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DRC: Does prime minister Sama Lukonde have any real power?

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Tuesday, 17 August 2021 10:56

Sama Lukonde Kyenge was appointed Prime Minister of the DRC on 15 February 2021.
Sama Lukonde Kyenge was appointed Prime Minister of the DRC on 15 February 2021. © PRESIDENCE RDC

Sama Lukonde, the DRC’s new prime minister, was appointed following Félix Tshisekedi and Joseph Kabila’s 'divorce'. He is struggling to assert himself within an administration in which much of the power is concentrated at the presidential level.

On 4 August, Lukonde hosted the president of the republic, Parliament’s two presidents and other government officials at his residence in Kinshasa for a thanksgiving mass to commemorate his team’s first 100 days in office. This was a significant event, the first time that a prime minister had ever organised such a celebration.

“Here, we have an example to follow. That of His Excellency Félix Antoine Tshisekedi who, when he took office, dedicated the country to God; and we, through our governmental action, return to the hands of the Most High to recharge our batteries, giving thanks for what he has allowed us to accomplish since coming to power,” he said.

“Wisdom and strategy”

The 44-year-old’s appointment came at a time when President Tshisekedi was demonstrating a desire to establish his authority over the state apparatus after two years of a power-sharing deal with former head of state Joseph Kabila and his inner circle.

Ever since his government was inaugurated, Lukonde has been working “wisely and strategically”, according to his entourage, in the hopes of working hand in hand with the president of the republic.

In practice, Sama Lukonde is, despite constitutional requirements, an auxiliary of the head of state.

The new prime minister might be bearing in mind what happened to his predecessor, Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, who publicly took a stand against the head of state’s orders on army and judiciary appointments and in particular, the dismissal of General John Numbi. The changes which were announced “to his [Ilunkamba’s] great surprise”, did not bear his countersignature. This was the last straw for the Tshisekedi-Kabila coalition.

Did Tshisekedi choose Lukonde because he believed that the latter would not dare challenge him? The president settled on someone from Greater Katanga to appease the province’s political elite, who feared that he would be sidelined after the alliance with Kabila ended and Ilunkamba, who is also from Katanga, was ousted.

“Tshisekedi’s auxiliary”

Lukonde – son of Stéphane Lukonde Kyenge, a figure on the Katangese political scene who was assassinated in 2001 – entered politics in 2003 and won a seat in parliament within the constituency of Likasi (Upper Katanga) three years later. He became Kabila’s minister of sports in 2014, but resigned a year later, in accordance with the ideology of his political party, which opposed the former president’s third term.

Lukonde was a member of Moïse Katumbi’s G7 and the ACO. He left these parties to join Tshisekedi before the 2018 presidential election and was thus at the heart of the Congolese president’s strategy once he came into power. In June 2019, he was appointed Gécamines’ director-general. His promotion elicited anger within the Kabila camp, which saw this choice as a direct attempt to counter the influence of Albert Yuma, who was close to the former president and had been the all-powerful chairman of the public mining operator’s board of directors since 2010.

According to his entourage, the head of state has chosen Lukonde “to renew the political class”, but above all, because he is “a man of integrity who will fulfil Felix Tshisekedi’s vision.” Because of his head of government’s modest political influence (ACO, his party, is not a heavyweight within the Union Sacrée), the Congolese president also has less reason to fear his prime minister’s possible ambitions.

The presidency is visibly pleased that the prime minister has not attempted to overshadow the head of state. However, according to one astute political analyst, the head of government has no “real possibility of asserting his authority over the members of the government team” anyway. Tshisekedi only has direct influence over some of them: the ones who are members of his own entourage, such as finance minister Nicolas Kazadi – his closeness to the president means that he has more sway and autonomy than the prime minister.

Lukonde’s stance mirrors that of the president, including on matters that fall within the prime minister’s constitutional prerogatives. “In practice, Sama Lukonde is, despite constitutional requirements, an auxiliary of the head of state,” a government member who wishes to remain anonymous told us. “He is hoping that he will be able to keep his position if he demonstrates loyalty and allegiance,” our government source says.

François Muamba, the real prime minister?

The prime minister’s power has also been reduced by the Presidential Strategic Watch Council (PSWC), a veritable monitoring body that was created when Tshisekedi and Kabila had their power-sharing deal. Its mission is to monitor the president of the republic’s commitments and ensure that the government implements them. It is headed by François Muamba, who is one of the head of state’s most influential advisors, and now occupies an unprecedented position within national institutions.

By presidential decree, the PSWC “has been placed under the direct authority of the president of the republic, from whom it receives orientations, directives and instructions and to whom it reports on its mission.” This status places it at the same level as the prime minister’s office, thus allowing it to summon government members and demand activity reports from them.

This is not the first time that Tshisekedi has concentrated power within the presidency.

“There is no mention of the legal or practical modalities of collaboration between the PSWC and the prime minister’s office,” said another government source. At the opening of the government seminar on 22 July, Tshisekedi nevertheless asked all his members to collaborate with the presidential council.

This is not the first time that Tshisekedi has concentrated power within the presidency. At the very beginning of his term in office, the Congolese head of state considerably strengthened the presidency so that he would be able to gain more ground during negotiations with the Kabila camp. He did this by creating several colleges of advisors and new structures to counterbalance the influence of a government in which his political camp would otherwise have been in the minority.

Although he has now regained full control of the majority by creating the Union Sacrée, he still seems determined to manage many issues himself. In fact, the Grand Inga project, the construction of the deep-water port of Banana and the new Kitoko city as well as tax breaks for public telecommunication service concessionaires are all managed at the presidential level. The prime minister and his government only become involved once they are formalised.

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