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Much-awaited government shuffle brings in opposition parties, bolsters Kabila’s grasp on power

This post has been updated since it was initially published.

Over thirteen months after President Joseph Kabila said there would be a government of national cohesion, it’s finally here. Announced close to midnight local time on national television, the government brings in part of the opposition, empowers the heads of political parties, and is aimed at bolstering Kabila’s position ahead of his end-of-term wrangles and the upcoming electoral battles.

The government will still be heading by Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, but if his first government was intended to champion technocracy, this one intends to keep an unruly political coalition intact. During Matata’s first government, heads of political parties were largely banned from cabinet positions and were instead forced to send mostly competent delegates to occupy important ministries. Some were relative political neophytes––both deputy prime ministers came out of the shadows and were considered to be technocrats, and even Matata himself always seemed more comfortable arguing technicalities than in political networking. Several of the ministers were former university colleagues of Matata and there was a high degree of trust among a core of them.

This government is different. Almost all of the leaders of the ruling coalition are present––Boshab (PPRD), Bahati (AFDC), Kamitatu (ARC), Mboso Nkodia (PSDC), Serufuli (UCP), Mende (CCU), Tshibanda (ULDC), as well as several others. This was most likely an effort to strengthen this coalition––which has always been unruly––ahead of the upcoming battles over the electoral calendar, the census, and possibly a constitutional revision, all of which are linked to speculation over Kabila’s future when his last term expires in 2016. In other words, if Kabila wants to either change the constitution––an option that he has retreated from in recent months––or just delay the next elections, he will need political capital. This new government provides him with that––not dissimilar from the recent shuffle in the army, which created a legion of new positions to keep the senior officer corps happy.

At the same time, by placing political bigwigs in the cabinet, it will be harder for Matata to have his way. Not to say that he had been having an easy time, in any case––after a first year of some successes, the past year has seen stalled reforms and, according to foreign diplomats, an increase in corruption. “What else can you expect,” one quipped recently, “if you tell ministers that they have to go, and then give them an entire year to fill their pockets on the way out?”

The highlights of the shuffle:

1. The opposition enters: After all, this was supposed to be a “government of national cohesion,” bring together the opposition and ruling coalition. The two main parties that entered were the MLC of Jean-Pierre Bemba and the UFC of Kengo wa Dondo: Thomas Luhaka (MLC) becomes Deputy Prime Minister for Post and Telecommunications, while Michel Bongongo (UFC) becomes State Minister for Budget. The MLC and UFC also obtain two smaller positions: the minister of industry and the vice-minister of international cooperation.

The MLC has the second-largest number of opposition seats in the national assembly (21), and while UFC has a paltry 4 seats, Kengo, the head of the senate, has played an oversized role in recent political events.

While other members of the opposition have entered––Daniel Madimba Kalonji of the UDPS and Jean Nengbangba Tshingbanga of RCD-K/ML––the first is member of a dissident faction of his party, and the latter’s party has also split. It will also be interesting to see whether Thomas Luhaka, the secretary-general of the MLC who is now deputy prime minister, will receive the blessing of Jean-Pierre Bemba.

2. Political stalwarts bolstered: Almost all of the important ministries are now staffed by recognizable names, Congolese political heavyweights. This includes:

  • Evariste Boshab (Deputy PM and Interior Minister, head of PPRD): Once Kabila’s chief-of-staff and head of the national assembly from 2009-2012, he was also the biggest proponent of changing the constitution to give Kabila a third term;
  • Willy Makiashi (Deputy PM and Labor Minister, deputy head of PALU): Is now the secretary-general of one of Kabila’s biggest electoral allies, the PALU party, which commands huge support in Bandundu province thanks to its patriarch, Antoine Gizenga;
  • Olivier Kamitatu (Minister of Planning, head of ARC): Always popular in diplomatic circles, he defected from Bemba’s MLC in 2006. He held the same ministry from 2007-2012;
  • Eugène Serufuli (Minister of Rural Development, head of UPC): While this is not a top ministry, Serufuli’s appearance in cabinet is important for North Kivu––he was governor there between 2000-2006 and via proxies was linked to much militia mobilization there within the Hutu community;
  • Emile Ngoy Mukena (Minister of Defense): The naming of this former Katangan governor means that the ministry of defense will have been in the hands of someone from northern Katanga since 2007;

Of course, other stalwarts have been kept on, such as Lambert Mende, Modeste Bahati, and Raymond Tshibanda.

Interestingly, the natural resource portfolios that are so crucial to the regime have stayed in the hands of their previous, extremely loyal ministers: Crispin Atama (Oil), and Martin Kabwelulu (Mining).

Finally, it is noteworthy to see that two critics of constitutional revision have been brought into government: Olivier Kamitatu and Bolengetenge Balela. The latter was the delegate chosen by the MSR party to voice its criticism about how the debate over constitutional reform had home about. Their presence in government seems to confirm suggestions that the president is backing away from a constitutional revision, at least for now.

