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DRC: Is Tshisekedi Kabila's puppet?

August 26, 2019

The opposition in the DRC has long maintained that President Felix Tshisekedi is a puppet of former President Joseph Kabila. The new Cabinet shows how powerful the ex-president still is.

DR Congo Kinshasa President Felix Tshisekedi and Kabila with his wife .

"He [Tshisekedi] is at the mercy of Kabila," Martin Fayulu, DRC opposition leader, once said in an interview. The 62-year-old former Exxon Mobil executive predicted to the online news platform African Arguments that President Tshisekedi would relinquish all control in key sectors of the country such as mining and finance after the latter entered into a power-sharing deal with former ruler Joseph Kabila.

Monday's Cabinet announcement is more or less what Fayulu had foreseen. The DR Congo coalition government is heavily dominated by Kabila's Common Front for Congo (FCC), whereas Tshisekedi's CACH alliance was left to fill in the rest of the positions. No one from the opposition was appointed.

"According to the Congolese constitution, the president [now] has restrictive powers," Stephanie Wolters, Central Africa analyst with the Institute for Security Studies, told DW. "It is the party with the dominance at the National Assembly which is able to determine a wide variety of key appointments, including the prime minister."

Kabila's alliance commands an overwhelming majority in both the National and Provincial assemblies.

DR Kongo Martin Fayulu in Kinshasa
Martin Fayulu, runner-up in the December election, accuses President Tshisekedi of being Kabila's puppetImage: Reuters/B. Ratner

"It is not the big breakthrough," Benno Müchler, head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's DRC office, said of the new Congolese government. "It was to be expected after the difficult process of forming a governing coalition in parliament, where former President Joseph Kabila still holds the majority," Müchler told DW.

New faces, old power

The new Cabinet consists of many people who are completely new to the job. "Almost three-quarters of the new ministers have not previously held ministerial posts," Müchler said.

"We welcome the new government with joy because most of the old faces are gone. Most of them are new, so we are closely watching them and wish them the best and hope they will work to benefit the Congolese," a Kinshasa resident told DW correspondent Saleh Mwanamilongo in the capital.

For the first time in DR Congo's history, a woman will be in charge of the foreign affairs portfolio. Marie Tumba Nzeza, a member of Tshisekedi's Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), is now the country's top envoy. "To us, she is an unknown woman," Jean Claude Katende, president of the African Association of human rights (ASADHO), a civil society organization, told DW in an interview.

Little female representation

Many observers have lauded the appointment of 13 women as part of the government but they say it falls way short of what was expected.

According to Katende, the proportion of women in the DR Congo government is not sufficient. "We have expressed the wish that at least 30% of ministerial posts should be allocated to women," said Katende.

Poster showing Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary
Ex-Congolese Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who lost the presidential race, was one of those on the EU sanctions listImage: DW/S. Schlindwein

"But this target has not been met. On the other hand, we have to admit that women run important ministries in this government. That is a good thing," Katende added.

"Another remarkable thing is that the new government does not have any of the 15 high-ranking people on the EU sanctions list," Müchler said. He also said that running the mammoth government with more than 60 ministries will be a huge challenge.

Tshisekedi overshadowed by Kabila

Tshisekedi promised major reforms in his election campaign but has so far struggled to carry them out.

"He has done a few things that show he is interested in establishing a functional democracy, such as liberating political prisoners and largely allowing political protests to go ahead. But much remains to be seen; we are still in the early days," Wolters said.

Congolese protesters in Beni.
Unlike his predecessor Kabila, President Tshisekedi has allowed protests in the DR CongoImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Huguet

"He could have done more to break away from the kind of politics his predecessor was known for, but given that he is severely constrained by Kabila's majority, he will have to take it slowly," she added.

Analysts agree that Joseph Kabila will continue to wield and retain great power in the mineral-rich country. The 48-year-old veteran politician led the vast African nation for nearly two decades. "There is very much a chance that Joseph Kabila could be a candidate in the next election," Wolters said.

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