Congo's Tshisekedi appoints new PM, further sidelining Kabila

Stanis Bujakera
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Congo's President Felix Antoine Tshilombo Tshisekedi attend a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin

By Stanis Bujakera

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congo President Felix Tshisekedi appointed the head of the state mining company Sama Lukonde Kyenge as the new prime minister on Monday, capping a series of victories for Tshisekedi over his once-dominant predecessor Joseph Kabila.

Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, a close confidant of Kabila, resigned as prime minister on Jan. 28 after a vote of no confidence by the Democratic Republic of Congo's parliament.

The appointment of Lukonde, director general of Gecamines and an ally of the president, should help Tshisekedi install a more loyal cabinet to push through his agenda.

In recent months, Tshisekedi has chipped away at the influence of Kabila, with whom he formed an awkward power-sharing deal following a disputed 2018 election.

The alliance, which forced Tshisekedi to bargain with his predecessor over any policy shift, compounded the challenges facing his government, such as corruption, two Ebola epidemics and spiralling violence in the mineral-rich east.

Following the announcement, Lukonde said his priority would be bringing peace to the east and southeast of the vast country.

"We are also going to carry out reforms because the country needs them in several sectors, including the electoral law," he told journalists.

Lukonde, the son of a leading political figure in Congo's southeastern mining heartland, trained as an engineer and spent many years in Congo's mining industry before joining parliament in 2006. He served as minister of sports but in 2015 resigned in protest at Kabila's abortive bid to run for a third term.

He followed his party, Avenir du Congo (ACO), in joining Tshisekedi's political alliance ahead of the December 2018 election and was subsequently placed at the top of Gecamines.

"I wish him full success in his heavy duties, among which peace and security for all Congolese remain the major challenge of government action," wrote Moise Katumbi, a political heavyweight who is said to have turned down the job, on Twitter.

The choice of Lukonde will reassure people from the southeast that Kabila's waning power, after 18 years in office until 2019, will not leave them marginalized.

It may also comfort mining companies to have a friendly face at the highest level of government.

(Reporting by Stanis Bujakera in Kinshasa and Fiston Mahamba in Goma; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Mark Heinrich)