By Sunny Ntayombya
Last week, The Guardian interviewed a Congolese soldier who recounted the hell that some months ago he and his colleagues unleashed on the womenfolk of Minova, a small centre 30 miles north of scenic Goma.
An excerpt from the article reads as follows:
“Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it,” he said. “I’ve raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.
“I didn’t rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure,” says 22-year-old Mateso (not his real name).
According to UN figures, 126 women were raped during the Congolese army’s retreat from Goma after being crushed by an M23 offensive.
“Both sides are the bad guys”
The simplistic narrative one hears from the Congo is that the bad guys are the rebels and the government troops are the good guys. The truth is that both sides are the bad guys; the angels are few and far between.
Only after pressure from MONUSCO did the government deem it fit to attempt to prosecute the errant soldiers and their commanders. The UN’s special DRC envoy, Roger Meece, warned the Congolese authorities in a 25 March letter they had seven days to take action on the rapes or MOSUSCO would suspend support.
Mind you, not one solider has actually been prosecuted, despite the fact that the crime took place in broad daylight and the suspects can be easily identified. Mind you, there is some progress. Twelve officers have been suspended while a probe begins. But I doubt that the women will get any justice. Only time will tell.
Why am I mentioning this? Because I feel that many people think that the arrest of The Terminator – General Bosco Ntaganda – will let peace descend on the lush rolling hills of North Kivu Province and people will hold hands singing ‘Kumbaya’. Sure, taking him out of the equation is certainly a positive move, but the Congo is still no place for the faint-hearted.
Days after his 18 March surrender to the US embassy in Kigali, the Mai Mai, a rag tag militia, had the temerity to attack a UN compound in Lumumbashi, the capital of mineral-rich Katanga Province in southern Congo. Actually, the attack, in which 35 people died, occurred a day after ICC authorities took Ntaganda into custody and flew him out of Kigali International Airport.
Kabila government and M23 talk
So, how are things in Goma and environs nowadays? Well, peace talks are still taking place in Kampala between Joseph Kabila’s government and the M23. But as usual, foreign meddling will most likely cause the renewal of the armed conflict. Ever since the UN Security Council authorized a new ‘intervention brigade’ – with the unprecedented mandate to take offensive action against rebel groups in the east – the Congolese delegation has turned quite belligerent.
In a 1 March press conference, the Congolese minister of foreign affairs, Raymond Tshibanda, called on the M23 to disband.
“The M23 may become agitated as they want. We were willing to reach a political agreement with them… The only future for the M23 is to cease to exist as a politico-military movement. If this is not the case, the brigade will look to end their life,” he said.
Of course the M23 isn’t taking those threats lightly. It recently wrote an open letter to South African Parliament asking it to reconsider its deployment of 1,000 troops under the auspices of the intervention brigade. The M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa tweeted “if SA Special Forces attack us it will catastrophic and apocalyptic”.
In short, as Ntaganda faces the ICC judges for the next few years, the people of eastern Congo will probably face more hardship, not less.