Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba named as Congo prime minister

Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba shaking hands with Felix Tshisekedi
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Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba, a career politician and ally of former President Joseph Kabila, was appointed as Democratic Republic of Congo’s prime minister on Monday, the government said in a statement.

Ilukamba was previously the head of Congo’s national railway company, known as the SNCC, and has served in various government posts since the 1970s, according to an official biography released on Monday.

Felix Tshisekedi won long-delayed presidential elections in Dec. 30, 2018, defeating a candidate officially backed by Kabila, whose own term limit was up.

Opposition politicians say the result was rigged in a secret deal between Kabila’s and Tshisekedi’s camps under which Kabila would officially step down but maintain control, a charge they both denied.

Forming a new government has taken months, in part because of disagreements over the appointment of a Prime Minister.

Kabila had wanted Tshisekedi to appoint Albert Yuma, a Kabila ally and chairman of state mining company Gecamines, but Tshisekedi refused because of Yuma’s checkered history, sources familiar with the matter said.

Under Congo’s constitution, the candidate must come from the ranks of the parliamentary majority, Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC).

Ilukamba is also from Katanga, the same mineral-rich part of the country as Kabila. Despite concerns, the appointment marks at least an official move on from Kabila’s 18-year rule.

On Monday, Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi returned home from three years in exile, one of a series of indicted politicians cleared under Tshisekedi’s administration.

Thousands of supporters came out to welcome Katumbi at the airport in Lubumbashi, the main city in his political heart land in the copper-mining Katanga region.

“I’m happy to be back home, the truth always triumphs,” he said.

Tshisekedi has pardoned 700 prisoners including three political opponents of his predecessor Joseph Kabila since coming to power in January.

His supporters say the moves point to a new era political openness after years of suppression of opposition figures.

Katumbi fled the country in May 2016 in the face of accusations he had hired mercenaries as part of a plot against Kabila’s government. He was then sentenced in absentia to three years in prison for real estate fraud – both charges his supporters said were aimed at preventing him from running in an election to replace Kabila.

But Katumbi’s fraud conviction was overturned by an appeals court last month. And prosecutors said they had also dropped their investigations into the mercenary accusations “given that the president of the republic has made easing political tensions his priority”.