KINSHASA — Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila’s chief adviser was killed and his finance minister injured in an airplane crash near the eastern town of Bukavu on Sunday, government officials said.
The accident, the latest in a country with one of the world’s worst air safety records, comes as Kabila braces for negotiations to form a new coalition government after his disputed victory in a chaotic election in November.
Adviser Augustin Katumba Mwanke (58) was regarded by many as “the power behind the throne”, according to a leaked 2009 US diplomatic cable. He was a former governor of the copper-rich province of Katanga and retained major influence in the country’s minerals sector.
Summing up Katumba’s power, one Congolese senator said on condition of anonymity: “If you wanted to negotiate business and Kabila said ‘yes’, that was 50%, but if Katumba said ‘yes’, that was 100%.”
Government spokesman Lambert Mende confirmed Katumba’s death, saying: “It’s a very big loss, he was considered a pillar of the presidential majority.”
Four others died in the crash — both American pilots and two people who were hit by the wreckage — Deputy Prime Minister Adolphe Lumanu told reporters.
Lumanu said Finance minister Matata Ponyo Mapon, roving ambassador Antoine Ghonda and South Kivu governor Marcellin Chisambo Rohuya were also hurt, although their injuries did not appear to be life threatening.
Lambert earlier said Mapon and Ghonda had been “heavily wounded” in the crash.
A United Nations spokesman earlier said the plane appeared to have overshot the runway.
“The plane ended up in a ravine where there are fields, there are two bodies still lying under the plane,” Lumanu said.
The plane was a privately owned Gulfstream jet, said Lumanu, who was speaking after a crisis meeting of high ranking members of Kabila’s political movement in Kinshasa.
The 2009 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks noted that Katumba had been blamed within the government for bad press surrounding a $9 billion mines-for-infrastructure deal with China.
The deal, criticised by the International Monetary Fund and others for selling the country’s assets short, was eventually revised down to $6 billion in volume.