Zimbabwe-based critic and former DRC police chief in war of words with president Tshisekedi

Zimbabwe-based critic and former DRC police chief in war of words with president Tshisekedi

By Agencies

John Numbi’s verbal attack on Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi comes just as presidential hopefuls are submitting candidacies. The odds may be against Numbi, but his comments may still rattle Tshisekedi’s allies.

John Numbi was a central figure of former Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s administration. But his profile and influence dwindled when Kabila handed over to Felix Tshisekedi. Now, just as Tshisekedi is wrapping up his term and the race for his succession is kicking off, former Inspector General of the Congolese Police Numbi is making his voice heard again.

Numbi said he felt an “obligation to break his silence” — but stopped short of calling for an insurrection.

“When the commander-in-chief has himself become a danger due to his immaturity, his notorious incompetence and his nepotism, the army and police are no longer bound by their duty to obey,” Numbi said in a speech posted on social media.

Presidential candidates getting ready for campaigning

Numerous political heavyweights have submitted their candidacy for president along with Tshisekedi in the December 20 general elections.

Among them are gynaecologist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege; Moise Katumbi, the influential former governor of the southeastern Katanga province; and Martin Fayulu, Tshisekedi’s closest competitor in the December 2018 elections.

At the time, there were rumors of a secretive meeting between Felix Tshisekedi and then-incumbent Joseph Kabila, whose PPRDM party still held a parliamentary majority, led to a power-sharing agreement and sealed vote-rigging in favor of Tshisekedi. In his speech, John Numbi has now accused Tshisekedi of having breached the agreement, alleging corruption, fueling tribalism and sowing disunity.

No coup for DRC

Recent years have seen a number of coups especially in West Africa, but Central African countries Chad and, more recently, Gabon have also come under military rule. Fears of upheaval have spread throughout the region, with presidents reshuffling their military leadership.

However, chances for a military coup are relatively slim in DRC, said security expert Jean-Jacques Wondo, pointing to a less united, more fragmented Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC).

“It is today hard to imagine a military rise up and decide to dismiss the president and get the backing of other military personnel,” Wondo told DW.

“This is due to the composition and functioning of our army, which still is a sort of militia’s army.”

DR Congo soldiers during a joint military operation around Beni, eastern DRC (Picture: Alain Uaykani/Xinhua/IMAGO)
Congo’s Armed Forces are partly made up of former militia groupsImage: Alain Uaykani/Xinhua/IMAGO

Decades of conflict and regional wars have led to power-sharing agreements and various armed groups being integrated into the army at various times. As a rule, many of those groups were subsequently deployed far from their powerbases to avoid interference.

Rather than a coup d’etat, Wondo said he feared cases where a “lone wolf” or a small group might try their luck and still cause bloodshed.

On the government side also, Numbi’s call might not be without consequence, said Wondo.

“This call risks generating a psychosis of sorts within the army, which might be the beginning of a witch-hunt for people considered close to the former regime or close to John Numbi,” he said.

Numbi should “not lecture anyone,” activist says

John Numbi’s star began to decline ever since the death of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya, in May 2010. Chebaya had called attention to human rights abuses among elements of the armed forces when he was found dead hours after a scheduled meeting with then Inspector General Numbi.

Shortly after the events, Numbi was suspended, but he remained close to President Kabila, who appointed him Inspector General of the Armed Forces in his last year in office. But in March 2021, he fled the country, finally settling in Zimbabwe, in the wake of a new court case implicating him in activist Chebeya’s death. By then, Kabila’s influence in the Tshisekedi administration had begun to crumble.

Activists have been calling for the Numbi’s arrest for years. One of them is Franck Citende of the National Network of Human Rights NGOs Rhenadoc, who reiterated his position for DW:

“General John Numbi is a fugitive who is not entitled to lecture anyone,” Citende told DW.

“He thinks he can cause confusion to erase the crimes he committed in DRC.”

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