23 May 2024, 08:28

DR Congo economy minister elected head of National Assembly

KINSHASA, May 23, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - The economy minister of the Democratic
Republic of Congo's outgoing government was elected head of the country's
National Assembly on Wednesday, three days after an attack on his home during
what officials say was an attempted coup.

The selection process had left Vital Kamerhe the sole candidate, and his
election to the post during an open session of the Assembly was merely a
formality. The only votes he did not capture were 36 invalid or blank
ballots, out of a total of 407.

In his inaugural speech, Kamerhe referred to the recent attack on his home,
decrying it as "the incursion of an unidentified, heavily armed commando
group, who tried in vain to destabilise the institutions of the republic".

With the country also facing a serious security crisis in the east, where M23
rebels have occupied swathes of territory, Kamerhe promised to place security
"at the heart of (his) concerns", while "working to improve the living
conditions" of the Congolese people.

Kamerhe, 65, previously held the same position from 2006 to 2009 during the
presidency of Joseph Kabila.

After that, he moved into the opposition, founding the Union for the
Congolese Nation party (UNC), then became an ally of current President Felix
Tshisekedi, who has been in power since 2019 and was re-elected in December.

In 2020, when he was Tshisekedi's chief of staff, Kamerhe was accused of
embezzlement and sentenced to 20 years in prison, but he was released a year
later and subsequently acquitted on appeal.

In March of last year, he returned as minister of economy, with the rank of
deputy prime minister.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, armed men attacked Kamerhe's home
before moving on to the nearby Palais de la Nation, which houses Tshisekedi's
offices in the capital Kinshasa.

DRC army spokesman General Sylvain Ekenge later announced that defence and
security forces had stopped "an attempted coup d'etat".

About 40 attackers, including several US nationals, were arrested and four
others killed, according to Ekenge.

In a phone call with Tshisekedi on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony
Blinken condemned the attack and "offered U.S. support for the government's
investigation", his spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Many questions remain unanswered about the incident, but analysts have
suggested it could create suspicion between members of the ruling
parliamentary coalition, with some believing it was less a coup bid and more
an attempt to assassinate Kamerhe.

Members of the pro-Tshisekedi coalition had been split for months on who
should lead the Assembly before finally settling on Kamerhe.

His election should smooth the way to formally establishing a new government.

More than five months after elections, the new team is still not in place to
deal with the issues facing the country, including high poverty and the
rebellion in the east.

Tshisekedi and Blinken also discussed on Wednesday "the eastern DRC crisis
and the need for additional measures to restore peace and stability" as well
as "the dire humanitarian situation" there.

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