Organizing a few thousand ethnically aligned soldiers and convincing them of the legitimacy of their complaints has long been the path to political power in the Congo. Laurent Nkunda, former Congolese Army officer, teacher, psychology student, Seventh Day Adventist pastor, long-time fighter for the rights of the Watutsi is now the commanding general of a Tutsi rebel army of 4,000-6,000 in the northeastern Congo.
About a quarter of Nkunda’s well-equipped and relatively disciplined force are from the bordering country of Rwanda and the rest have been recruited from the minority Tutsi population of the Congolese province of North Kivu. Supplies, finance and political support for this Congolese rebel army come from their fellow tribesmen in Rwanda. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has long been a supporter of Nkunda, who originally was an intelligence officer in the Rwanda leader’s overthrow of the Hutu despotic rule in his country.
Tall as are all the Watutsi, with typical Nilotic features similar to inhabitants of Ethiopia from which the tribe originally migrated, the bespectacled and fastidious Nkunda enjoys the international press attention. He and his commanders easily push around the rag-tag regular Congolese Army while at the same time fending off the United Nations forces pursuing their peacekeeping role. The outnumbered UN peacekeepers have been corralled into their base in the town of Goma.
While his stated desire is to provide a secure homeland for his Tutsi brothers in North Kivu, Laurent Nkunda makes little effort to conceal his larger aim of eventually commanding the entire Congolese Army. This route to political power in the Congo has considerable precedent. Nkunda is already being treated by the UN as a major political figure, much to the annoyance of the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila.
It is reported that 250,000 people have fled their homes in the scenic Lake Kivu area and are huddled in terrible conditions as close to the UN base at Goma as they can get. The MONUC contingent (the French acronym for the UN Congo Force) has reported, however, that after a meeting between Nkunda and the special UN representative, former president of Nigeria, Obasanjo, there has been a definite lessening of rebel pressure.
While most of the MONUC-Goma unit is made up of Indian Army personnel, Uruguayan, Senegalese and a newly arrived 90-man Guatemalan special ops force along with one attack helicopter fill out the 850-1,000 UN force in the city and environs.
The widely spread 17,000 soldier United Nations military force in the Congo has been unable to go to the aid of their own troops in Goma despite frantic calls for reinforcement from the MONUC-Goma command. MONUC headquarters in the Congo’s capital of Kinshasa has requested 3,000 more soldiers from the UN in New York. This is the usual United Nations’ bureaucratic delay that has been going on in the Congo for 48 years. It’s not lack of money: the annual UN Congo budget for this year is $1 billion.
Meanwhile an effort lead by France to have 1,500 European Union troops sent to supplement the UN Goma force was received with no enthusiasm in Brussels. The general view among the European political leadership was that they wanted no EU military commitment established in dealing with African problems. This is a matter for the UN or an African Union force, they indicated.
Vestiges of European colonial responsibility in Africa have apparently been relegated to the realm of ancient history – except, of course, where a direct and major economic advantage is to be gained. Sorry, no oil or diamonds in North Kivu, and the Chinese have already “cherry-picked” copper and cobalt concessions further south.
One cannot really completely fault the EU for its unwillingness to become enmeshed in yet again another Congo crisis. When Mobutu came to power, he maintained his corrupt control by playing off and paying off one tribal group against another. And when that didn’t work he just sent in his commandos to “clean up” the problem. For a short while, aided by foreign economic and political interests, his kleptocracy worked. And then it collapsed, and kept collapsing even after he was finally forced out.
The Congo has never recovered even close to its pre-independence order and economic balance. Laurent Nkunda may believe he is the one who can put the Congolese Humpty Dumpty back together again, but it’s not something on which one would want to bet.
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