Skip to main content

Congo's "Terminator" surrenders, what next for peace?

By Sasha Lezhnev, Special to CNN
updated 4:20 PM EDT, Fri March 29, 2013
Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda will likely face prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda will likely face prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sasha Lezhnev notes a notorious Congolese warlord turned himself in
  • Lezhnev says there may be positive news, but human tragedy persists in the region
  • A 25-year-old charcoal maker is still searching for his wife and infant son
  • Lezhnev: Now is a crucial time for world community to help make peace a reality

Editor's note: Sasha Lezhnev is senior policy analyst at the Enough Project and author of the book "Crafting Peace: Strategies to Deal With Warlords in Collapsing States."

(CNN) -- On March 18, a Congolese warlord known as Bosco "the Terminator" Ntaganda surrendered to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda. Notorious for his alleged butchering of communities, including a 2008 massacre in which 150 people were killed by machetes, clubs and bullets, Ntaganda will likely face trial at the International Criminal Court for war crimes seven years after his indictment.

On a recent trip to eastern Congo, I met Patrick, a 25-year-old charcoal maker who had survived two attacks allegedly led by Ntaganda.

Four months ago, working on a hot afternoon just south of the equator in Kibumba in eastern Congo, it seemed like a normal day for Patrick. A week before, his wife had given birth to a baby boy, Janvier. Then suddenly, Patrick heard a "boom!" And he ran home as quickly as he could.

Patrick's village had just been attacked by the M23 rebel group co-commanded by Ntaganda. For Patrick, it was the second time he had been displaced in four years by an armed group led by Ntaganda.

Child of war practices peace in Congo

Panting, he arrived back home, but his wife and newborn were nowhere to be found. "Then I heard the bombs land, and I had to flee," he told me in the displacement camp where he now struggles to survive on one meal per day.

Months later, Patrick had still been unable to find his family in the camps, which now include more than 2 million people.

"My children used to crawl onto my lap, eat little candies I would buy them and make me laugh. Now I can't go far to look for them, as I'm afraid I'll be abducted by rebels. I'm told my house has been burned down. It's so tough for me. I don't know where they are. ..."

The Terminator's surrender has sparked jubilation in eastern Congo after years of suffering under his ruthless rule, during which he also amassed millions of dollars through a conflict minerals smuggling ring. But will this single event create lasting change for the people of eastern Congo who have suffered under repeated cycles of conflict for 18 years? The answer hangs on three policy choices that must be made in the coming weeks.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



First, will war criminals be integrated back into the Democratic Republic of Congo's army? The M23 rebel group that Ntaganda co-led is full of officers with extremely poor human rights records of mass murders, child soldier recruitment and sexual violence. Several of them are close to signing a peace deal to rejoin the Congolese army in talks brokered by one of the rebel group's alleged backers, Uganda.

Previous peace deals that integrated war criminals into Congo's army, including Ntaganda, reignited conflict soon thereafter as the warlords again behaved lawlessly.

To stop this, newly appointed U.N. envoy Mary Robinson should immediately insist that any reintegration deals should be only for rank-and-file troops, not commanders most responsible for atrocities. To support this, the International Criminal Court should investigate and indict the commanders of M23 leaders and other armed groups most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the Congolese justice system should prosecute other mutineers.

Second, will there be a peace process with strong international backing? After years of failed peace agreements, there is finally a chance to address the underlying interests of Rwanda, Congo and Uganda that have fueled conflict in eastern Congo. This is possible now because of the strong new international pressure against external support to rebel groups, the removal of Ntaganda, the lowered profitability of the trade in conflict minerals and the International Monetary Fund's pressure on Congo to enact governance reforms.

Robinson should start negotiations that would subsume the Kampala talks, and the Obama administration should follow the U.N. lead in appointing a senior-level envoy to the peace process and ensure that regional economic integration and security issues are brought to the fore of the process.

Third, will the international community vigorously support real governance reform in Congo? The U.S. and U.N. envoys should proactively back a root-and-branch Congolese reform process to address critical issues that undergird the conflict, from decentralization to army reform. The process should include an impartially facilitated national dialogue that allows Congolese civil society, including women leaders, to have a real voice at the table.

When asked this year what could be done to end the war, Patrick said, "Please tell President Obama to arrest Bosco, (M23 commander) Sultani Makenga and the ringleaders. If they're not arrested, they'll continue the war, and my life will always be on the run."

At least one of these warlords is now in custody, but there will be no end to the war until the international community robustly backs a lasting peace and reform process that includes accountability for the worst war criminals. It is time to give Patrick a chance to play with his children again and end this cyclical war once and for all.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sasha Lezhnev.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 8:35 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT