A government reshuffle was announced on Thursday night in the Democratic Republic of Congo, keeping Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde in office but redesigning the ministerial team nine months before the next presidential election.
Among the new heavyweights in the government is former vice president (2003-2006) Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is in charge of defense. A former warlord, Mr. Bemba was sentenced to 18 years in prison by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in the Central African Republic before being acquitted on appeal in 2018, after ten years in prison.
He was appointed deputy prime minister and minister of defense at a time when the DRC, grappling with armed violence for nearly 30 years in its eastern part, is experiencing a spike in tension with neighboring Rwanda, which is accused of supporting the “M23” rebellion that has occupied large swaths of North Kivu province since last year.
Vital Kamerhe, former chief of staff to President Félix Tshisekedi, who was sentenced in 2020 to 20 years in prison for embezzlement before being acquitted on appeal in 2022, has also been appointed to the post of Deputy Prime Minister.
A reshuffle had been presented as imminent for three months, after the resignation at the end of December of three ministers who are members of the party of businessman Moïse Katumbi, a candidate in the next presidential election, who had left the government in solidarity with their political movement, which had broken away from the ruling coalition.
The presidency warned early Thursday evening of an “important communication” to come, before a spokeswoman for Felix Tshisekedi appeared on national television after midnight to read out the composition of the new government.
The next presidential election is scheduled for December 20. Felix Tshisekedi, in power since January 2019, has announced for months that he would be a candidate for re-election.
Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde has been Prime Minister since February 2021. President Tshisekedi appointed him to strengthen his majority after ending the coalition he formed at the top of the state with his predecessor Joseph Kabila.