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WITCH AT THE HELM: Felix’s Old Mother Mama Marthe Gains More Power as the Tshisekedis Turn Congo into Family Possession

Marthe Kasalu Jibikilayai, an 87-year old wicked witch famously nicknamed “Mama Marthe”, is Democratic Republic of Congo’s impostor president Felix Tshisekedi’s mother whose influence in the is growing as the latter begins his second term in a country which his family have turned into a typical hereditary inherited property.

Mama Marthe who is the widow of DR Congo’s late long-serving opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi, Felix’s father, has seen her involvement in the governance of the country increase and now gets consulted or weighs in on several strategic appointments of the head of state, a privilege that also extends to some of the president’s brothers.

During the almost six-months wait for the unveiling of the Tshisekedi’s new cabinet, DR Congo’s elite in politics, business and other key spheres of power paraded themselves in the salon of the old woman to seek her favour for political appointments and careers, that is just how powerful Mama Marthe has become.

All of the sudden Mama Marthe, an ardent backer of her son’s dictatorship, seems to have become central figure particularly Union for Democracy & Social Progress (UDPS) party where members have been disoriented by Felix Tshisekedi’s strategy of appointing his government and hence rush to seek the anointing of the old woman who is regarded a symbolic and respected figure in the ruling party.

Even the new Prime minister, Judith Suminwa Tuluka, could not go through the government formation phase without having to consult to the president’s mother who gave the new premier strict instructions not include leading political figures who could free themselves from her authority and control.

Among those Mama Marthe called to be axed or weakened were the deputy prime minister in charge of defence, Jean-Pierre Bemba who has since been moved into a less influential portfolio of Transport Minister as well as Finance Minister Nicolas Kazadi who has been excluded completely.

Not even the tragic effects of the raging war and agression perpetrated by the M23 rebel fighters in the eastern part of the country, has been able to shift Mama Marthe or her son, Felix Tshisekedi, from shifting their focus off the benefits their clan enjoys from the continued insecurity.

The head of state has gradually entrusted strategic positions to members of his family to ensure lucrative earnings from eastern minerals continue trickling into the Tshisekedi coffers.

To start with, Felix appointed his younger brother, Jacques Tshibanda Tshisekedi, as internal security coordinator within his own personal order at the end of 2022 and the latter has since worked to remove some of Tshisekedi’s advisers, who are considered threats to their business.

In close collaboration with Kahumbu Mandungu Bula, private adviser to the head of state, Jacques Tshibanda Tshisekedi has also taken over part of the management of the intelligence system as well as certain strategic security and diplomatic files.

Tony Kanku Shiku, a businessman directly linked to Mama Marthe who is his father’s older sister, has also been entrusted with discreet missions.

Two of the president’s other brothers, Thierry Tshisekedi and Christian Tshisekedi, have not been given official posts, but are particularly active on the economic front, with a pronounced taste for artisanal mining in Lualaba Province where they freely and gladly excipate their link with the president to secure their business and develop the family’s assets.

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