In Rwanda, a rebel commander's case that no one wants to try

Two years after Rwanda arrested Congolese rebel commander Gen. Nkunda, it still doesn't know what to do with him – he knows too many secrets that could come out if he is tried.

Karel Prinsloo/AP
In this Nov. 6, 2008 file photo, Congo rebel leader Laurent Nkunda stands at his base in Tebero in eastern Congo. In a startling turn against its former ally, Rwanda arrested Nkunda on Jan. 23, 2009, a Congolese military spokesman said, just days after Nkunda's chief of staff broke away to form a splinter movement.

I've been a bit incommunicado of late. Sorry about that, there are lots of looming deadlines in my future and preparing to be out of town on a tour du monde for an entire month is consuming most of my blogging time. Speaking of, if you're up for hanging out in Shanghai, Chengdu, Nanjing, Montreal, Miami, D.C., or Chicago in March, let me know. I'll be giving public talks in Nanjing and Montreal and presenting at conferences in Montreal, Miami, and Chicago and would love to connect.

Anyway, my inbox is alarmingly empty of hate mail, so let's talk Great Lakes politics for a bit. In late January, we passed the two-year anniversary of renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda's arrest by the Rwandan government. Nkunda has been held under house arrest just outside Kigali since that time without charge or trial. As Rwandan Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama told Kenya's Daily Nation, Nkunda's case isn't easy. Trying a case you don't want to try never is.

The main impediments to trying Nkunda have to do with issues over extradition to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the fear that the DRC's amnesty law will allow Nkunda to walk free and the fact that Rwandan law prohibits extradition to states that use the death penalty, which the DRC does. Of course, the real place Nkunda should be tried is the ICC, and don't think for a minute that it wouldn't be possible for Rwanda to arrange a transfer of Nkunda directly into MONUSCO's hands, where he could be transferred to ICC custody with little fuss, thus avoiding the Congolese courts entirely. But that would mean a full trial of Nkunda in the public eye, which no one in Rwanda wants, because, as we've discussed before, Nkunda knows everybody's secrets and would have little to lose by exposing them.

Meanwhile, back in Goma, Nkunda's one-time-number-two/current leader of the CNDP/possible leader in the FARDC (depending on whom you ask) Bosco Ntaganda has been involved in some shenanigans of his own of late, most recently involving a Nigerian plane that arrived in Goma carrying several million dollars in cold hard cash, apparently to buy gold. From Ntaganda. You can't make this stuff up, although, as Jason notes, one has to wonder about the type of shady characters who think Goma is the place to buy gold. Everybody knows the gold goes through Butembo, Bunia, and Bukavu. Duh.

Ntaganda, by the way, is still avoiding an arrest warrant from the ICC, despite living quite openly in Goma and going about his everyday business of maintaining a parallel administrative structure for CNDP governance in Rutshuru territory and, apparently, trying to get away with multimillion dollar smuggling deals. I hear he can regularly be seen out and about enjoying Goma's finest dining establishments. So why won't anyone arrest Ntaganda?

Meanwhile, the Rwandan government has had no problem prosecuting cases against its political enemies. Four exiled Rwandan leaders, all former members of the RPF regime and trusted Kagame deputies including former army external intelligence head Patrick Karegeya and Lt Gen Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, were sentenced to 20 and 24 year prison terms in absentia by a Rwandan military court.

Finally, longtime friend/fawning admirer of Kagame Stephen Kinzer did an overnight about-face on his view of Kagame, calling him an authoritarian in a piece for the Guardian. As Jason notes, it's hard to overstate what an extreme change this is; I expect we won't be seeing any more fawning pieces about Kinzer like this one in the New Times anytime soon. Indeed, it appears the New Times has already turned on him.

On a brighter note, the Voice of America reports that the government of Rwanda has agreed to review some of its laws restricting press freedom, free speech rights, and political freedom after being criticized at the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. This would be a welcome change if it actually happens; as it currently stands, the broadly-written genocide ideology law makes it possible for any critical speech directed against the government to be construed as promoting genocide. My hopes that such a review will have any significant effect are limited, however, especially seeing as a Rwandan court just sentenced two journalists who wrote pieces critical of Kagame prior to August's elections to 7 and 17 years in prison.

Laura Seay is a professor at Morehouse College and Central Africa expert who blogs at Texas in Africa.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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