Bosco Ntaganda, the Congolese warlord and rebel leader wanted by the International Criminal Court, showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali on Monday in a taxicab. He was apparently unexpected.
"We did not have any prior notice or consultations with him to indicate that he would do that," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. "He was a walk-in, in the truest sense of the word."
She said the U.S. is now "working to facilitate his request" to be transported to the Netherlands to stand trial.
The ICC has wanted Ntaganda since 2006 for crimes that include recruiting child soldiers, murder, rape and sexual slavery.
While officials puzzle out the surprisingly tricky diplomatic details of transporting the accused war criminal to his new detention cell in The Hague, others are wondering why someone so powerful would turn himself in to the international court he has openly flouted for seven years. (Ntaganda was known to arrive for sets of tennis in fancy Congolese hotels while U.N. officials stood impotently by.)
The simplest, but by no means only, explanation floating around for his change of heart is that he may have preferred a European jail cell to an African coffin. For the past few weeks, there has been infighting within Ntaganda's rebel group, the so-called M23, and this Saturday his faction suffered a crushing defeat. He was a marked man.
Other close observers of the region speculate that the Rwandan government also wanted him dead.
"[Bosco] knows all of the secrets," said Laura Seay, a professor at Morehouse College and a blogger on the Great Lakes region. "He knows who funded what, how things were backed, and if he decides to go to The Hague and tell the truth, it's going to make Rwanda look very bad."
Rwandan President Paul Kagame is widely believed to be playing a critical role in inciting violence in eastern Congo to profit from the region's vast mineral wealth.
But as Ntaganda prepares to sit down with his lawyers, his erstwhile cohorts in the triumphant rival faction of M23 – who have spent the last year looting and pillaging their way across eastern Congo – are scheduled to sit down next week with negotiators from the Congolese government to resume peace talks. With their former leader heading to jail, it could be easier for the rest of the rebels to strike a deal.
"[The Congolese government in]Kinshasais ready to cave," Seay said.
She said she anticipates an arrangement similar to one made in 2009, when another Congolese rebel leader with close ties to Rwanda was arrested while the rest of his militia was quietly absorbed into the ranks of the national army. Among them was Ntaganda, who was promoted to general.
Ironically, the removal of one of the region's biggest bad actors may make the other Congolese bad guys look good enough to do a peace deal with.