Experienced technocrat to head government of the Democratic Republic of Congo | Africa | DW | 21.05.2019

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Democratic Republic of Congo

Experienced technocrat to head government of the Democratic Republic of Congo

The DR Congo has a new prime minister: Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba. Who is this head of government, who was chosen as a compromise between the former and the current presidents? And what can the Congolese expect from him?

Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, 73, is a native of the former Katanga province. "He is a technocrat and a professor in economics with a long experience in government and administration," Israel Mutala, an analyst and the editor-in-chief of the Congolese online newspaper 7sur7, told DW.

Until recently, Ilunkamba was executive director of the National Railway Company (SNCC). He was deputy minister four times and twice minister of planning and finance in the 1980s, under the regime of President Mobutu Sese Seko. He came out of retirement as the compromise candidate between the new president, Felix Tshisekedi, and his vanquished predecessor, Joseph Kabila, whose Common Front for Congo (FCC) holds an absolute majority in parliament.

Four months of negotiations

It took four long months for the two men to agree on a prime minister. Other names put forward by Kabila were rejected by Tshisekedi. That was the case for Kabila's favorite, Albert Yuma, chairman of the board of directors of the state-controlled mining corporation Gécamines. Tshisekedi and some international players saw Yuma as too much Kabila's man to allow for a real change of the system.

Former President Joseph Kabila and current President Felix Tshisekedi at the latter's inauguration

Former President Joseph Kabila (left) and current President Felix Tshisekedi want to work together

The new prime minist, Ilunga Ilunkamba, has other advantages as well. "He was chosen because he is not divisive or too politicerally charged. He has a conciliatory and effacing personality. I think the president opted for someone who is not likely to eclipse him," Mutala said. The analyst sees this as a good sign: "We are still a fragile state. We need compromises to function." The agreement cements a coalition. This will work better for stability than its alternative, cohabitation, which would be bound to create conflicts, he explained.

Ilunga Ilunkamba himself reacted to the nomination in his trademark sober way, promising to spare no efforts to better the lives of ordinary citizens through transparency and good governance. "I pledge to mobilize all my capacities to make the coalition work harmoniously at the government level," he said.

An attitude of 'wait and see'

The new prime minister has his work cut out for him. He must form a Cabinet that will satisfy everyone, including his own FCC alliance of more than 18 political parties. Pius Muabilu, a member of parliament for the FCC, told DW that he was happy with the choice of this "very experienced man" for the position, but, he said, "we'll have to wait and see how he does."

On the streets of Kinshasa, people for the most part seem to have adopted this "wait and see" strategy, too. "Let's see what Mr. Ilunkamba will do for the country," one citizen told DW.

Another said: "It took too long to nominate a prime minister. You can't just let the president govern the country for four months without anyone controlling his actions."

Opposition leader Moise Katumbi waiving to supporters in Lubumbashi

Opposition leader Moise Katumbi returned home after three years in exile

The return of Moise Katumbi

At least the opposition is bound to step up its control of the government. On Tuesday, May 21, after three years of exile in Belgium, opposition leader Moise Katumbi returned to the DR Congo. This was possible after his conviction on charges of property fraud — an accusation that he denied — and ensuing three-year jail term, were annulled. "Katumbi's return is an eloquent sign for abating political tensions. Tshisekedi promised to promote reconciliation and he made Katumbi's return possible," said analyst Mutala, adding that this was a very positive development that would "strengthen national cohesion."

Barred from running in the December 30, 2018, election, Katumbi backed a fellow wealthy businessman, Martin Fayulu, who claimed that he was denied victory thanks to a backroom deal between Kabila and Tshisekedi. Back home, Katumbi has yet to make clear what political role he plans to play now. "He said he wants to be constructive and support the president wherever he works for greater democratization. But one thing is clear: Moise Katumbi is already preparing his bid for the presidency in 2023," Mutala said.

Saleh Mwanamilongo contributed to this article.