Long-time opposition leader and stalwart of Congolese politics, Etienne Tshisekedi has died in Brussels aged 84. He reportedly died of a pulmonary embolism having flown to Belgium on 24th January for medical treatment. So, what fate for the ongoing negotiations to end the political impasse in the DRC now that such a prominent figure has departed the scene?
What Happens Now?
The most immediate action that needs to be taken is to quell any unrest arising from the announcement of Tshisekedi’s death. There have already been clashes between police and UDPS supporters who had gathered outside his residence with tear gas being used to disperse the crowds. Next will be the business of his funeral. Due to his having been a prime minister, the government spokesman has said that he will be offered a state burial.
The most difficult aspect will be the continuation of negotiations.
The UDPS as a party will have to choose a new leader with secretary general Bruno Mavungu currently in pole position. However, if it is put to a vote, we should expect Felix Tshisekedi and Roger Luambala, who recently returned from exile as part of the accord, to also be among the favourites.
There is hope in some circles that Tshisekedi’s demise may act as a catalyst leading for the swift and amicable conclusion of negotiations. Many stakeholders have already declared that all parties should work together to properly honour his legacy. Though this is a nice thought, given the suspected ambition to keep Kabila in power beyond the end of the year, this provides opportunity for “glissement” in the implementation of the accord.
The renegotiations that must take place will likely delay the inauguration of the transitional government set for March. There is also a risk of factions emerging within the UDPS given that Tshisekedi, such a strong leader for the party, must be replaced. If cracks start to appear and internal disagreements arise, this will again further complicate and delay the negotiations.
The security forces will have to be on high alert for flashpoints e.g. return of Tshisekedi’s body to the DRC and the funeral itself – where gatherings could well reach in to the hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, although there has as yet been no accusation of foul play in the UDPS founder’s death; if such allegations do arise, largescale protests by opposition supporters will likely follow and could lead to the withdrawal of opposition parties from the accord.
Written by Songhai Analyst Kobi Annan (Accra)
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