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By bringing in two former adversaries, the President is shoring up regional alliances ahead of elections due this year
Former militia leader Jean-Pierre Bemba's surprise return to President Félix Tshisekedi's government as minister of defence and deputy prime minister is all about building an election-winning coalition but could create stability problems within the country and regionally (AC Vol 64 No 1, Horse-trading risks poll delay).
A former warlord convicted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic – before later being acquitted in 2018 – Bemba's last government job was as vice-president in Joseph Kabila's government nearly two decades ago.
Bemba's priority will be dealing with neighbouring Rwanda, which the United States and the UN accuse of supporting the M23 militia group currently occupying large parts of North Kivu province. With his fearsome reputation, Bemba may inject yet more heat into the Kinshasa-Kigali relationship, which has teetered on the brink of all-out conflict this year.
Amother familiar face returning to government is Tshisekedi's former chief of staff, Vital Kamerhe, whose rehabilitation after being jailed is now complete. Kamerhe is taking up an appointment as deputy prime minister and the minister of economy.
Kamerhe was acquitted last year after spending more than 18 months in prison – initially on a 20-year sentence – and being barred for 10 years from running for office for corruption and embezzling funds allocated to the 100-day presidential programme (AC Vol 63 No 5, Spymaster's arrest heralds purge). Yet his Union pour la nation Congolaise retained its political power and control over a handful of ministries during his incarceration (AC Vol 62 No 9, Coalition's sky-high ambitions).
The election is scheduled for 20 December, although few expect the authorities will meet the deadline.
Whenever the vote, Tshisekedi has further improved his chances (he appointed a new election tribunal last year) by co-opting two more political heavyweights: they both have extensive personal support bases and the capacity to mobilise.
It will still leave some doubts over Tshisekedi's legtimacy. He was declared president as a result of a deal with outgoing President Joseph Kabila after the disputed December 2018 elections. When Kabila's preferred candidate scored so badly, he opened negotiations with Tshisekedi whom he saw as the most pliable of the opposition contenders.
It took Tshisekedi two years to build up enough support in parliament to vote out Kabila's appointees and bring in his own people.
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