Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Who is General Francois Olenga?

This post has been revised since it was first published. 

 Two days ago, President Kabila removed Major-General Gabriel Amisi as head of the Congolese land forces, one of the most powerful positions in the military. Amisi, aka Tango Four, was a well-known racketeer, who had made a fortune from kickbacks and embezzlement in the army, and who has also been cited for grave human rights abuses, including the May 2002 Kisangani massacre. Yesterday, Kabila named Lieutenant-General Francois Olenga as his replacement.

The rot in the Congolese army runs deep; naming a new commander will not change the way things are done. But we should still ask - who is Olenga?

Olenga, who is from the Kusu ethnic group of northern Maniema, emigrated to Europe when he was young, graduating from the University of Paris in 1972. He has been an important, if discrete player in Kinshasa since the days of Laurent Kabila. Leaving his home in Germany, where his family still lives (he speaks fluent German), he fought in the AFDL to topple Mobutu, taking advantage of his connections in eastern Europe to organize weapons shipments, which got him named as the head of logistics for the Congolese army in 1997. He kept up this role until recently, traveling often abroad to organize supplies for the Congolese army. In 2002, he was cited by a UN investigation for using money from the state MIBA diamond mining company to purchase weapons for the army. He has also been accused by local human rights groups of having killed a street child for stealing his phone.

This is not the first time Olenga has been head of the land forces. When Laurent Kabila was assassinated in January 2001, Olenga replaced Joseph Kabila as the commander in this position for two years, overseeing some of the most important operations against the Rwandan army. In this sense, Kabila is falling back on a trusted commander with experience in similar offensives. This morning, he was already inspecting troops on the front line in Minova.

In July 2005, Olenga was named as Inspector General of the army, a job he kept until last week. But this oversight body was never functional and Olenga kept a low profile.

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