Fear of military subversion in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Former military leaders and a failed presidential candidate all pose threats to unity of Democratic Republic of Congo military, says guest blogger Fidel Bafilemba.

There are burgeoning fears of a military split and rebellion within the Congolese army.  While it is not clear how serious the threats are, the military developments are making Kinshasa’s ruling power nervous, and are worth keeping an eye on.

First, there are rumors the Congolese military is on the verge of splintering. Reportedly, some in the president’s circle suspect military factions from western Congo are allying themselves with Kinshasa’s neighbor to the north, Congo-Brazzaville. The military units are believed to be colluding with the former Democratic Republic of Congo Air Force Chief of Staff, General Faustin Munene, who is accused of masterminding a failed coup in Kinshasa more than a year ago and who is said to be hiding in Congo-Brazzaville.

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There has been long-brewing discontent within armed forces in the west due, in part, to losing out against the ex-National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a political armed militia group, during their takeover of the army and police command in eastern Congo.  The ruling power's concern these days is that western elements of the armed forces might switch sides to join Munene's forces.   Fears of a coup could be behind the recent army reshuffling and the strong deployment of Munene's former cronies and ex-CNDP troops from the east to Kinshasa.

There are also fears of a rebellion. General Munene left Congo in October 2010 to allegedly link up with the thousands of former officers and soldiers of the Forces Armées Zaïoises, the army that was loyal to deposed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Munene is also suspected of having struck an alliance with the current Congolese army Chief-of-Staff, General Didier Etumba.

Etumba has reportedly resisted President Kabila's calls for resignation after Kabila accused him of siding with subversive groups. Before electoral campaigns began on Oct. 28, Etumba reportedly posed in photos with people later suspected of beating the Senate president Léon Kengo Wa Dondo on New Year’s Eve in Paris, according to sources in the president's intelligence service. The assailants are believed to be led by a longtime opponent of Kabila’s regime, Honoré Ngbanda, who fled to France after Mobutu’s regime was toppled in 1997.

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Lastly, since the beginning of the year, self-proclaimed president Etienne Tshisekedi has reportedly started promising to soon pay $150 to all military members, no matter their rank. The lack of salary for soldiers is a serious problem in the Congo. As recently as January 9, two army brigades in Bukavu, South Kivu Province protested a more than a three-month delay in pay. Three soldiers and two civilians were injured in the protest. Given the destitution of many soldiers, it is possible some could be motivated to shift their loyalty to Mr. Tshisekedi with the promise of pay – a scenario certainly worrisome to President Kabila as he begins his new five-year term.

-Fidel Bafilemba blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said. Sarah Zingg Wimmer contributed to this post.

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