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The new/old government

If political elite opinion is anything to go by, free and fair elections may not happen any time soon in the Congo. Today, the government of prime minister Bruno Tshibala was announced, and it included several former opposition stalwarts who had been holding out for years against Kabila. Now, as the opposition frays after Etienne Tshisekedi’s death, many of its former members seem to have lost hope in the strategy of street protests and public denunciations and settled for positions in government.

As most press reports pointed out, there was little change from the previous government of Samy Badibanga, which lasted a mere six months. The three deputy prime ministers are the same, as are most of the ministers of state. And President Kabila’s ruling coalition kept its key ministries: justice, interior, foreign affairs, finance, defense, mining, oil, and communications.

What changed were the new faces from the opposition who have joined: Two prominent UDPS defectors, Bruno Tshibala (PM) and Joseph Kapika (economy), along with a less prominent UDPS member, Papy Niango, at the ministry of sports. Other important opposition parties have also been split away from the Rassemblement: Joseph Olengankoy’s FONUS––Emery Okundji is now minister for telecommunications; Lisanga Bonganga, a staunch ally of Etienne Tshisekedi since the early 1990s and well-known opposition figure, is now minister of state for parliamentary affairs. Finally, Freddy Kita, the former secretary-general of Démocratie chrétienne (Diomi Ndongala’s party) is now vice-minister for international cooperation, and Tshibangu Kalala, a prominent lawyer who joined the opposition in 2016, is now back in the government’s fold as minister assigned to the PM.

Of course, these nominations have much more to do with alliance-building and patronage than substance. To most Congolese it is almost laughable that the minister for fisheries will actually have much impact on reforming fisheries, or even that the minister for the economy will change much about how the economy is structured or run. That’s why they have their civil servants, many of whom have been staffing these ministries for years. As for those who claim that they joined the government so as to ensure elections are held on time, they are likely to be disappointed. Most of the decisions regarding the electoral process will be made by the electoral commission, which on most matters responds directly to the presidency, and by the ministries of interior and finance.

The main purpose, from the ruling coalition’s point of view, of forming the new government is to foment divisions among the opposition. And in that it appears to have been successful. The broad opposition coalition has now been largely reduced to the G7-UDPS alliance centered on an agreement between Felix Tshisekedi and Moise Katumbi. With the exception of Martin Fayulu and Fredy Matungulu (who are now at loggerheads with each other), and of Eve Bazaiba (whose MLC has lost several other leading officials this past week), the opposition has been leached of its other leaders. The never-ending negotiations among political elites may have had the effect of tainting everyone with the brush of political opportunism. The one party that had seemed beyond the reach of corruption, the UDPS, has lost most of its former leaders, and Felix Tshisekedi has struggled to assert himself as its new helmsman.

By making the entire political elite appear tainted by opportunism, Kabila may have succeeded in making himself look more acceptable, or at just making people so cynical that they don’t care.

Popular opinion is still very critical of the government (CRG will be releasing a poll later this week documenting that). But popular sentiment requires catalysts and organizations to channel its energies. The spirit seems strong, but the flesh is weak.

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