The not-so-prodigal son returns?

Most observers would have never thought it possible: Laurent Nkunda coming back to the Congo? Yes, this is indeed the rumor that has been making the rounds in Goma, Kigali and elsewhere over the past few months. Moreover, this mooted return would not be one in handcuffs to the closest prison, but in style and honor to an official military position.

It seems impossible, given that Nkunda is one of the most divisive figures in the country – seen by many Congolese as symbol of Rwandan aggression or Tutsi chauvinism, upheld by some in his own community as a hero. Could President Kabila really accept this? Some CNDP officials are saying yes. Accentuating these rumors, in past weeks, Nkunda has reportedly been seen traveling more freely inside Rwanda, allegedly even coming to a funeral in Gisenyi.

It has been two and half years since Nkunda was arrested by the Rwandan government and put under house arrest in Kigali pending a trial that has never happened. Now, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo suggests, “We are talking to the Congolese authorities with regard to his extradition,” (they have said this for a while, also maintaining that this extradition is difficult), and I have seen emails suggesting that he could be named as the military commander of Maniema.

One possible reason for this return could be to reconcile the two factions within the CNDP, in order to solidify the group before the elections and to prevent any alliance with Rwandan opponents like Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa. Or this could just be a rumor to keep people on their toes – after all, the Congolese have maintained they would court martial him if he ever returns.

If it does happen, in handcuffs or not, it is unlikely to take place before the elections.