"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

1.29.2009

et tu, betty?

Of all the moronic ideas that prevail in the international, traveling peacekeeping circus (next stop, Darfur!), integrating rebel groups into national armies is among the worst. There's a certain logic to the idea: in places that don't have strong (any) employment prospects for former soldiers, and bringing dissident groups into national institutions gives them a stake in getting everything to work, so we should keep those soldiers employed and give their leaders some authority so they won't rebel again.

It never works that way.

The news that 6,200 CNDP rebels who were, until recently, under the command of Laurent Nkunda, are being integrated into the Congolese army is anything but welcome. There's a slight possibility that they'll bring discipline and order into the ranks. After all, the fact that Nkunda could actually command them is the reason that they almost took Goma last Novemeber, unlike the FARDC forces who fled the front lines. But since the CNDP troops are being integrated into mixed brigades and since the soldiers will now theoretically be paid less than $20 a month by the Congolese army, if their paychecks make it out at all, it's more likely that they'll end up like the rest of the FARDC, dependent on looting and terrorizing the countryside to generate an income.

The bigger problem, however, is that, like most of their compatriots in the FARDC, the CNDP rebels are first class violators of human rights. They are reponsible for rapes, mass killings, looting, burning down villages, burning down refugee camps, using child soldiers, and terrorizing the population.

Their most recent commander, Bosco Ntaganda, has apparently seen the light that he should work with the government and MONUC rather than challenge their authority.

Perhaps this is because Ntaganda is a war criminal. Ntaganda is under an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, and he's done things that are arguably worse than what Nkunda did, including using child soldiers in Ituri in 2002-03 and letting his troops massacre civilians in Kiwanja last year.

Why on earth would the international community (who really calls the shots in the DDR* process) legitimate these people by giving them the uniforms of the national army and handing them weapons? Does anyone really expect that a month in a UN camp will convince CNDP fighters that they should play nice?

Integrating former combatants into national armies is a terrible idea. It's a major reason Congo's army is such a train wreck and that the number of human rights violations committed by FARDC soldiers has skyrocketed in the last few years. Integrating the CNDP is unlikely to improve the situation, and very likely to make things worse for the populations who are unfortunate enough to live near military bases.

*DDR = Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Resettlement, and Reintegration

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