news analysis advocacy

Support AfricaFocus and independent bookstores!

Make non-profit your first stop for buying books.
See books recommended by AfricaFocus.


Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Format for print or mobile

Congo (Kinshasa): Tshisekedi Place Hard to Fill

AfricaFocus Bulletin
February 12, 2017 (170212)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The death of prominent opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has deprived the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of a unique political figure who was at the forefront of the fight for democracy for over three decades. ... Coming just a month after the signing of a political agreement, which would have put him at the head of an important follow-up committee, his departure robs the opposition of a leader able to combine genuine street-level popularity with an ability to squeeze out political deals." - International Crisis Group

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several short analytical articles on the death of Etienne Tshisekedi and the difficult road ahead for this year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All agree in paying tribute to the record of this Congolese leader in his long struggle for democracy in the country and to renewed and heightened uncertainties about the future in the wake of his death.

Additional relevant background links include the following:

Interview with Georges Nzongola Ntalaja
"Congolese Scholar And Activist Pays Hommage to Etienne Tshisekedi,"
Audio and transcript
Friends of the Congo blog, February 9, 2017

Karen Attiah
"With the death of Etienne Tshisekedi, a light goes out in Congo," Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2017

"Etienne Tshisekedi, l'opposant congolais historique en six dates," Video, Le Monde, February 3, 2017

Trésor Kibangula, "Étienne Tshisekedi, la voix de Kinshasa" Jeune Afrique, Feb. 9, 2017

Sasha Lezhnev and John Prendergast, "Congo's Violent Kleptocracy at a Crossroads"
Fox News, February 4, 2017

Sabine Cessou, "Transition à haut risque en RDC" Le Monde Diplomatique, Dec 2016

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Tshisekedi, Misunderstood and Maligned, Leaves Uncertainty in his Wake

Congo Research Group, February 2, 2017

During the run-up to the 2011 elections, Roger Meece visited Washington, DC. Meece, then the head of the UN peacekeeping mission to the Congo, was perhaps the US diplomat with the best understanding of the country. He had served as deputy chief of mission to the Congo between 1995-1998, as director for Central African Affairs at the State Department between 1998-2000, and as ambassador between 2004-2007.

The 2011 elections were going to be won either by Joseph Kabila or Etienne Tshisekedi. In meetings with people inside and outside State Department, Meece's analysis was clear: Tshisekedi was the wrong choice for the country. He was a dangerous firebrand who could upend the fragile peace process that had swept in a new era of democracy to the country.

Meece was not alone in his analysis. Few western diplomats had much love for "Ya Tshitshi." They perceived him to be stubborn, misguided and aloof. It is not difficult to understand this perception. Among his policy missteps in recent years have figured an ill-advised coalition with the unpopular Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) rebels in 2002; a boycott of the 2005 registration process and of the 2006 elections; and tolerance of virulent anti-Tutsi demagoguery by some of his UDPS members during the 2011 elections. This was compounded by his own difficult personality; in my own meetings with him, he was curt and difficult to engage in constructive discussions.

That was not all. Ironically, despite being an uncompromising crusader for democracy in the Congo, he struggled to keep his own party together. In 1987, Frédéric Kibassa Maliba, one of the iconic 13 dissenters who had founded the UDPS, defected to join the Mobutu government, creating his own UDPS party in 1991. Many others defected over the years, co-opted by the government or complaining about Tshisekedi's imperious managerial style––today, none of the 13 UDPS founders remain in the party.

And yet, Tshisekedi continued to tower as a Congolese hero. What Meece and other detractors failed to fully appreciate was the symbolic importance of Tshisekedi. In contrast with many other opposition leaders, Tshisekedi never sold out (in recent memory; his career under Mobutu is a different matter). It was precisely his lack of pragmatism, his stubborn recalcitrance and inability to compromise that many Congolese loved. As one of his supporters said to the press today: "He was the hope for Congolese democracy."

This adoration was on frequent display. When he returned from medical treatment to run for the 2011 elections, hundreds of thousands turned out to see him pass. Similar crowds lined the roads last year, when he came back once more from treatment in Brussels.

Tshisekedi's death will usher in problems and opportunities. It will complicate the formation of a new government to implement the 31 December deal; and it will allow for a new generation of Congolese politicians to come to the fore. But for now, we should mourn the passing of a behemoth of Congolese politics, a man who despite his deep flaws came to embody the hopes of millions. May his dogged pursuit of democracy inspire the youth, and may we all learn from his many mistakes.

Congo Kinshasa: Tshisekedi's Death Highlights Obstacles and Opportunities for Peace

Guest Column, February 6, 2017

By Olivier Kambala wa Kambala

[Olivier Kambala wa Kambala is a rule of law and transitional justice expert and the founder of the Congo Memory Institute (]

The death in Brussels of Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, the iconic figure of democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, combined with a stalemate in the implementation of the agreement on governing until elections later this year, could plunge the country again into a constitutional abyss.

This could destabilise the eastern Congo even further, potentially reverberating throughout the Great Lakes Region. But these developments could also be turned into an opportunity for democratising and stabilising the nation in the long term.

On the night of December 31, 2016, President Joseph Kabila's political camp-called the Presidential Majority (PM)-and the group of political parties (named Rassemblement) gathered around Etienne Tshisekedi, reached an eleventh-hour agreement to stop the country from descending into a constitutional abyss created by the failure of the Kabila government to organise general elections and step down at the end of his second term of office.

In lieu of President Kabila peacefully transferring power to an elected successor on December 20, political negotiations facilitated by the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) reached an agreement on five points:

  1. Kabila will remain in power throughout a transitional period which will end in December 2017 with a transfer of power to a democratically elected president. A determining parameter of the transitional period is that the constitution will not be altered, notably its provisions limiting presidential terms;

  2. There will be a transitional government led by a prime minister designated by the Rassemblement and appointed by President Kabila. The transitional government's main tasks will be to organise credible, transparent and peaceful elections by December 2017;

  3. Swift electoral reforms will be implemented to ensure that presidential, legislative and provincial elections are organized no later than December 2017, including the establishment of a new electoral roll and the restructuring of the membership of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI);

  4. A body will be created- the National Council for the Monitoring of the Agreement- with the power to monitor the implementation of the political agreement; and

  5. Confidence-building measures will be implemented, mainly aimed at ensuring the exercise of civil and political rights, the release of political prisoners and the return of exiled activists and politicians such as Floribert Anzuluni of Filimbi ("the whistle") and Moise Katumbi, former governor of the Katanga region and former member of the presidential majority, whose sins were to announce his availability as President Kabila's successor.

What was hailed as a political breakthrough is proving to be a complicated agreement to implement.

Two main trends of thinking are pitched against one another: one holds that the agreement should be implemented strictly in terms of the DRC constitution of February 2006; the other says the Constitution is the basis of the agreement, but that it has been violated by the Presidential Majority and it ought to be adjusted by the terms of the December 31 agreement.

In between these two schools of thought, the Presidential Majority is distorting the process by partly respecting the Constitution when it serves their purpose to block negotiations and frustrate the opposition.

These obstacles are illustrated principally by the resistance of the Presidential Majority to allowing the Rassemblement to present the name of one individual to be appointed as Prime Minister by President Kabila. The Rassemblement has named Felix Antoine Tshisekedi as their designate as the agreement suggests, but the Presidential Majority is adamant that the Rassemblement needs to present at least three names from which the president will choose.

While the DRC constitution provides that the prime minister is appointed within the majority group in parliament, this provision cannot hold in the light of the fact that the agreement granted the position of the Prime Minister to the Rassemblement and also that there will be no legitimate parliament from end of February 2017, when the elective mandate of members of Parliament will lapse. Other blockages include the determination of ministerial posts and their allocations to the Presidential Majority and the Rassemblement.

While the December 31 agreement is being implemented, the executive is run by a government led by an opposition defector, Samy Badibanga, who participated in a non-inclusive negotiation process led by an African Union mediator. The agreement that came out of that process on October 18 2016 was discussed in Luanda on October 26, during the Seventh High-Level Meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region. While the highlevel meeting recognized the agreement as a step towards national dialogue, it encouraged the leaders of the DRC to extend the reach of the dialogue to include the Rassemblement. Hence the political negotiations under CENCO's facilitation.

