Michael Gerson

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo -- Gen. Bosco Ntaganda is a familiar figure around town, dining at the Le Chalet restaurant, playing tennis on Sunday at the Hotel Caribou. "He lives right over there," a United Nations official told me over drinks. "We could visit him."

Bosco also happens to be under indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and the use of child soldiers, making it awkward for the United Nations peacekeepers who regularly pass him on the street. They should arrest him. But Bosco -- a former Tutsi rebel leader -- is now legitimately an officer in the Congolese national army, along with being a feared organized crime figure. An international fugitive is the most powerful man in eastern Congo and the co-owner of a Goma nightclub.

This is the outsize politics of Congo -- as large as America east of the Mississippi, possessing a disproportionally large allotment of mineral wealth, and home to the bloodiest global conflict since World War II. More than 30 armed groups live off the land and the wealth beneath it, often using rape as a strategy of terror and control.

But Congo's central government has purchased a kind of fragile, partial peace. For years, the governments of the DRC and neighboring rival Rwanda each employed ruthless militias in eastern Congo to fight for their interests. Now Congo has brought a number of militia groups -- including Bosco's approximately 6,600 CNDP rebels -- into the regular military.

This was one element of a broader deal struck in late 2008. Rwandan President Paul Kagame agreed to have an out-of-control CNDP commander (Bosco's predecessor) placed under arrest. In exchange, Kagame got permission to invade eastern Congo for 30 days to pursue Rwanda's sworn enemy, called the FDLR -- a Hutu rebel group that includes perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. Congo President Joseph Kabila pledged to continue this fight against the FDLR (once an ally) and to incorporate the CNDP (once an enemy) into the national army. Both Kagame and Kabila seem to have tired of the violent game of arming proxies. Now the two old enemies talk regularly by phone. This rapprochement between Rwanda and Congo is the largest, positive change since I was here in 2008, and the basis for any future peace.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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