President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo has made changes in the high profile positions of the military appointing Major General Chiwewe Songe Christian as the Commander of the Republican Guard.
The changes effected on Wednesday have surprised many in neighbouring DRC as the President moves to assert his authority in this sensitive institution of Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo [FARDC]).
President Tshisekedi also promoted Kabi Kiriza Ephraime formerly a colonel to the rank of brigadier general and appointed him chief of staff of the Republican Guard.
Meanwhile, Brigadier General Chico Tshitambwe Jérôme is in charge of operations and intelligence while Brigadier General Banza Milambwe is appointed deputy commander in charge of administration and logistics.
The new changes were made public by the spokesman of the head of state Kasongo Mwema Yamba Y’amba via the Congolese National and Radio Television, (RTNC).
The Congolese military has in the recent past been on the spotlight after General Delphin Kahimbi, the former FARDC Deputy Chief of Staff in charge of military intelligence committed suicide and summarily ended his life two months ago.
Before he committed suicide by hanging, Kahimbi was accused of concealing weapons and attempting to destabilise the country.
Ever since he took over after winning elections in January 2019, President Tshisekedi has been under pressure from international community to drop most of the high-ranking officers because they are targeted by international sanctions.
“Most of the generals under sanctions could soon be replaced, along with other high-ranking officers who pose less of a problem, so it doesn’t amount to a witch hunt,” said a diplomat posted in Kinshasa.
In February, International Monetary Fund (IMF) staffs visited DRC and have since held discussions for a new financing plan however; the United States government has asked President Tshisekedi to distance himself from his predecessor by pushing for fundamental reforms.
Peter Pham the US Special Envoy for the Great Lakes visited Kinshasa in February as a gesture to these demands.
This special envoy is said to have tabled particular names of generals on table and asked President Tshisekedi to take action
Insiders say the envoy singled out among others Gen. Delphin Kahimbi, Gabriel Amisi, alias Tango Four, Deputy Chief of Staff of the FARDC, and John Numbi, Inspector General of the FARDC, were also mentioned.
These changes come a day after President Tshisekedi on Tuesday met with senator-for-life Joseph Kabila.
The Congolese president is seeking balance with his coalition partner, Joseph Kabila, and several of the senior military officers concerned are very close to the latter.
However, President Tshisekedi has been blamed for taking too long to implement changes in the military and constantly reminded that he is the commander in chief.
Observers say even if he appoints someone who worked with his predecessor, this person knows that he owes his reappointment to President Tshisekedi.
“For the moment, it’s an attempt to regain control,” said Jean-Jacques Wondo, a specialist in the Congolese army. “And Joseph Kabila is also not in a capacity to defend the totality of the generals.”
DRC’s Presidential Guard and Intelligence Services
The elite presidential guard and the intelligence services are an important component of the Congolese security sector since the era of Mobutu Sese Seko.
Joseph Kabila over the years has built a formidable Republican Guard (Garde Républicaine), formerly known as the Special Presidential Security Group, that most estimates put at division-strength.
This feared institution is better trained, equipped, and paid than the FARDC, and its control runs outside the army chain and command.
It is also seen as more loyal to the government than the army is, thereby serving as buffer against coups or professionally minded officers withdrawing support from the regime.
The 12,000-strong Agence Nationale de Renseignements (ANR), the DRC’s national intelligence agency, plays a primary role in the regime’s calculus of survival.
In an effort to break with the practices of Mobutu’s secret police and his large and intrusive civilian and military intelligence apparatuses, the 2005 Constitution confined the ANR to the gathering, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence.
Intelligence agencies do not legally have the power to arrest, prosecute, or conduct politically directed investigations.