3.  Geographic, political, and gender distribution: This may appear trivial to outsiders, but geographic representation can easily become a lightning rod for critics. While I haven’t been able to figure out where all the ministers are from, this is a first cut (omitting vice-ministers):

Bas-Congo (1); Bandundu (6); Equateur (4); Kasai-Oriental (3); Kasai-Occidental (2); Province Orientale (3); Maniema (4); North Kivu (3); South Kivu (3); Katanga (9).

Even if I’m still missing some names, it seems like Katanga is dramatically over-represented, while Bas-Congo has drawn the short straw.  Kabila has been having difficulty dealing with insurgents in his home base, so this may be a way of catering to those challenges.

In addition, of the 38 prime ministers, deputy PMs, and ministers (not counting vice ministers), there are only 3 women.

In terms of political parties, PPRD took the lion’s share, with only four other parties––MSR, PALU, UFC, and MLC––controlling more than one seat: PPRD (10), MLC (3), PALU (2), MSR (2), UFC (2), ULDC (1), PA (1), CCU (1), ARC (1), PDC (1), UNADEF (1), MSC (1), UDCO (1), ADR (1), ECT (1), RDC-K/ML (1), PR (1), UDPS (1), UNAFEC (1), UCP (1). (Some party affiliations are still missing)

– Premier ministre: M. Augustin Matata Ponyo (Maniema, PPRD) – Vice-Premier ministre, ministre de l’Intérieur et Sécurité : M. Evariste Boshab Mabudj (Kasai-Occidental, PPRD)

– Vice-Premier ministre, ministre des PT-NTIC : M. Thomas Luhaka Losenjola (Kinshasa/Maniema, MLC)
– Vice-Premier ministre, ministre de l’Emploi, Travail : M. Willy Makiashi (Bandundu, PALU) – Ministre d’Etat, ministre du Budget : M. Michel Bongongo (Equateur, UFC)
– Ministre d’Etat,  Décentralisation et Affaires coutumières : M. Salomon Banamuhere (North Kivu, PPRD) – Affaires étrangères et Coopération internationale : M. Raymond Tshibanda (Kasai-Oriental, ULDC)
– Défense nationale, Anciens combattants et Réinsertion : M. Aimé Ngoy Mukena (Katanga, PPRD)
– Justice, Garde des sceaux et Droits humains : M. Alexis Thambwe Mwamba (Maniema, Independent)
– Portefeuille : Mme Louise Munga Mesozi (South Kivu, PPRD)
– Relation avec le Parlement : M. Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba (Bandundu, PA)
– Communication et Médias : M. Lambert Mende Omalanga (Kasai-Oriental, CCU)
– Enseignement primaire, secondaire : M. Maker Mwangu Famba (Kasai-Occidental, PPRD)
– Plan et Révolution de la Modernité : M. Olivier Kamitatu (Bandundu, ARC)
– Fonction publique : M. Jean-Claude Kibala (South Kivu, MSR)
– Infrastructures et Travaux publics : M. Fridolin Kasweshi (Katanga, PPRD)
– Finances : M. Henry Yav Mulang (Katanga)
– Economie Nationale : M. Modeste Bahati Lukwebo (South Kivu, AFDC)
– Environnement et développement durable : M. Bienvenu Liyota Ndjoli (Kinshasa/Equateur, PDC)
– Commerce : Mme Kudianga Bayokisa (Bas-Congo)
– Industrie : M. Germain Kambinga (Kinshasa/Bandundu, MLC)
– Agriculture, Pêche et Elevage : M. Kabwe Mwewu (Katanga, UNADEF)
– Affaires foncières : M. Bolengetenge Balela (Province Orientale, MSR)
– Mines : M. Martin Kabwelulu (Katanga, PALU)
– Hydrocarbures : M. Crispin Atama Thabe (Province Orientale, PPRD)
– Energie et Ressources hydrauliques : M. Jeannot Matadi Nenga Ngamanda (Kinshasa/Bandundu, MSC)
– Culture et Arts : Banza Mukalay Nsungu (Katanga, UDCO)
– Tourisme : Elvis Mutiri wa Bashala (North Kivu, ADR)
– Santé publique : M. Félix Kabange Numbi (Katanga, ECT)
– Enseignement supérieur et universitaire : M. Théophile Mbemba Fundu (Bandundu, PPRD)
– Enseignement technique et professionnel : M. Jean Nengbangba Tshibanga (Province Orientale, RCD-K/ML)
– Aménagement du territoire, Urbanisme et Habitat : M. Omer Egbake (Equateur, MLC)
– Transports et voies de communication : M. Justin Kalumba Mwana Ngongo (Maniema, PR)
– Recherche scientifique et Technologie : M. Daniel Madimba Kalonji (Kasai-Oriental, UDPS)
– Genre, Famille et Enfant : Mme Bijou Kat (Katanga, UNAFEC)
– Petites et Moyennes entreprises et classe moyenne : M. Boongo Nkoy (Equateur, PPRD)
– Développement rural : M. Eugène Serufuli (North Kivu, UCP)
– Jeunesse, Sports et loisirs : M. Sama Lukonde Kyenge (Katanga)      

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