In late January, we passed the second anniversary of renegade Congolese Gen. Laurent Nkunda’s arrest by the Rwandan government. Nkunda has been held under house arrest outside Kigali since that time – without charge or trial.
As Rwandan Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama told Kenya’s Daily Nation, Nkunda’s case isn’t easy.
The main impediments to trying Nkunda have to do with issues over extradition to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including the fear that the DRC’s amnesty law will allow Nkunda to walk free and the fact that Rwandan law prohibits extradition to states that use the death penalty, which the DRC does.
Of course, the real place Nkunda should be tried is the International Criminal Court (ICC), and don’t think for a minute that it wouldn’t be possible for Rwanda to arrange a transfer of Nkunda directly into the hands of United Nations Organization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he could be transferred to ICC custody with little fuss, thus avoiding the Congolese courts entirely.
But that would mean a full trial of Nkunda in the public eye, which no one in Rwanda wants because Nkunda knows everybody’s secrets and would have little to lose by exposing them.
Meanwhile, back in Goma, Nkunda’s one-time, second-in-command and current leader of the National Congress for the Defense of the People, Bosco Ntaganda, has been involved in some shenanigans of his own, most recently involving a Nigerian plane that arrived in Goma carrying several million dollars in cold hard cash, apparently to buy gold from Ntaganda.
You can’t make this stuff up, although, as Jason Stearns notes, one has to wonder about the type of shady characters who thinks Goma is the place to buy gold. Everybody knows the gold goes through Butembo, Bunia and Bukavu.
Ntaganda, by the way, is still avoiding an arrest warrant from the ICC, despite living openly in Goma and going about his everyday business of maintaining a parallel administrative governance structure for the National Congress for the Defense of the People in Rutshuru territory and, apparently, trying to get away with multimillion dollar smuggling deals. I hear he can regularly be seen out and about enjoying Goma’s finest dining establishments.
So why won’t anyone arrest Ntaganda?
The Rwandan government has had no problem prosecuting cases against its political enemies. Four exiled Rwandan leaders, all former members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front and trusted Kagame deputies, including former army external intelligence head Patrick Karegeya and Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, were sentenced to 20- and 24-year prison terms in absentia by a Rwandan military court.
Finally, longtime friend/fawning admirer of Kagame, Stephen Kinzer, did an overnight about-face on his view of Kagame, calling him an authoritarian in a piece for the Guardian.
As Stearns noted, it’s hard to overstate what an extreme change this is. I expect we won’t be seeing any more fawning pieces about Kinzer like this one in the New Times anytime soon. Indeed, it appears the New Times has already turned on him.
On a brighter note, the Voice of America reported that the Rwandan government said it will review laws restricting press freedom, free speech rights and political freedom after being criticized at the meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
This would be a welcome change if it actually happens. As it currently stands, the broadly written genocide ideology law makes it possible for any critical speech directed against the government to be construed as promoting genocide.
My hopes that such a review will have any significant effect are limited, however, especially seeing as a Rwandan court just sentenced two journalists, who wrote pieces critical of Kagame prior to August’s elections, to seven and 17 years in prison.
Laura Seay is an Assistant Professor of Government at Colby College. She studies African politics, conflict and development, with a focus on central Africa.