Considered the spiritual son of the Cameroonian head of state, the minister of finance would be one of the most well-placed candidates for the ... top office if President Paul Biya, who celebrated his 90th birthday on 13 February, were to hand over power.
After months of tensions and power struggles between the respective entourages of Félix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe – since the imprisonment of the latter on 8 April – a low-key game of musical chairs has been underway at the Cité de l’Union Africaine.
Sentenced to 20 years in prison on 20 June for corruption and embezzlement of public funds, the president’s former chief of staff powerlessly looks on from his cell in Makala Prison as the president’s entourage undergoes a quiet reshuffling.
Who is part of Tshisekedi’s inner circle now?
The new heavy hitters
Although he has yet to resign or be dismissed, Kamerhe is indeed expected to be permanently replaced shortly by way of a presidential order. Since May, Désiré Cashmir Eberande Kolongele has been serving as acting chief of staff.
Claude Ibalanky, with whom Kamerhe previously had a falling out, has been floated on numerous occasions as a possible replacement. He recently submitted a proposal, which is currently under review, to overhaul the Presidential Cabinet’s organisational chart.
Appointed in April 2019 as coordinator of the National Mechanism for Monitoring the Framework Agreement for Peace (the “Addis Ababa Agreement”), Ibalanky enjoys a special status with Tshisekedi, who entrusted him unofficially with managing the regional diplomatic corps . Actively involved in security policy, he worked on the rapprochement with Kigali.
Tshisekedi’s personal assistant, Michée Mulumba, gradually inherited the post of communications adviser to the president. The head of state put him in charge of communications for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 60th anniversary of independence celebration.
In this capacity, Mulumba took over certain tasks that had previously been assigned to Lydie Omanga. A very close ally of Kamerhe and member of the Union for the Congolese Nation (Union pour la nation congolaise – UNC) party, Omanga was appointed vice president of the Postal and Telecommunications Regulation Authority (Autorité de régulation des postes et télécommunication).
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Other figures close to Kamerhe have been side-lined. Pacifique Kahasha, a policy officer, retains his position but will no longer have the same level of access to Tshisekedi, just like Coco Ntumba Bwatshia, the president’s legal officer.
Tshisekedi’s private secretary, Taupin Kabongo, is now in charge of managing the head of state’s entire schedule, a task which he previously shared with Mulumba.
High representative of the head of state, Kitenge Yesu has also benefitted from Kamerhe’s ouster. Promoted to deputy prime minister in May, following the repeal of an order dated November 2019 under which Kamerhe outranked him, he serves as a representative to Tshisekedi’s political partners.
Often tasked with conferring with former President Joseph Kabila, he also maintains relations with various partners from the coalition Cap pour le changement (Cach), such as Tryphon Kin Kiey Mulumba. Yesu is also very active on Twitter, where he takes on the president’s critics.
Another figure taking advantage of Kamerhe’s side-lining is François Muamba, a senator who was appointed in April as national coordinator of the Presidential Strategic Monitoring Council (Conseil présidentiel de veille stratégique – CPVS), a unit specifically created for him.
Alongside the advisers who have gained in influence, others still have consolidated their positions. In the president’s shadow, Fortunat Biselele, nicknamed “Bifore”, serves as Tshisekedi’s private adviser and also runs the private office of the president of the Republic. This body is tasked with coordinating the initiatives of the Head of State’s Civil House (which was formerly headed by the president’s uncle, Gérard Mulumba, who died on 15 April after contracting the coronavirus) and the First Lady’s Office, managed by the First Lady, Denise Nyakeru.
A key figure who nevertheless keeps a low profile at the Cité de l’Union Africaine, he is also responsible for strategic issues, including security and policy.
Another pillar of this inner circle, François Beya serves as special security adviser to the president. Former head of the Directorate General of Migration (Direction générale de migration – DGM) under Kabila’s regime, Beya regularly plays the role of middleman between Tshisekedi and the former president, taking part in just about every meeting between the two men. He is Tshisekedi’s right-hand man for sensitive matters, whether concerning security or politics, since he is continuously in contact with almost all of the head of state’s rivals.
Lastly, when it comes to economic matters, Jean Claude Kabongo is now more than ever before the go-to point of contact between foreign companies and the President’s Office. As special investment adviser, he manages a number of projects, including the Grand Inga Dam.
Tshisekedi’s roving ambassador, Nicolas Kazadi, is also heavily involved in this same portfolio of projects. He was coordinator of the 100-Day Programme Monitoring Committee.
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