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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT