Last week, The Guardian’s correspondent Pete Jones, interviewed a Congolese soldier who recounted the hell that he and his colleagues unleashed onto the womenfolk of Minova, a small centre 30 miles north of scenic Goma, the biggest city in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it,” he said. “I’ve raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.
“I didn’t rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure,” the 22-year-old told the British journalist. “When we arrived here we met a lot of women. We could do whatever we wanted.”
According to UN figures, 126 women were raped during the Congolese army’s retreat from Goma after being crushed by an M23 offensive.
The simplistic narrative that one hears from the Congo is that the bad guys are the rebel and the good guys the government troops. However, the truth is that both sides are the bad guys. The angels are few and far between.
Only after pressure from MONUSCO, the UN mission in Congo, did the government deem it fit to attempt to prosecute the errant soldiers and their commanders. UN special envoy to Congo, Roger Meece, warned the Congolese authorities in a March 25 letter they had seven days to take action on the rapes or MOSUSCO would suspend support.
Mind you, not one solider has actually been prosecuted despite the fact that the crime took place in broad daylight and the suspects easily identified. Mind you, there is some progress. 12 officers have been suspended while a probe begins. But to be truthful I doubt that the women will get any justice. Only time will tell.
Why am I mentioning this? Because I feel that many people think that with the arrest of the ‘Terminator’, General Bosco Ntaganda, peace will
descend on the lush rolling hills of North Kivu Province and people will hand hands singing ‘Kumbaya’. Sure, taking him out of the equation is certainly a positive move, but the Congo is still not a place for the faint hearted. Days after his March 18 surrender to the US embassy in Kigali, the Mai-Mai, a rag tag militia, had the temerity to attack a UN compound in Lumumbashi, the capital of mineral-rich Katanga Province in Southern Congo. Actually, the attack, in which 35 people died, occurred a day after ICC authorities took Ntaganda into custody and flew him out of Kigali International Airport.
So, how are things in Goma and its environs? Well, peace talks are still taking place in Kampala between the Joseph Kabila’s government and the M23. But as usual, foreign meddling will most likely cause the renewal of the armed conflict. Ever since the UN Security Council authorized a new ‘Intervention Brigade’ with the unprecedented mandate to take offensive action against rebel groups in the East, the Congolese delegation has turned quite belligerent.
In a March 1 press conference, Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raymond Tshibanda, called on the M23 to disband. “The M23 may become agitated as they want. We were willing to reach a political agreement with them… The only future for the M23 is to cease to exist as a politico-military movement. If this is not the case, the brigade will look to end their life”, he said.
Of course the M23 isn’t taking those threats lightly. It recently wrote an open letter to the South African parliament asking it to reconsider its deployment of 1,000 troops under the auspices of the Intervention Brigade. The M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa tweeted “if SA Special Forces attack us it will catastrophic and apocalyptic”.
So, as Ntaganda faces the ICC judges for the next few years, the people of Eastern Congo will probably face more hardship, not less.