New Cabinet Signals Tshisekedi’s Tightening Grip on Power

New Cabinet Signals Tshisekedi’s Tightening Grip on Power

On Monday 12th April Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), announced a new cabinet representative of President Felix Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition. Tshisekedi’s “Sacred Union” coalition has had figures appointed to key posts including finance minister, mining minister and interior minister. The previous government had a majority of ministers loyal to former president Joseph Kabila and was headed by a pro-Kabila Prime Minister. The replacement of all but ten of those figures represents the changing balance of power in Congolese politics.

Indeed, the pro-Tshisekedi nature of this cabinet reflects his tightening grip on the levers of state. However, whilst Tshisekedi’s political maneuvering up until now has been astute, his position remains somewhat precarious. He still faces many problems to deal with in the country, and any displays of weakness could see him lose the support he has fought so hard to gain.

Tshisekedi’s Mission

Felix Tshisekedi came to power in early 2019 after winning the 2018 DRC Presidential Election. He took over the presidency from Joseph Kabila, a titan of Congolese politics who remained influential following the handover. The election outcome originally appeared to be a continuity move, the result of a power-sharing agreement between Tshisekedi and Kabila. Tshisekedi formed a ruling coalition with Kabila’s Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC) faction, granting the former president influence over selection of the Prime Minister and other key appointments.

However, this coalition broke down in late 2020, and since then Tshisekedi has made ardent strides towards gaining control of DRC politics. He managed to convince enough legislators to support forcing a vote of no confidence in then-Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, a key Kabila ally, before replacing him with his own man Lukonde. Tshisekedi was also able to rally enough of these legislators to his cause to regain control of the two chambers of parliament. These moves have enabled him to place his own allies into key ministerial positions and it appears that Kabila’s influence is eroding.

This having been said, Tshisekedi’s position should not be analysed as being in complete control. He still faces many external and internal problems and has other political rivals waiting to take advantage of any failures. The coalition he now controls is not impervious to collapse. It is mostly made up of FCC defectors, whose loyalty is likely to remain only whilst he shows strength. Additionally, there are two influential figures within this coalition whom he needs to keep on side: Moise Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bamba. Their input is required when deciding on key governmental appointments, although so far it seems that Tshisekedi has been able to have his way. Tshisekedi’s point of view won out in negotiations over the appointment of a new Prime Minister and leader of the National Assembly. This bodes well for someone who needs to continue appearing strong to survive.

Long-term Prospects

Tshisekedi has subverted expectations so far and proved a shrewd political operator. However, as stated he needs to demonstrate strength in addressing the challenges facing the DRC, which are numerous and immense. There is an ongoing conflict in the east of the country, where rebel groups originating from Uganda and Rwanda carry out attacks on civilians. One of these groups has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Conflict rages also in southern Katanga province, centred around the issue of Katangan separatism. There have been Ebola and Measles outbreaks, and ordinary Congolese still suffer from poverty caused by a lack of infrastructure.

The political maneuvers taken by President Tshisekedi so far suggest that he will take a top-down approach towards addressing these problems. Winning out against his coalition allies on his choice of prime minister has ensured he will be able to control the running of the government. Additionally, the relatively unknown and junior status of many of the recent ministerial appointees suggest he will be able to significantly influence the action of their respective Ministeries. This is a riskier approach but one that may pay off for Tshisekedi. Taking more of a directing hand in addressing major issues, instead of delegating to his ministers, will make it difficult for him to be perceived as weak. This is of course unless there are any major policy failures – a distinct possibility.   

Any policy success in the face of these issues would be an enormous win for Tshisekedi and for political stability in the DRC. Additionally, Tshisekedi’s recently assumed leadership of the African Union is an opportunity to demonstrate his foreign policy credentials on an international stage. Although he has been underestimated in the past, there is a strong possibility that the coming year will see Tshisekedi cement his position as the new dominant force in DRC politics, whilst Joseph Kabila’s longstanding influence gradually slips away.

Categories: Africa, Politics

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