The 43-year-old Katanga native, who had been at the helm of the DRC’s state-owned mining company Gécamines, now has the daunting task of forming a new government.
In recent weeks, several names of possible successors to Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba had been floated. The former prime minister came under pressure to resign after parliament passed a vote of no confidence against him.
According to a close associate of the Congolese president, two other potential successors were being seriously considered up until the last minute: Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, an ally named by Tshisekedi to establish a new majority coalition, and Moïse Katumbi, one of two main opposition leaders to have joined the president’s Union sacrée political alliance.
At the end of last week, Tshisekedi sent several envoys to meet with the former governor of Katanga in Lubumbashi. According to our sources, Katumbi turned down the offer and expressed his wish to have a one-on-one discussion with Tshisekedi.
The Congolese president’s appointment of Lukonde, 43, is a strategic choice in more ways than one. Tshisekedi sought to give priority to a figure from the Greater Katanga region in order to appease a disgruntled faction of the province’s political elite – one that fears being sidelined after the end of the power-sharing agreement with Joseph Kabila and the ouster of Ilunga, also a Katanga native.
The son of Stéphane Lukonde Kyenge, a familiar face in Katanga’s political scene but who was assassinated in 2001, Sama launched his own political career in 2003. Three years later, he landed a national parliament seat representing the Likasi district (Haut-Katanga Province).
A member of the Avenir du Congo political party, whose president, Dany Banza, currently serves as Tshisekedi’s ambassador-at-large and was also under consideration to fill the prime minister post, Lukonde went on to lead the youth and sports ministry under Kabila. He resigned from this position in 2015, aligning himself with his party’s opposition to Kabila’s failed third term bid.
A former member of Katumbi’s G7 opposition party coalition, he left the alliance to support Tshisekedi ahead of the 2018 presidential election and has been central to the Congolese president’s strategy ever since. In June 2019, Tshisekedi appointed him to lead the state-owned mining company Générale des carrières et des mines (Gécamines), sparking the ire of Kabila supporters who interpreted the choice as a strategy to quash the influence of Albert Yuma, a Kabila ally and the all-powerful chairman of the board of Gécamines since 2010.
According to sources from Tshisekedi’s inner circle, Lukonde’s appointment also represents the president’s embrace of “a renewal of the political class”. In the words of an adviser to the Congolese president, Lukonde is “a man of integrity who is going to work to advance Tshisekedi’s vision”. This same line of reasoning was behind the selection of Christophe Mboso as National Assembly president: the head of state wants to ensure that appointees will be fully focused on his agenda.
Within a few minutes of the announcement, Katumbi congratulated the new prime minister, wishing him “plenty of success in the big task ahead, including ensuring the peace and security of all Congolese citizens”, which he described as “a major public policy challenge”.
One of Ilunga’s former advisers, Patrick Nkanga Bekonda, also sent Lukonde his well wishes, commenting that he “exhibits all the qualities one looks for in a prime minister”. The member of Kabila’s Parti du peuple pour la reconstruction et la démocratie (PPRD) added: “Let’s hope that he will be able to fully exercise his constitutional powers without interference and that he won’t be used as a scapegoat when the going gets tough.”
The trained engineer now has the burdensome task of forming Tshisekedi’s second government – one that the Congolese president hopes will help win him a second term in 2023. Its composition should reflect the balance of power that defines Tshisekedi’s new diverse coalition.
On a mission since the beginning of December to win back the parliamentary majority that up until that time had been held by his former ally of convenience, Kabila, over the course of two months Tshisekedi has managed to remove the speaker of the National Assembly, Jeanine Mabunda, and oust his prime minister, Ilunga. On 5 February, Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, president of the Senate, decided to resign in response to several petitions calling for his removal.
This latest feat, aided by Tshisekedi’s threat to dissolve the parliament, was the first of several steps. The next step promises to be a trickier business, as it involves aligning the ambitions of each faction of the Union sacrée alliance, both in terms of the agenda that will be pursued and how positions in the executive branch will be divvied up.
A few minutes after Lukonde’s appointment, Tshisekedi hosted the new prime minister at the Palais de la Nation, the president’s official residence. At the end of the more than hour-long meeting, the new head of government held his first press conference, during which he outlined the substance of his first official discussion with the president.
Though Lukonde indicated they had touched on justice and education access issues, he was adamant that the security situation in eastern DRC will be a “priority” concern going forward. He added that the future government team will “definitely be smaller” than that of his predecessor, on which 66 ministers served. “We are going to carry out this work with Mr Bahati to get an idea of where we can pare things down,” he said.
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