DRC: New prime minister, new era?
Tshisekedi has outmanoeuvred his predecessor and has now appointed a PM. But is a victory for the president one for the Congolese people?
On 15 February, President Felix Tshisekedi appointed Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge as the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) new prime minister. A 43-year-old politician and former director of the state-owned mining company Gécamines, Sama Lukonde’s promised in his first statement to prioritise security in the eastern Congo and his home province of Katanga.
Tshisekedi’s appointment came faster than most expected. It was only at the end of January 2021 that the previous government had collapsed, following a parliamentary motion of censure against Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga and his resignation two days later. This departure had marked another political victory for an ascendent Tshisekedi who, since unexpectedly being declared the winner of the presidential election two years ago, has gradually managed to wrest control from his predecessor.
By appointing his own choice of prime minister with Sama Lukonde, Tshisekedi has fulfilled another important ambition. Former president Joseph Kabila is far from powerless now, but much of tight control that he managed to retain when stepping down in 2019 have been wrested from him. He no longer dominates the DRC’s legislative and judicial branches.
By playing old school Congolese politics, Tshisekedi has come a long way in emerging from the shadow of Kabila’s 18-year reign. But his next set of challenges are arguably just as complex and fraught as those he has overcome in the past two years. Sama Lukonde’s appointment may be a canny move, but will it be enough?
How Tshisekedi took control
Tshisekedi took office in highly unusual circumstances following the December 2018 presidential elections. According to leaked data from the electoral commission and the Catholic Church’s 40,000 observer mission, opposition leader Martin Fayulu won the vote with about 60%, followed by Tshisekedi with 19% and the ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary a shade below that.
The official results were wildly different. They claimed that Tshisekedi was the narrow victor with 38.6%, followed by Fayulu with 34.8% and Shadary on 23.8%. This announcement was initially surprising. Fayulu was reportedly the true winner, while Kabila had been harnessing his vast power to get his dauphin Shadary elected. It soon became apparent, however, that Kabila and Tshisekedi had struck a deal behind the scenes.
Calculating that imposing the unpopular Shadary on the country would spark widespread protests, Kabila decided to allow Tshisekedi to become president. He would allow a transition to an opposition figure to take place, but at least avoid his nightmare of Fayulu – along with his powerful alliance partners Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba – taking power. The exact arrangement remains secret, but likely involved agreements regarding the division of posts, functions and responsibilities.
Despite the blatant manipulation of the election, Kabila and Tshisekedi got away with it. Perhaps seeing this arrangement as the only way to avoid violence in the short run, African multilateral institutions, Western partners, and the Congolese public reacted pragmatically. Following years of uncertainty and unrest, they were relieved to see Kabila make way for an opposition politician. On 24 January 2019, Tshisekedi was inaugurated.
What followed was months of political tug of war, with both men struggling to please their supporters given the more limited number of lucrative posts to go around. Tshisekedi travelled extensively raising support for his new regime. Meanwhile, Kabila seemed focused on bringing the presidency back into his ranks in the 2023 elections. The former president had maintained his control of the country’s political institutions, constitutional court and electoral commission. Moreover, his allies in government blocked Tshisekedi’s reforms, ensuring the new president could not keep his electoral promises.
In mid-2020, however, Tshisekedi began fighting back in earnest. In October, he managed to appoint three new judges to the constitutional court, removing Kabila’s grip on the arbiter of electoral disputes. A few days later, he announced broad consultations into the establishment of a new political alliance known as the “Union Sacrée”. On 6 December, he declared that his coalition with Kabila’s political coalition, the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC), was over. Four days later, parliament passed a vote of no confidence in Jeannine Mabunda, the pro-Kabila speaker of parliament, despite the FFC’s large majority. Several members of Kabila’s political coalition, along with 24 of the DRC’s 26 provinces, declared themselves to now be part of Tshisekedi’s Union Sacrée.
A whole new world?
By appointing Sama Lukonde, Tshisekedi now has an ally with a technocratic background and significant political experience as his prime minister. Sama Lukonde was previously a sports minister under Kabila before joining the opposition G7 platform in 2015. That coalition was led by the influential former Katanga governor Moise Katumbi, who welcomed Sama Lukonde’s appointment.
Tshisekedi who will be hoping that his new prime minister can use his understanding of the workings of Congolese politics to play an important connecting role. So far, reactions to his selection have been positive. Nonetheless, the president and prime minister will face several tough challenges up ahead.
Tshisekedi’s own party, Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS), has noisy and demanding militants. His broader political coalition, Cap pour le Changement, has been under heavy pressure since the arrest and conviction of Vital Kamerhe, the leader of the UNC party and Tshisekedi’s former chief-of-staff. Katumbi and the influential former vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba have finally joined the Union Sacrée, but the likely winner of the 2018 elections Martin Fayulu has not.
The question now is how Tshisekedi and Sama Lukonde can transform this wide range of players and ambitions into a coherent government able to enact a clear vision and pass policies that will benefit the population.
At the same time, Kabila is not yet down and out, and it will take further efforts for Tshisekedi to further limit his power. The former president’s grip on the army, for instance, is still strong. Tshisekedi lacks his own military allies to bring in, though he is gradually succeeding in loosening support for Kabila by persuading key military figures that he can defend their interests better than his predecessor. This process started with high-ranking soldiers who, like Tshisekedi, have their roots in Kasai, but is expanding to officers from other regions. Kabila also still oversees an economic empire with his family. As in many countries, however, control of the state is the preeminent instrument for gaining, maintaining and expanding economic power.
Internationally, Tshisekedi is also on the ascendency. He has just taken up the mandate as Chair of the African Union. Meanwhile, he has visible and tangible support from neighbouring Angola and Western countries, in particular the US.
