Rwanda Finally Ditches Nkunda


So General Laurent Nkunda has been arrested in Rwanda. About time too. His thuggish rebellion scattered 250,000 people in the last months of 2008 as he flexed his muscles and played games with the lives of the families he claimed to represent. There are still questions to be answered – will Rwanda hand over to the DRC where he is a wanted man – but this, for what it’s worth, is my take on the affair…

Either General Laurent Nkunda has spent four years protecting his Tutsi tribemates from Hutu genocidaires or he is a Rwandan-backed troublemaker, intent on destabilising the Democratic of Congo depending on who you talk to.

Today it seems time has run out for the rebel leader. It may be that he has fallen out with too many of his senior lieutenants or that his arrest was the price Rwanda was willing to pay in order to send troops over the border to clear out Hutu militias hiding in Congolese forests.

Either way the man known as the Butcher of Kisangani appears to have lost support in key places. "Nkunda didn’t realise that he had lost political capital with a series of foolish moves," said a UN source in the regional capital of Goma.

"He thought he was indispensable and that he could do whatever he pleased." The forests of eastern Congo are the refuge of FDLR guerrillas, Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after the genocide. Kigali has long accused the DRC of not doing enough to clear the forests of Hutu gunmen.

As a result few doubt that Rwanda was offering assistance to Nkunda to do the job instead. A United Nations report last year cited evidence that Nkunda’s rebels were receiving cash and recruits from Rwanda, and that senior commanders had a direct line to officials in the Rwandan capital Kigali. But his leadership had been under threat ever since a breakaway faction of his National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) declared a ceasefire earlier this week.

At times his comrades have been irritated by his erratic, narcissistic style promising one thing in media interviews, before contradicting himself days later. Last year his rebels sparked a major humanitarian crisis as they moved on the city of Goma. A quarter of a million people were forced from their homes. In the end Rwanda probably decided it no longer needed Nkunda’s bloody help.

"He’s an embarrassment for Kigali and he became part of the deal between Kinshasa and Kigali," said Francois Grignon, Africa director of the International Crisis Group in Nairobi. "He went too far." On Tuesday some 3500 Rwandan troops crossed the Congolese border to help DRC forces disarm the Hutu militias and Nkunda became surplus to requirements.

Photo by me: Laurent Nkunda and Olesegun Obasanjo inspect rebel troops