Congo's Kabila Appoints Adolphe Muzito Prime Minister (Update2)

By Franz Wild

Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, today named Budget Minister Adolphe Muzito to be prime minister, Congolese National Radio and Television announced.

Muzito replaces Antoine Gizenga, 83, a member of his own United Lumumbist Party, known as Palu, who resigned on Sept. 25 citing ill health. Palu is a junior member of the coalition that backed Kabila in 2006, in the second round of the war-torn country's first free elections in four decades.

``I accept, naturally,'' Muzito said by telephone in the capital, Kinshasa, when contacted by Bloomberg News minutes after the announcement. ``I will answer the president's request. He has made an appeal to the nation, and I will answer.''

Muzito's challenges include dealing with an escalating war of words with neighboring Rwanda, which Congo accused of backing rebels in the east of the country; improving basic living conditions for the population; tackling the nation's state debt; pushing through critical economic reforms; and attracting investment.

The elections were a key step in the central African country's transition to democracy after years of mismanagement and two civil wars between 1996 and 2003 that left the country in ruins.

Conflict continues to grip the nation's east, where rebels loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda say they are defending Congo's Tutsi minority from mainly Rwandan Hutu militias. The latest bout of fighting flared Aug. 28, causing tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in North Kivu province.

Challenge for Government

Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting Nkunda's offensives, allegations Rwanda rejects as ``shocking.'' Kabila said yesterday a new government will first have to tackle the conflict.

``I expect of this government as a priority that it puts an end to the residual pockets in the east of the country and re- establish the authority of the state throughout the national territory,'' he said in a televised speech to the nation.

Muzito's appointment ends concerns by his Palu party that Kabila would put someone from his own party at the head of the government. This would have breached an agreement under which Gizenga, who came in third in the 2006 polls, threw his weight behind Kabila in the second round in exchange for the prime minister's job.

Muzito, a 51-year-old finance ministry technocrat, has insufficient political experience to deal with the complicated conflict, said Philippe Biyoya, a political science professor at the University of Lubumbashi.

Experience Questioned

``This is the first time he's got any great responsibility,'' Biyoya said in an interview after the announcement. ``He has no real political experience. He won't be able to unite the people.''

Muzito is up to the job despite his inexperience, according to Zenon Mukwakani, the leader of Palu's parliamentary group.

``If you have a good cabinet and good advisers, it will work,'' he said today in a Kinshasa interview. ``This is a problem around the world. Look at the United States, it's the same situation. It's just a question of having good collaborators.''

International comnpanies such as BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's largest miner, and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. are developing projects in Congo, home to 4 percent of the world's copper reserves and a third of all cobalt, a metal found in rechargeable batteries.

Congo's delayed renegotiation of 61 mining contracts will not be affected by the change in leadership, Philippe de Pontet, a Congo analyst for Washington-based Eurasia Group, said in an e- mailed note on Sept. 25.

To contact the reporter on this story: Franz Wild in Kinshasa via Johannesburg at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

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