Adieu, Bosco?

Gen. Bosco Ntaganda spends a lot of his time looking over his shoulder these days. The army commander, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court for abuses in Ituri as chief of staff of Thomas Lubanga’ UPC, is still deputy commander of Amani Leo operations in the eastern Congo. He was put in that position in early 2009, after the arrest of Laurent Nkunda, and has explicitly been cited by Rwandan and (some) Congolese officials as “the lynchpin of stability” in the region.

How can someone who has been accused of so many human rights abuses, in Ituri and the Kivus, against the civilians population but also against his own commander, be seen thus? Bosco was given the command of the ex-CNDP troops after Nkunda left, and is seen as crucial part of the deal that saw Kinshasa and Kigali make peace, semi-integrate CNDP troops into the Congolese army, and jointly attack the FDLR.

But this might be changing.

Last week, two top Nkunda commanders – Colonels Innocent Kabundi and Richard Bisamaza – departed for Kinshasa, possibly to take up positions in the West of the country. This kind of deployment outside of the Kivus has long been anathema to the CNDP, who know that they will lose their strength (and their protection rackets) if redeployed. In addition, Bisamaza and Kabundi were once seen as Bosco loyalists, and Bosco reportedly ordered them not to fly to Kinshasa. But they refused. (Some also say that Nkunda’s younger brother, Seko, was part of the Kinshasa trip).

The Bosco wing of the CNDP suddenly began to express its discontent with its current lot, despite the high profile, lucrative positions they currently occupy within military operations. A letter, allegedly signed by Bosco himself, was sent to MONUSCO in Goma on March 24, saying the CNDP wanted to return to peace talks. And a delegation of Tutsi community leaders in North Kivu met yesterday with MONUSCO in Goma, expressing its disapproval of Bosco’s ICC arrest warrant and warning against his arrest. Why all this noise if Bosco has nothing to worry about?

Finally, diplomats appear to be taking advantage of the post-electoral turmoil to push some policy points. The compromise with Kabila’s government seems to be: we have accepted the fraudulent elections, but if you want international legitimacy, carry out some quick-and-easy reforms. Arresting Bosco is part of this, and on my recent trip to Kinshasa his name was on the lips of many diplomats.  (This blog by Tony Gambino and Lisa Shannon in the NYT contributed to this push.)

It doesn’t hurt that many Congolese army officers and security officials barely conceal their dislike for the general – the former commander of North Kivu operations, Col. Bobo Kakudji, used to be liberal in his criticism of Bosco, so much that he was moved out of the region. Another colonel told me: “We have shed our blood for Kabila, we have remained loyal throughout the years – today we stay at home watching TV, and Bosco, the biggest traitor, is given a high ranking post!”

So the times may be changing for Bosco. He reportedly does not move around Goma without a large, muscular escort. The myth that he is a stabilizing force is slowly being discredited, and his is becoming an embarrassment, even to his friends in the Rwandan army next door (the UN Group of Experts report from December cites his complicity in minerals smuggling with the Rwandan government, which is intent on proving the conflict-free credentials of its supply chains). Those relations are crucial, and some Congolese army officers say that it will be easier for the Rwandans to arrest him, as they did with Nkunda, as that will ensure that the other ex-CNDP officers will stay in line.