Skip to main content

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

By Sasha Lezhnev, Special to CNN
March 29, 2013 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
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
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT