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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Congo's east: Still smuggling | The Economist

Still smuggling

A warlord goes about his business

Congo's east

BOSCO NTAGANDA is a Congolese army general and former rebel leader wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for recruiting child soldiers. On February 3rd a plane from Nigeria landed in Goma, capital of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a group of his men swiftly unloaded $6.5m in cash. Pursued by police through Goma’s streets, they ferried the money to one of the general’s compounds. The plane was later loaded with over 400kg of gold, worth around $19m at today’s prices. But the authorities seized the gold and arrested the passengers—an American, a Frenchman, and two Nigerians—for trafficking.
According to the UN, General Ntaganda, once deputy to the warlord Laurent Nkunda, oversees a vast mineral-smuggling operation in eastern Congo. It is manned by former rebel allies who, under a peace deal, are now part of the army. The trade—legal and illegal—in gold, tin ore and coltan from the region is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In September, in an attempt to clamp down on smuggling, the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, imposed a ban on most mining in the east. Mr Kabila wants to root out “mafias”, he says, which include both the army and the armed militias that control the region’s mineral trade. That trade has fuelled more than 15 years of war, killing and displacing millions. But the prohibition has done little to limit the smuggling.
General Ntaganda, a Tutsi, is presumed to have the backing of neighbouring Rwanda, run by Paul Kagame, also a Tutsi. Rwanda may well have more influence in the Kivus than Congo’s own government, 1,000 miles (1,600km) away in Kinshasa. Even with an ICC indictment hanging over his head, the general freely walks around Goma. During the day he plays tennis on clay courts in the shadow of Goma’s restless volcano, Nyiragongo. At night he dines in lakeside restaurants frequented by UN and aid workers and the local elite.

Outside the town, his soldiers continue to plunder and rape. On New Year’s Day Lieutenant Colonel Kibibi Mutwara, who fought with General Ntaganda’s rebels, allegedly ordered his men to attack the village of Fizi in South Kivu province in retaliation for the murder of a soldier. At least 62 women, men, and children were raped, according to hospital officials. Unusually, Colonel Mutwara has been arrested. The trial, along with ten of his men, will begin shortly in Baraka, a nearby town.
Mr Kabila says that Congo needs peace before it can have justice. But General Ntaganda and men like him are a growing embarrassment to the Congolese, the Rwandans, the UN, and the ICC. Last month Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, said that the general’s arrest was his “next objective.” But the ICC’s power is limited and in this case depends largely on the governments of Rwanda and Congo.
Mr Kabila faces re-election in November. Arresting the general could rekindle the widespread support he had in the Kivus at the last vote in 2006—supposing he can maintain some semblance of peace afterwards. And if Rwanda ended its support for a man wanted by the ICC, that could help repair the damage to its reputation from a messy election season of its own last year. Will they turn on the general?

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