The recent and unprecedented reshuffle of the leadership of the military (FARDC) in the DRC is the most important reorganisation of the institution’s command chains ever made.
The FARDC was reconstructed in a form recognisable today following the end of the Second Congo War in July 2003 and the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and Global and Inclusive Agreement on the Transition in December 2002.
This agreement envisaged new national armed forces formed from Joseph Kabila’s army (backed by Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia), the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) – backed by Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda – the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) – backed by Uganda – and a coalition of Mayi Mayi militia groups (backed by internal nationalists).
In January 2009, following two years of renewed fighting in North Kivu, another peace deal between Joseph Kabila’s new integrated army and the CNDP (National Congress for People’s Defence), headed by General Laurent Nkunda, was signed. As result, CNDP soldiers were integrated into the national army.
The creation of three military defence zones
The present military reorganisation has seen the creation of three National Defence Zones, to be commanded by the FARDC chiefs and the heads of military regions. One zone includes the provinces of Bandundu, Bas-Congo, Equateur and Kinshasa. The second will oversee the provinces of the two Kasais and Katanga. The third has responsibility for the provinces of South and North Kivu, Oriental and Maniema.
This restructure is the President’s new strategy for maintaining military control through his most trusted officers within the army hierarchy, and managing local threats across the country’s regions. From the Army Chief of Staff, to the head of every Defence Zone and Military Region, he has introduced a structure where, in most cases, a senior commander from the former National Army (before the rebel group reintegration) oversees two or four Vice Commanders mainly from the former rebel groups.
Controversy over military leader nominations
General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, widely known by his former radio call sign ‘Tango Four’, is one of the newly-nominated military leaders considered particularly controversial. While General Gabriel Amisi has always been a loyal ally to Kabila, he was accused in the 2010 UN Experts Group Report on Congo of selling weapons to rebel groups responsible for massacring civilians in the East and ‘profiting from blood gold’.
Soon after the release of this report General Kumba was suspended as Army Chief of Staff and arrested. However, this year the Military High Court found him innocent of all charges. In September 2014, Kabila reportedly faced a coup threat from the Republican Guard, formerly known as Special Presidential Security Guard (SPSG), over the possible nomination of General Kumba as the Army Chief of Staff. Kabila considered this threat to be the greatest to the presidency since the assassination of his father. Consequently, General Kumba was instead nominated to head a Defence Zone consisting of Kinshasa and western provinces.
The reshuffle also increased speculation over the deployment of the chief of the 10th Military Region (South Kivu), General Pacifique Masunzu, to Kamina in Katanga province. Masunzu is and remains a symbol of Kabila’s resistance to Rwanda. In 2003, he became a dissident against the Rwandan-backed RCD – the main armed opposition at the time.