Will Ponyo, Congo’s New Prime Minister, Be Second Time Lucky?

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By ‘Fisayo Soyombo

 

“Appointed finance minister in February 2012, he ran a $12bn debt reduction agreement with international creditors, one seen as the main achievement of President Kabila’s entire first term (of five years) in office!

Ponyo also oversaw a 7 per cent growth in the economy in 2011. And although a report last week by the World Bank warned that weak institutions and illegal taxation were slowing expansion, his reputation hasn’t waned one bit, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) particularly praising the country’s fiscal management under his watch.”

 

VENTURES AFRICA — The appointment of Matata Ponyo Mapon as prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo opens a fresh chapter in what has been a sparkling political career and at once offers a tinge of legitimisation to the country’s contentious current political dispensation.

 

“I can confirm that (Ponyo) was named prime minister this afternoon,” acting government spokesman, Richard Muyej said on Wednesday. “In my opinion, the current preoccupation is with the economy …He’s well known internationally.”

 

For five months since President Joseph kabila was returned to power in an election internationally branded as “fraudulent” and blighted by “irregularities,” the country was run on a temporary basis with many vacant senior top positions. The thick wave of illegitimacy hovering over Kabila’s kicked-against elections is expected to thaw, considering the success of Ponyo’s tenure as finance minister.

 

Appointed finance minister in February 2012, he ran a $12bn debt reduction agreement with international creditors, one seen as the main achievement of President Kabila’s entire first term (of five years) in office!

 

Ponyo also oversaw a 7 per cent growth in the economy in 2011. And although a report last week by the World Bank warned that weak institutions and illegal taxation were slowing expansion, his reputation hasn’t waned one bit, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) particularly praising the country’s fiscal management under his watch.

 

But Ponyo, who only recently recuperated from injuries he survived in a February 2012 plane crash, will be treading unfamiliar terrains, considering Congo’s sordid history of coups, political assassinations and crass public office corruption.

 

Indeed, Congo’s first political turmoil occurred barely four months after securing independence from Belgium in 1960, following the sack of the prime minister, Patrice Lumumba by the president, Joseph Kasavubu.

 

A defiant Lumumba dubbed the president’s action “unconstitutional” and a crisis immediately brewed, allowing Lumumba-appointed chief of staff, Joseph Mobutu to assume control in a CIA-sponsored coup. (Mobutu would later change his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Ngbendu wa za Banga, officially translated as ‘the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake.’)

 

Mobutu lost power briefly but recaptured it in 1965 in his opportunist bloodless coup, following disagreements between president Kasavubu and Prime Minister Moise Tshombe.

 

But the “conquest” of the “all-powerful warrior” would not last forever after all, and was forced to flee the country in 1997 after he was overthrown, with the help of foreign forces, by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who was himself assassinated four years later, and was succeeded by his son, Joseph, the president ever since. Joseph led a five-year transition government until 2006 when he won elections to become president.

 

The circumstances of his re-election are already raising fears he could already be hatching a self-succession bid, like nearly all other African heads of state who have reigned as long as he has. But how a successful former finance minister, Ponyo, will replicate his Midas touch in the role of the head of the parliamentary cabinet will have to be seen, just as how he avoids the president-prime minister fall-outs that have perennially plagued the former Belgian colony.

 

 

 

Image via BBC