DRC’s New President Faces Fresh Challenges with Old-Guard Premier

President Felix Tshisekedi has appointed a Kabila ally to the powerful post of prime minister. Hugh Kinsella Cunningham/EPA/EFE

Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba is the new prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He’s an old-timer who has worked for former presidents Mobutu Sese Seko, Laurent Kabila, and his son Joseph Kabila. He now joins President Felix Tshisekedi’s freshly minted administration.

At the time of Ilunga’s appointment the DRC had been without a premier for more than four months. This was not ideal given the importance of the position. Congolese premiers must countersign presidential orders. Without a prime minister, the president can struggle to exercise full control over the government.

It’s therefore no surprise that without a prime minister for the first four months of his presidency Tshisekedi has not been able to set out a clear legislative agenda.

The appointment confirms fears that former president Joseph Kabila still wields a lot of power over the Congolese government. Ilunga is one of his close confidants.

This might be overblown given that Tshisekedi had no real choice about appointing a Kabila ally. The DRC Constitution requires that the prime minister comes from the largest party in the National Assembly. That party is Kabila’s Peoples’ Party for Reconciliation and Democracy.

Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that Ilunga will face dealing with conflicts between party and president. Kabila’s Peoples’ Party for Reconciliation and Democracy and Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress are bound to clash from time to time and Ilunga is likely to get caught in the cross-fire. In that position, he will have to choose whether to advance the president’s agenda or to frustrate it. If he chooses to frustrate, Tshisekedi’s time at the helm will be rocky.

Tshisekedi will also have to work with a National Assembly that is dominated by an opposing coalition. This means that he will not be able to pass laws without the approval of the Kabila led Common Front for Congo.

Away from the parliament, Kabila is yet to move out of the presidential palace. Meanwhile, Tshisekedi is often met with indifference around the country. He will have to work hard to dislodge the status quo.

Ilunga’s appointment, however, could dent his efforts to prove that he is the man in charge. The new prime minister’s experience and expertise — he was once head of the Congo’s national rail network (SNCC) and is an economics professor at the University of Kinshasa — could potentially help Tshisedi even if his time at the helm of the SNCC was a failure. Whether or not Ilunga’s experience helps Tshisekedi depends on the choices he elects to make.

Key challenges to the presidency

Tshisekedi also needs to set out his agenda. There are a number of challenges he will have to tackle head on.

The first thing he will have to deal with is the continued violence in north-eastern Congo. During the campaign he promised to reestablish law and order, but he may not be able to do so given the violence.

The Ebola outbreak in north-eastern Congo poses another challenge. The disease has already claimed hundreds of lives and efforts to control its spread have been compromised by political instability and attacks on treatment centres.

While Tshisekedi must appear to be in control of the outbreak it is clear that most of the responsibility to manage the disease will fall to the UN. This means that he will have to work with the world body despite its unpopularity among the locals. The UN is unpopular because it has failed to contain the recent spate of killings in northeastern Congo.

He will also have to tackle the DRC’s poverty problem. Poverty is widespread in the DRC despite the country having a great deal of mineral wealth. Foreign miners are heavily taxed but this revenue has done little to raise standards of living for ordinary Congolese. Although the World Bank has stated that poverty is decreasing in the vast central African country, it is far from alleviated. It’s claimed that 80% of the DRC’s 77 million people live in extreme poverty.

The DRC collects less taxes than the majority of African nations. This means that Tshisekedi’s administration will remain reliant on donors to support Congo’s impoverished population for years to come.

In addition, Tshikedi will have to come to terms with the looming spectre of former presidential hopeful Martin Fayulu who still believes he won the presidential election.

Overcoming obstacles

Soon after his swearing-in Tshisekedi launched a charm offensive to woo world leaders. His aim was to create multilateral partnerships to reinforce his grip on power. He met with several African heads of state including those of the Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Angola and Namibia.

His most critical meeting was with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Driani. The two men agreed to strengthen bilateral ties between France and the DRC. France agreed to train high-ranking officers in the Congolese army. Military strength is clearly a priority for the new president.

The economy must be too. Tshisekedi must send a clear message that the country is stable and open for business despite initial questions around the conduct of the presidential election.

Despite his shaky start, Tshisekedi has parts of Africa, France and the US on his side. It remains to be seen whether these allies will give him enough support to survive his first term in office.The Conversation

Reuben Loffman, Lecturer in African History, Queen Mary University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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