DR Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi on Monday named the head of state-owned mining giant Gecamines as prime minister, following a prolonged tussle for power with allies of his predecessor.

Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge, 43, whose appointment was announced in a decree read on nationwide television, succeeds Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, who was forced out after a coalition between supporters of Tshisekedi and former president Joseph Kabila broke down.

The months-long crisis was seeded in the outcome of elections in December 2018 that led to the first peaceful transition of power in the Democratic Republic of Congo's history.

Tshisekedi, the son of a veteran opposition leader, was declared the winner but was forced into a governing coalition with Kabila supporters who at the time wielded a huge majority in parliament.

Tensions boiled over last year when Tshisekedi declared that power-sharing was blocking his agenda for reform, vowing to seek a new majority in parliament.

Tussle: President Felix Tshisekedi, left, and predecessor Joseph Kabila
Tussle: President Felix Tshisekedi, left, and predecessor Joseph Kabila AFP / Tchandrou Nitanga

In a series of moves, he won over many Kabila legislators, gaining the perceived support of almost 400 out of 500 members of the National Assembly -- a group he has named the Sacred Union of the Nation.

The new majority enabled him to force out Ilunga as well as the pro-Kabila speakers of both houses of parliament.

Sub-Saharan Africa's biggest country, the mineral-rich nation the size of continental western Europe has a reputation for corruption, poor governance and inequality.

Democratic Republic of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo AFP / STAFF

The country's east remains wracked by violence involving scores of armed groups including the notorious Allied Democratic Forces, with more than 900 people killed or disappeared in the last half of 2020 alone, according to the United Nations.

Sama Lukonde told reporters that restoring security would be one of his "top priorities", particularly in the east and Katanga, the mining region from which he hails.

Tshisekedi campaigned on promises to tackle poverty and corruption and improve the country's poor record on human rights.

But his first two years in power were largely overshadowed by his predecessor.

Kabila took the helm of the country in 2001, succeeding his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated by a bodyguard.

His 18 years in power enabled him to build a powerful web of support in politics, the economy and military.

Sama Lukonde, who previously served as a sports minister under Kabila, belongs to a small party called Congo's Future (ACO), which was once allied to Katanga powerbroker and tycoon Moise Katumbi but supported Tshisekedi in the run-up to the 2018 elections.

He was named managing director of Gecamines by Tshisekedi in June 2019.

Katumbi, who moved closer to Tshisekedi in the past few months as the president strengthened his position, threw his weight behind the new appointment, saying he wished Sama Lukonde "every success in his heavy responsibilities, among which peace and security for all Congolese remain the major challenge".

But the new prime minister has not been greeted with universal approval.

Floribert Anzuluni, coordinator of a citizens' campaign group called Filimbi, said the appointment was "the symbol of the renewal of the ruling class" in DR Congo.