As fighting in Kivus intensifies, deeper problems linger

The weekend saw a confusing situation develop in North Kivu, with serious fighting breaking out for the first time between Bosco’s troops in Masisi and the Congolese army. The “mutineers,” as Bosco’s forces are now being called, took the upper hand and took the towns of Mweso, Mushaki and Karuba, and were even threatening the lakeside town of Sake, the gateway to Goma. Meanwhile, the Congolese army appeared disorganized and confused; the deputy regional commander, Col. Jonas Padiri, was stuck with several other senior officers for almost a whole day before he could get back to Sake.

In the meantime, troops loyal to Commander Sheka Ntaberi, a Mai-Mai commander in Walikale, have also taken control of several towns in central Walikale, as Congolese army troops have retreated from the area. The price of food items is going up dramatically in Goma, as it is cut off from important hinterlands, and thousands of people are fleeing from the violence. Rumors abound, often contradicting each other – some say that Rwandan troops have infiltrated to prop up Bosco, others conjecture that Bosco has struck a cynical alliance with the FDLR.

But behind the bluster, a deeper story is playing out. While the trigger of the conflict was Bosco’s fear of being arrested and taken to the Hague, it is unlikely that he would have been able to mobilize this many troops without some help. Indeed, in the early days of his mutiny, he appeared to have faltered, as many of his ex-CNDP comrades failed to go along with him. Again and again, commanders mutinied only to see most of their troops re-defect back to the government.

Then, however, something appeared to change. The main mutineers – Cols. India Queen, Saddam, Zaire, Baudouin, Butoni, Zimurinda – converged on the Masisi highlands, their home turf. Some tactical mistakes were made by the Congolese army, such as giving Col. Baudouin, a Bosco loyalist, a truck full of ammunition and tens of thousands of dollars for supplies, only to see him reject his new assignment and head back to join Bosco, arms and all.

But there is a deeper problem, one that goes beyond just tactical mistakes and disorganization. Both Rwanda and the ex-CNDP cadres can suffer to see Bosco go – after all, many have personal quibbles with him. But they cannot suffer to see the CNDP networks and power dismantled. And this is what was lurking on the horizon as Kabila brought in loyalist troops (“special forces”), arrested prominent ex-CNDP allies, and redeployed a few ex-CNDP commanders outside of the Kivus. Now, even ex-CNDP commanders who had previously been hostile to Bosco are openly dismissive of the offensive against him and express sympathy for his cause. In sum, the foundation of the 2009 peace deal between Kigali, Kinshasa and the CNDP is being shaken.

We are likely in for some more fighting before the situation becomes any clearer. For now, Gen. Gabriel Amisi (Commander of Land Forces) and Gen. Didier Etumba (Commander of the Army) have arrived back in Goma to oversee the operations themselves. Let’s see what will happen.