A Giant of the Opposition
Tshisekedi led a distinguished and dignified career.
He was the first law graduate of a free Congo in 1961 and was for a long time, a loyalist of President Mobutu Sese Seko (1965-1997), holding the roles of Minster of Interior and Minister of Justice for example. However, in 1980, their relationship broke down under the weight of government crackdowns.
Tshisekedi formed the opposition Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social (UDPS) in 1982 and briefly entered a power-sharing agreement as Mobutu’s Prime Minister in 1992.
Following Mobutu’s fall in 1997, he continued his campaign for democracy by challenging the new president, Laurent Kabila. Kabila (Snr) exiled him to his home province of Kasai from where he continued to denounce the government, especially as Laurent Kabila’s son, Joseph took over as president following the former’s assassination. Having decided to boycott the 2006 presidential elections, Tshisekedi finally ran for president in 2011, losing with 32.3% to Kabila’s 48.9% though many disputed these results.
Role in the Current Crisis
When it was originally announced, Tshisekedi declared that the opposition would boycott the “national dialogue” on the holding of elections. Tshisekedi entered the fray on the current political crisis in June 2016 by launching the Rassemblement grouping of anti-Kabila, opposition parties.
Shortly afterwards, following almost two years in Belgium for medical treatment, he held a rally in Kinshasa that was attended by tens of thousands of UDPS loyalists at which he demanded that Kabila stuck to the electoral schedule and held elections on 27th November as planned and that a failure to do so would be treason.
When national dialogue was given a start date of 1st September 2016, Tshisekedi said that the Rassemblement would take part only if it was “genuine, credible and inclusive” though it was deemed that these criteria were not met so they refused to join in. The final agreement reached by the national dialogue called for elections to be held in April 2018 and for Kabila to be allowed to stay in power (past his mandate allowed under the constitution) until then. It was immediately denounced by the Rassemblement who continued to call for Kabila to stand down at the end of his mandate on 19th December. Tensions grew in the run up to that deadline with soldiers taking to the streets and internet access being restricted. Following the passage of the deadline itself, opposition supporters took to the streets but were met by a heavy-handed security response in which at least 31 people were killed.
In an attempt to quell the tensions that threatened to take over the country, an inclusive dialogue had been launched on the 9th December to secure a last-minute agreement on Kabila’s future. Headed by La Conférence épiscopale nationale du Congo (CENCO), the Rassemblement decided to take part due to is inclusive nature. The negotiations missed a number of deadlines for conclusion (including 19th December) but a final political accord was signed between the parties on 31st December. It called for elections to be held by the end of 2017, a transitional government to be put in place by March and a national oversight council, Conseil national de suivi (CNSA), to monitor the implementation of the accord.
Tshisekedi had been named as the president of the CNSA though there were ongoing disagreements over its exact composition until his departure for Brussels on 24th January. Alongside the mourning of his supporters, his passing opens up substantive political and procedural in the current political settlement.
Written by Songhai Analyst Kobi Annan (Accra)
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