The Battle of Rutshuru is over and Laurent Nkunda is the clear winner. The foreign diplomats have come and gone, their sound bites dutifully recorded by the reporters, most of whom will soon be gone themselves. The United Nations has voted to send an additional 3,000 peacekeepers to the region, a noble thought but likely irrelevant to the current situation since it may take as long as four months for them to arrive on the scene.
The battle itself was fought over the last ten weeks between Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), the official Congolese army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), and local mai-mai militia groups. The CNDP conquered as much new territory in the mineral-rich North and South Kivu Provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as they could swallow in one bite. As they were destroying refugee camps and pushing the boundaries of their domain outward, the wrongly-mandated and thinly-deployed UN troops stood by and watched while the corrupt, ineffectual FARDC troops ran away, looting, raping, and pillaging as they went. The mai-mai militias, dislodged from their own little territories, skirmished with the CNDP, but spent most of their time murdering the civilians they claimed to be protecting and attacking the government troops who were supposed to be their allies.
As the one-sided battle unfolded, UN Commander Lieutenant General Vicente Diaz de Villegas y Herreria of Spain resigned for “personal reasons” and DRC President Joseph Kabila sacked his defense and interior ministers.
Nkunda stopped at the outskirts of the regional capitol of Goma, declared a ceasefire, then withdrew a few kilometers to consolidate his winnings. He’s now in the process of installing loyalists in village government positions, collecting taxes from the civilian population, and exacting tribute from commercial interests attempting to operate in his territory.
Nkunda not only won control of much valuable territory, he also gained a seat at the head of the bargaining table. Joseph Kabila and other heads of state may refuse to negotiate with the renegade general, but Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, serving as Special Envoy from the UN, sat down with him during his latest foray into the region.
The first battle has been won. Now Nkunda will solidify control over his territory, build up his army with supplies from Rwanda and child soldiers impressed from the villages he’s conquered, and prepare to swallow another piece of Congo. Goma could be next, but he will probably find it easier to simply surround the capitol and win the entire region through negotiation from a position of strength.