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Congo: PM Tuluka eyes peace in volatile east

Nikolas Fischer
April 3, 2024

The Democratic Republic of Congo's first female prime minister, Judith Suminwa Tuluka, takes office amid intensifying fighting in eastern DRC. She's vowed to to steer the country toward much-needed peace and development.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi (r) meets with the new prime minister Judith Suminwa Tuluka
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi has appointed the country's first female prime minister, fulfilling a campaign promise Image: DRC Presidency/Xinhua News Agency/picture alliance

Congolese Prime MinisterJudith Suminwa Tuluka promised to work toward peace and development in her first speech on state television.

It follows her appointment by the central African nation's president, Felix Tshisekedi, who was reelected late last year.

Tuluka, a former planning minister, steps into her new role at a time of worsening violence in Congo's volatile east, which borders Rwanda

Who is Judith Suminwa Tuluka?

Tuluka, 56, comes from Central Congo, the same province as the country's first democratically elected president, Joseph Kasavubu, who served between 1960 and 1965.

She has a master's degree in applied economics as well as a diploma for additional studies in human resource management in developing countries.

DR Congo conflict: Who are the main players?

Congo's new PM worked in the banking sector before joining the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), where she was coordinator of the 'Peacebuilding and Strengthening Democracy' pillar.

Tuluka has been described as a close confidant of Tshisekedi and was an expert in a national project to support the community in eastern Congo. 

She then worked in the Ministry of Finance and later as deputy coordinator of the Presidential Strategic Watch Council, a body that advises the president on strategic issues.

Empowering women

Tuluka's appointment as prime minister has provoked many satisfied reactions, especially among Congolese women.

"I very much hope that there will definitely be new things, good things," Sefora Wameh, a student in the capital Kinshasa, told DW. "There are men who say that women can't do what they do. But I firmly believe that this time we women have the opportunity to do better than the men."

Antomiss Mangaya, a civil servant in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, agreed.

She also feels encouraged and hopes that Tuluka will bring some positive changes.

"She is a very good example for us women. That is very commendable," said Mangaya. "As this is the first time, she should do better than the person before her. She should work hard and show us that women can do the same."

Eastern Congo in the spotlight

Tuluka's appointment comes at a time when the security situation in the east of the country remains extremely difficult.

Rebels from the  M23 movement— one of over 100 armed groups in the resource-rich region — are fighting the Congolese army in the volatile region.

In recent weeks the rebels have come very close to the regional capital of Goma, and some villages are still controlled by the rebels.

Diplomatic relations between Congo and neighboring Rwanda are tense.  

The government in Kinshasa, the United Nations and many Western nations have accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels in order to control the region's lucrative diamonds, copper and gold resources

The government in Kigali has repeatedly denied the allegations, but UN experts claim to have found evidence of Rwandan interference in Congo.

The US State Department has called on Rwanda to withdraw its troops and surface-to-air missile systems from eastern Congo.

The Rwandan Foreign Ministry has stated that the troops were defending Rwandan territory, as the Congo was carrying out a "dramatic military build-up" near the border. 

Dozens of  internally displaced people (IDPs) stand in the courtyard of an elementary school where they have taken refuge
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has the highest number of internally displaced people in AfricaImage: ALEXIS HUGUET/AFP

Worsening humanitarian crisis

More than 7 million people have been displaced because of the long-running conflict, according to the United Nations, making it one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world — and perhaps the greatest challenge facing Tuluka.

It could take months before Tuluka's government takes shape and the ministerial posts are distributed — a process that requires intensive negotiations with the various political parties. 

Laurette Mandala Kisolokele, an advisor at the Ministry for Regional Integration, is nevertheless optimistic.

After all, the issues and problems facing Congo are not new to the top politician.

"She knows the security situation in the east of the country," Kisolokele told DW.

"What we want from her now is that she makes smart decisions with her staff so that they can support her effectively and we can put an end to the insecure situation in the east."

Jean Noel Ba-Mweze contributed reporting

This article was originally written in German

Congo's conflict with M23 rebels forcing thousands to flee