DRC: Under pressure from the US, Tshisekedi reshuffles army
The Congolese head of state, Félix Tshisekedi, has carried out a large but cautious reshuffle within the army. While the highly controversial General John Numbi has been sidelined, other officers under sanctions have been returned to senior positions.
The most significant information to emerge from the many changes made by the Congolese president in the military apparatus is the removal of General John Numbi.
Until then Inspector General of the FARDC, the Congolese armed forces, this Joseph Kabila confidante had been placed under American and European sanctions since 2016.
His absence at the recent meeting of the enlarged high command of the army on 11 July fuelled rumours that had been circulating in certain diplomatic circles for several weeks.
In particular, Numbi is suspected of having played a role in the June 2010 murder of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya, the former president of the NGO La Voix des sans voix, and his driver Fidèle Bazana.
Following this scandal, which had taken on an international dimension, he was dismissed as police chief, before returning to the limelight in 2017, decorated with the Order of National Heroes Kabila-Lumumumba.
Regularly suspected of fuelling insecurity in the former Katanga, the province from which he comes, Numbi was replaced as Inspector General of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo by Gabriel Amisi, known as “Tango Four”, another officer under US and European sanctions for “obstructing the electoral process in the DRC and human rights violations”.
Amisi, too, was a long-time collaborator of the former President and until now was Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence.
His new position will therefore keep him out of the management of military operations. But “Tango Four” has nevertheless been promoted to the rank of “Army General”.
To assist him in the general inspection of the FARDC, Gabriel Amisi will be able to count on another well-known name in the Congolese security apparatus: General Charles Akili, known as “Mundos”, commander of the 33rd military region (South Kivu and Maniema), also under sanctions and cited in several reports of the UN group of experts for his alleged role in the insecurity prevailing in the Beni region.
He too will be kept away from operations on the ground.
Among other significant movements, the appointment of General Jean-Claude Yav to the post of Deputy Chief of Staff alongside Célestin Mbala, who is being maintained in his position as Chief of General Staff, is noteworthy.
As is General Fall Sikabwe Asinda, suspected of serious human rights violations, in the position of Chief of General Staff of the Army.
In March, the latter had gone before a disciplinary board on suspicion of embezzlement of bonuses. Also in the field, General Philémon Yav, nicknamed the Tiger, is leaving Katanga for the north-east and the Kivus.
Félix Tshisekedi has also appointed General Franck Ntumba as the new head of the military house of the head of state, while in military intelligence, it is General Michel Mandiangu who will take the place of Delphin Kahimbi, who died in February in troubled circumstances.
The shadow of Joseph Kabila
Expected for several months, the reshuffle had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but also by the need to refine the choice of profiles and maintain a certain balance in a sector believed to be under the influence of his coalition partner, Joseph Kabila.
This reshuffle provides a certain continuity in the military, despite numerous changes in positions. Joseph Kabila’s shadow is still visible, given the functions attributed to several generals who are reputed to be loyal to him.
The removal of John Numbi was, however, welcomed by the US authorities, who have repeatedly implied their support for the departure of the many officers still under sanctions in order to facilitate their cooperation with the new administration.
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This reorganisation also highlights the deterioration of the security situation in the East.
Will this new set-up, which affects defence zones, military regions, major units, military bases and schools, as well as the Ministry of Defence, where a Secretary General has been appointed, be enough to give impetus to a better governance of national defence?