There is no doubt that Tshisekedi has outmanoeuvred Kabila over the past few months. Contrary to some expectations, he has dismantled much of his predecessor’s power and successfully imposed himself on the country. It is important to note, however, that none of this is necessarily a victory for the Congolese people or democracy. Tshiskedeki has simply outplayed his opponent in a game of old school Congolese politics.
The next question therefore is key. With his newfound freedom and space, will President Tshisekedi be able to form an effective government with the vision and capacity to implement policies that will meaningfully improve security, governance and the socio-economic living conditions of the people? This question is crucial for Sama Lukonde too; from now onwards, everything that goes wrong will be considered his fault.
As in many countries, however, control of the state is the preeminent instrument for gaining, maintaining and expanding economic power…it is time to eat as Vital Kamerhe does.
No routes from Uvirs to Fizi and Bukavu to Kamituga….did you think , they don’t see it.
Thank you for sharing these ‘spot on’ insights germane to DRCongo political power social roilings.
Common knowledge germane explicit to the December 2018 DRCongo National Election being fundamentally compromised in normative electoral legitimacy exists, with evidence in facts supported by local election workers notwithstanding CENI has yet to provide an open public forensic public vote audit on the December 2018 Election casting substantial doubt as to who did garner the greater plurality in vote choice decision for President thereby tainting corroding profoundly Felix Tshisekedi’s moral virtue in good governance.
Felix Tshisekedi holds the Office of President ‘de facto’ not ‘de jure’ expressed in public administrative jurisprudence as FT is lacking executive governing legitimacy attributed to the flawed rigged vote count—appreciate understand, Felix Tshisekedi as DRC President was to exercise power privilege subordinate to the dictums suggested by the Kabila Cadre— a governance strategum now subject to intense moderation by Felix Tschisekedi which may result in possible violence expressed by the Kabila Cadre seeking a return to power privilege.
Theoretically, all legislation promulgated by this President and Legislature could be declared null as the electoral process was fundamentally flawed suggesting a fundamental lacking in public administrative legislative legitimacy.
All citizens in DRCongo are entitled to be free in protection from arbitrary molestation particularly molestation inspired by the DRCongo Government direct or indirect via agents for hire as DRCongo sadly is a State not fully embracing rule of law non arbitrary.
DRCongo is a State analogous similar to the public administrative ethos in the American [Wild] West during the latter 19th century where the majority of property disputes were resolved by the gun as U.S. Marshals were few and far between along with the lacking resources sufficient effecting the administration in rule of law non arbitrary.
One needs only recall how Dr. Denis Mukwege was molested repeatedly personally along in property destruction by agents of the Status Quo Governing Oligarchy who appear lacking in appetite for change in the DRC civic civil ethos expressed in governance in service to the people instead of for personal profit.
“Virtue” defined by Montesquieu, an 18th century French political philosopher means “the love of the laws and of our country” being the apotheosis of a public man cardinalizing a reputation for selflessness.
My 30+ years development advisory endeavours in regions post conflict allow me to offer these insights for consideration.
Development sadly is a process procedure freighted within transactional publics contingent on political intersectionality grounded depressingly in qualitative unknowns which prima facie were considered knowable ensuring development assistance invariably is consigned to epistemic transformative failure long term in not being considered a felt imperative.
Development aid assistance in DRCongo to succeed in the doing least harm must be program grafted within an ethos positive prescriptive demanding National Citizen participatory leadership whereby nationals actually trench programs inclusive of projects notwithstanding some number of programs and projects may fail as failure is a learning experience when calibrated properly within an administrative infrastructure under aegis of articulate ethical National Leadership as interlocutor.
Experience suggests most strong effective development is development which ameliorates kinetic diversity in peoples instead of fostering cleavage indicating ‘culture’ is the ineffable social civic civil glue descriptive positive:
Culture in sport
Culture in the creative and dramatic arts
Culture in literature
Culture in visuals
Culture in education recognizing the ordinal value entailed in the teacher educator
Culture engrained in science inclusive in engineering along with the essential skilled trades
Culture in social economic publics
Culture in administrative publics evinced in law, media & journalism
Culture in Health Care training education ensuring delivery in this essential public service targeting harm alleviation.
Tristement, trenching of ‘culture’ requires not only time but National Citizen Interlocutors dedicated to the proposition in ‘doing least harm’ as Development can be a process procedure profoundly corrosive to the National Zeitgeist when not deployed within social mien ‘humble’ deferential.
DRCongo is a Nation State extremely fractured in public administrative status along in being Potemkin in political governance construct evinced in the most flawed December 2018 National Election—an election rigged result dedicated to continuance of despotic pillage of state natural resources for the privileged few while the peoples continue to suffer quiescence in the lacking of voice in the citizen being unable to articulate clear strong via trainings in a trade or a profession.
DRCongo is the metaphoric Potemkin State heeling at an angle acute ensuring civic civil social combustion among the peoples as the post election agreement between the Kabila Gangster Cadre and Felix Tshisekedi is unraveling resulting in possible DRCongo political disintegration in social publics—chaos violence.
Required is funding sound in both prescriptive and descriptive national DRC program trenching designed to enable the creative intellectual strengthening of young DRCongo peoples with a temperate critical yet transactional capacity dedicated to fostering unity in collective culture, essential if DRCongo is to survive as a functional administrative nation state subordinate to rule of law non arbitrary.
DRCongo social publics are critical need of an educated trained ethical cadre of professional leaders amenable to the implied social contract in governance responsibility—a felt imperative.
Gémacines?? Do you mean Gécamines?
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