NAIROBI, Kenya — The death on Sunday of Augustin Katumba Mwanke, a Congolese businessman and politician, is more than just another example of Congo's shockingly poor air safety record, it will shake the Kabila government to the core.
Some commentators have said Katumba's death places the Democratic Republic of Congo at a more dangerous point even than last year's elections. But why?
Officially Mwanke was an MP, re-elected to parliament in recent polls, and a former governor of Katanga Province, Congo's copper-producing economic heartland.
Unofficially he was President Joseph Kabila's consigliere: a shadowy figure-without-portfolio who was one of the president's closest advisors, a loyal and powerful ally, a man who guided the country's financial deals and political decisions.
In 2002 the UN accused Mwanke of profiting from illegally mining and using the proceeds to pay Zimbabwean troops fighting for Laurent Kabila during Congo's civil war. UN investigators recommended that he be put on a travel ban list and have his assets frozen. After that he stepped into the shadows where he maintained a close friendship with Laurent's son and heir Joseph Kabila as well as influence over lucrative mining and oil deals.
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Writing on his CongoSiasa blog analyst Jason Stearns says:
"[Katumba] was always active behind the scenes, helping Kabila with the political and financial management of the government ... He was the mastermind behind crucial financial deals, including most of the big mining deals concluded in the past decade ... Rasputin, Dick Cheney, éminence grise — these were all epithets applied to Katumba. The qualities that endeared him to Kabila were his extreme loyalty, as well as his efficiency in getting things done."
As Stearns points out, "Now that he is gone, there is bound to be a struggle over power in the inner circle."
And that spells danger for Congo and for the Congolese.
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