Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has appointed a new head of the army to replace General John Numbi, state television said on Friday. Both Numbi and his designated successor, General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, are under U.S. and European Union sanctions for repression and abuses directed against opposition figures and protesters under former president Joseph Kabila.
The case of John Numbi, who was left out of office following the 17 July army reshuffle, is dividing the Congolese presidency.
According to information, General John Numbi refused to leave his stronghold in Katanga, feeling much safer there than in Kinshasa where according to security sources, he still exerts strong influence on the military and youth groups in the region.
The last month has seen rising tensions in the ruling coalition between supporters of Tshisekedi and those of Kabila, who maintains extensive power through his parliamentary majority, control of most cabinet ministries, and influence in the army. Until now, Kumba was Numbi’s number two and head of territorial operations of the Congolese Armed Forces. Both were promoted to their posts by Kabila in mid-2018.
The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Tibor Nagy, said: “We welcome that U.S.-sanctioned General John Numbi is no longer in his post. The United States supports President Tshisekedi’s commitment to improving human rights and professionalizing the Congolese armed forces.”
On 17 July, while many of the generals under sanctions remained in their posts or even received promotions, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) Inspector General was sidelined during a major reshuffle by President Félix Tshisekedi in the Congolese army.
The departure of this Numbi, who was very close to former president Joseph Kabila, was at the insistence of the United States, which continues to maintain strong pressure on the current President. John Numbi, like many other army officers, has been under American, European and UN sanctions since 2016.
While Washington has not failed to publicly welcome his dismissal, the case is creating tension within the Congolese presidency. Under pressure from Washington, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Félix Tshisekedi decided to dismiss generals and high-ranking officers targeted by international sanctions, prompting further reform in the army.
Some of the securocrats surrounding the president, including François Beya, his special security advisor, believe that it would be imprudent for Numbi to remain without functions, fearing that by becoming a free agent, he would be uncontrollable. Other influential collaborators, however, of the opposite side, such as Fortunat Biselele, Tshisekedi’s private adviser.
It should be noted that Beya, who for a long time headed the Directorate General of Migration (DGM) when Joseph Kabila was in power, is still not wholly trusted among Tshisekedi’s close entourage.
In Kabila’s camp, some senior members also see this marginalisation of Numbi as an attempt to set him against the former president, who has not been able to keep him in office.
Numbi is suspected of having played a role in the June 2010 assassination of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya, the former president of the NGO La Voix des sans-voix (The voice for those wihout a voice), and his driver, Fidèle Bazana.
He was dismissed as police chief in the wake of the scandal, which had gained international attention, before returning to the limelight in 2017 and decorated with the Order of National Heroes Kabila-Lumumumba.