Report offers clues to warlord’s sudden surrender at U.S. Embassy

March 18, 2013

A 2009 photo shows Gen. Ntaganda Bosco (in the red beret) walking at his mountain base in Kabati, Democratic Republic of Congo. (LIONEL HEALING/AFP/GettyImages)

When Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, a Rwandan wanted by the International Criminal court for some particularly horrific war crimes allegedly committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, walked into the U.S. embassy in Rwanda and asked to be transferred to the ICC, it was not at all clear what led him there. Why would Ntaganda, a powerful player who has operated with impunity for years now, suddenly turn himself in, likely to face many years in jail?

I explored some of the possibilities earlier today: maybe his alleged sponsors in the Rwandan government were turning against him, maybe the M23 rebellion he'd begun last year was slipping out of his control, maybe he thought an ICC trial was his only way out of a region that had suddenly become unsafe for him. Maybe some combination.

A just-out report by Katrina Manson of the Financial Times offers some clues. Manson's story suggests that two things may have happened. First, Ntaganda's M23 rebellion – a play for even more power within the Congo, and for a while successful – alienated the Rwandan government. Manson doesn't venture any speculation as to why, but it's reasonable to wonder whether Ntaganda went further than Rwanda wanted him to, going "off the reservation."

Second, the M23 rebellion very recently splintered, with Ntaganda's faction the weaker of the two. Suddenly, the warlord who had ruled over a personal fiefdom in northeastern Congo, allegedly at the behest of some Rwandan leaders, would have found himself safe in neither Congo nor Rwanda. In the thinking behind this theory, the ICC was an escape hatch. Here's some of Manson's reporting:

“I’m sure he was much more scared of us than the [US] embassy because he has caused some friction,” a senior Rwandan military official told the FT, adding that he believed Gen Ntaganda feared for his life. “The information we had consistently coming from his people was that he was heading deeper and deeper into the forest but that was a deception to our intelligence.”

Any evidence from General Ntaganda could prove potentially explosive were he to reveal any links to Rwanda, but the senior Rwandan source said his country would not accept General Ntaganda’s presence in the country and expects the US to deliver him to the ICC in The Hague.

Manson's point in that last sentence is an important one: Even though Ntaganda's ICC testimony will probably cause problems for Rwanda, the Rwandan government still won't offer him shelter. That suggests they really, really don't want him sticking around on Rwandan soil.

To be clear, though, it's still early in this story. It's entirely possible that later developments could contradict the theory I'm describing here or could point in a different direction. Check back for more coverage.

Update: The headline on this post originally identified Ntaganda as a "Rwandan warlord." While he is thought to be a Rwandan national, as the New Yorker's Philip Gourevitch put it politely but pointedly, "all his warlording was as Congolese [general] in the DRC." I regret causing any confusion. Thanks to Gourevitch and other readers who pointed this out.

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Max Fisher · March 18, 2013