This is just a drop in the bucket considering the list of people connected to the crimes committed in Ituri and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 1996. Lubanga is just a middle man paying for his part in a well thought-out criminal scheme by Ugandan authorities. They recruited him to be the poster boy of a cause that had nothing to do with the progress or other long standing grievances of the Congolese people.
Calls for the arrest of Lubanga’s collaborator, Bosco Ntaganda, have intensified. Arresting Mr. Ntaganda would certainly be a statement against the culture of impunity in DRC, but what difference does it make if the DRC government does not do its part to address the core problems that Mr. Ntaganda and other militia represent? The DRC government instead awarded Mr. Natganda the post of General in the Congolese national army three years ago.
In DRC’s Oriental province Lubanga and Ntaganda served the interests of Uganda. Since Ntaganda moved to North Kivu province he has been serving Rwandan interests. Ntaganda runs an army within the Congolese national army with an ethnocentric mission modeled at that of his supporter the current Rwandan President Paul Kagame. As recently as 2008 while he was working with the former rebel leader of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (NCDP) Laurent Nkunda, Ntaganda led the troops that committed the massacre of Kiwanja in North Kivu.
There are conflicting reports on the significance of Thomas Lubanga’s conviction. Some have qualified it as a non-event and others believe that Ntaganda, his collaborator also wanted by the ICC since 2006 is rethinking his strategy to avoid arrest, which can only happen if Rwadan President Paul Kagame and DRC’s President Joseph Kabila give him up. An impressive security detail accompanies him everywhere, clearly he is afraid. His fear is so great that he swore he would never be brought alive by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to the Hague. This is why he never travels by boat or airplane for fear that he can be caught, and does not accept to be deployed to provinces other than the Kivus.
Our sources from eastern DRC said that in Ituri some Lubanga supporters protested the conviction and others have threatened to take up arms but were calmed by John Tinanzabo, the elected Parliamentarian of Irumu in Oriental Province and acting president of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) party of Thomas Lubanga.
Ntaganda’s military power, supported by Rwanda and the Congolese president Kabila, is one of the causes of the ongoing insecurity in many eastern DRC localities. The power of arms affords CNDP key members a lot of things: acquire land by force,smuggle conflict minerals into Rwanda, hold positions of influence at the national level and in North Kivu provincial politics.
NCDP is not the only ethnic militia in eastern DRC and the agenda of the leaders does not reflect members of their respective ethnic groups. This is why there is hope for the conflict to end. The United Nations Mapping report’s recommendationto establish a mixed court to deal with crimes committed in the DRC since 1993, if implemented, can achieve more than what the ICC is doing. However, removing key people like Ntaganda from the battle field is a short step ahead, but equally important.