Congo-Kinshasa: Experienced Technocrat to Head Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo

New DRC Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba

The DR Congo has a new Prime Minister: Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba. Who is this head of government chosen as a compromise between the former and the current presidents; and what can Congolese expect of 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," says Israel Mutala, analyst and editor in chief of the Congolese online newspaper 7sur7.

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 80's, 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, who's Common Front for Congo (FCC) holds 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 of Kabila's man to allow for a real change of the system.

For the new president, Ilunga Ilunkamba has other advantages as well. "He was chosen because he is not divisive or too politically charged. He has a conciliatory and effacing personality. I think the president opted for someone who is not likely to eclipse him," Mutala told DW. 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 which will satisfy everyone, including his own FCC alliance of more than 18 political parties. FCC Member of Parliament Pius Muabilu told DW he was happy with the choice of this "very experienced man," for the position, but added: "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 added: "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."

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 for alleged property fraud - an accusation 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, which would "strengthen national cohesion."

Kept from running himself in the December 30, 2018 election, Katumbi backed a fellow wealthy businessman, Martin Fayulu, who claimed he was denied victory thanks to a back-room 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.

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