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DRC: Félix Tshisekedi’s new judges, and their many challenges

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Wednesday, 19 February 2020 07:32

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in Berlin on 15 November 2019. Michael Sohn/AP/SIPA

President Félix Tshisekedi has appointed senior law officers and chief justices to fill top court positions. Will these six new judges manage to improve the effectiveness of the judiciary in a country rife with corruption scandals?

There is much anticipation surrounding what President Félix Tshisekedi, who built his election campaign on the theme of the rule of law, will do about corruption.

After consulting with his partners from the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC), the head of state ultimately appointed six judicial executive assistants and chief justices to fill top court positions. In their new capacities, they will serve as members of the office of the Governing Council of the Judiciary.

Two major departures stand out in these appointments:

  • Flory Kabange Numbi, who is particularly known for conducting investigations that side-lined Moise Katumbi from the 2018 presidential race,
  • Jérôme Kitoko Kimpele, who in 2011 confirmed the controversial election of Joseph Kabila as President of the Republic.

Many challenges lie ahead for these new senior officials, the biggest of which is the impunity of economic crimes, particularly regarding suspected misappropriation of funds and money laundering.

READ Jaynet Kabila in DRC: the FCC denounces one “provocation too many”

Affairs such as the $15m that is presumed to have disappeared from the Treasury’s accounts and the loan dispute pitting Gécamines against Israeli businessman Dan Gertler have been especially denounced by the country’s citizens.

According to Georges Kapiamba, President of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice (Association congolaise pour l’accès à la justice – ACAJ), “One area that needs to be addressed is the fight against corruption and economic crimes. Former court members didn’t consider it to be one of their priorities.”

Internal issues within the judiciary are also expected to be brought into the open. “Some judges are involved in acts of corruption, influence peddling and even misappropriation,” said the activist. “The new judges must restore discipline within the courts.”

Who are the new judges?

• Victor Mumba Mukomo

Former advocate general Victor Mumba Mukomo is taking over for Flory Kabange Numbi as the attorney general of the Court of Cassation. With several years of experience under his belt, the main challenge he faces is handling the new cases related to suspected corruption implicating certain members of President Tshisekedi’s inner circle.

• Jean-Paul Mukolo

Jean-Paul Mukolo has been appointed as attorney general of the Constitutional Court. The judge spent a long portion of his career as an advocate general for the Prosecutor-General’s Office of the Republic. He is expected to help restore discipline with regard to judges involved in acts of corruption.

• Dominique Thambwe

Dominique Thambwe has been appointed as president of the Court of Cassation and replaces Jérôme Kitoko Kimpele, who in 2011 confirmed Kabila’s controversial election.

• Octave Tela Ziele

Octave Tela Ziele is the new attorney general of the Council of State and replaces Joseph Mushagalusa. A close ally of Kabila’s regime, his actions have been deemed to be generally negative, such as when he obstructed the execution of certain decisions handed down by the Council of State.

• Joseph Mutombo Katalay

General Joseph Mutombo Katalay is the president of the Supreme Military Court. He has a good reputation as a judge due to the remarkable precedents he set within the military justice system, particularly with regard to the prosecution of serious crimes certain police officers and military personnel committed. He is considered to be disciplined and rigorous.

• Mukuntu Kiyana

Lieutenant General Mukuntu Kiyana will continue to serve as auditor-general of the Supreme Military Court. He has been accused of what can be regarded as the stalling of proceedings concerning the UN experts found dead in the Kasai region. He is particularly criticised for refraining to summon the senior officials suspected of being involved in the case.

In light of these new appointments, can the DRC expect major court reforms?

A number of Congolese observers have their doubts. “Improving the justice system in the DRC doesn’t just depend on the people appointed. The judges’ working conditions also have an impact. If nothing changes in that regard, then we’ll continue to be in the same situation,” said Willy Wenga, a lawyer and legal expert.

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