As the entire Great Lakes region waits and watches with uncertainty as to how the tense security situation in eastern Congo will play out, Radio Okapi reported that Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his Army Chief of Staff, General Dider Etumba, arrived in Goma on Monday.
The president’s arrival is a remarkable turn of events. Kabila rarely travels to the easternmost provinces of his country and generally only visits Goma on the campaign trail during election season.
While Kabila is the highest profile visitor to the eastern city, he is certainly not the only new arrival to have grabbed the attention of the citizenry. There are credible reports that at least one battalion of Belgian-trained Congolese special forces deployed in Goma on Friday, April 6.
A recent Enough Project post chronicled the intricate web of loyalties, defections, and crumbling alliances that have led to the deterioration of the security situation in eastern Congo. As Congo expert Jason Stearns noted, “the personal future of one military commander, Bosco Ntaganda, has escalated latent tensions within the poorly integrated Congolese army.”
It is likely that these top-ranking officials have come to Goma to deal, one way or another, with the security threat posed by the defections of former rebels integrated in the army under a peace deal. Upon his arrival General Etumba was quoted as saying:
“There are some undisciplined soldiers that must be hunted down and they are being hunted in the most radical way. This is not about demands. Someone who is undisciplined and does not want to submit to the Constitution of the Republic, the laws of the Republic, someone who does not follow the instructions of the President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Someone who refuses to be patriotic cannot serve under the flag. And when this happens, when they take up arms, well, they must be hunted and neutralized and those who have legal problems will have to answer for them.”
Speculations abound that post-electoral diplomatic pressure on Kabila’s regime has goaded the Congolese government into taking a stand against Bosco Ntaganda, the infamous warlord ominously known as “The Terminator.” Just last week, Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders is said to have told Kabila that the credibility of his regime, which is already plagued by the specter of a fraudulent election, was being negatively affected by his failure to apprehend Ntaganda.
Moreover, it appears that the recent conviction of Congolese rebel Thomas Lubanga by the International Criminal Court, and the subsequent attention garnered by Ntaganda, has “spooked” the warlord and precipitated the string of defections.
While it remains to be seen how the situation will unfold, it is clear that the President’s arrival in the east is a significant development and indicative of the gravity of the unfolding crisis in eastern Congo.
Photo: Congolese President Joseph Kabila (AP)