During the uncertainty of 2016 over whether President Kabila would hand over power, the international community called for a peaceful settlement but also applied sanctions. As people took to the streets in Kinshasa last September, galvanized by Etienne Tshisekedi, to demonstrate against CENI's decision to postpone presidential elections, the United States and the European Union imposed targeted sanctions against securocrats and a close political aide to Kabila. The sanctions however did not prevent the deaths of 50 or more protesters, nor the illegal detention of members of citizen resistance groups such as Filimbi and LUCHA.

Meanwhile, security continued to deteriorate in the notorious eastern part of the DRC. Especially on the periphery of the town of Beni in Northern Kivu province, where civilians have been abandoned to the cruelty of armed groups, either local militias or foreign groups, which have committed inhumane acts of violence, including machete-type executions.

In the middle of January, allegations emerged that there has been a resurgence of activities of the M-23 armed group around the Virunga Park. The Rwandan-aligned group had been defeated in November 2013 by a coalition of the DRC's armed forces and a United Nations special force, but they were reported missing from the detention centres in Kampala where they sought shelter after the 2013 debacle. Insecurity also spread in the Kasai Central province, where fighters from the militia group Kamwina Nsapu are wreaking havoc. In the Central Kongo province, supporters of the politico-mystic party Bundu Dia Kongo have been readying for war.

Now, a month after the signing of the 31 December political agreement, the passing of Etienne Tshisekedi, the deteriorating security situation and the devaluation of the franc congolais, what can be done?

The power-sharing agreement of December 31 is the way to stop DRC from bleeding its people and economy. A matter of priority is the establishment of a transitional government that will take stock of interim measures to stabilize the country economically and secure its people, and become credible interlocutors to DRC neighbours and the international community.

Moreover, it is in the interests of anyone who cares about the DRC that a prime minister is appointed without further delay. President Kabila should take a bold move and appoint Felix Antoine Tshisekedi as prime minister. The international community, particularly African leaders--learning from the outstanding handling by ECOWAS of the Gambian post-electoral crisis--should step in to prevent further deterioration in the DRC.

On the eve of the signing of the 31 December agreement, and as the Presidential Majority was putting in jeopardy the prospect of an agreement, Angola decided to withdraw its 1,500 soldiers deployed in the DRC and within hours, the agreement between political actors was reached. An undeniable economic and political power in the continent, South Africa should swiftly support the implementation of the 31 December agreement and depart from the image of being a diehard supporter of the Kabila regime. A timeframe for the implementation of that agreement should be agreed upon without delays and all friends of DRC should pledge their support, particularly in the preparation of general elections by December 2017.

Africa and the world cannot afford to have another Congo crisis. The Congolese people, despite their willingness to defend their civil rights and liberties, do not deserve to go through trying times that they have already endured. The democratic struggle of Dr. Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba will be honored if peace, stability and democratic change of power happen swiftly in DRC.

What does opposition leader Tshisekedi's death mean for DR Congo's road to elections?

Hans Hoebeke & Richard Moncrieff

African Arguments, February 3, 2017

[Hans Hoebeke and Richard Moncrieff are respectively Senior Analyst for Congo and Central Africa Project Director of International Crisis Group, the independent conflict prevention organisation.]

The death of prominent opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has deprived the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of a unique political figure who was at the forefront of the fight for democracy for over three decades.

His loss is a major blow to the main opposition coalition, the Rassemblement, which he led alongside the relative newcomer, exKatanga Governor Moïse Katumbi. It also undermines the DRC's faltering transition and may play into the hands of the ruling majority that has consistently sought to delay elections.

Coming just a month after the signing of a political agreement, which would have put him at the head of an important follow-up committee, his departure robs the opposition of a leader able to combine genuine street-level popularity with an ability to squeeze out political deals. As popular anger mounts, the opposition will have to work hard to rebuild a credible leadership, capable of concluding a deal with the majority.

A fragmented opposition loses its figurehead

The 84-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi launched the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) opposition party in 1982 and built a strong following in his native Kasai region and in the capital Kinshasa. He symbolised the struggle for democracy in the waning days of the President Mobutu Sese Seko regime. He also opposed President Laurent Kabila, who overthrew Mobutu in 1997, and his son Joseph Kabila, the current president.

Unable to resist the populist option, he made a strategic error when he boycotted the relatively credible 2006 elections. In 2011, he ended up coming second in a hard-fought but less credible election, and did not accept the result, proclaiming himself president in a parallel swearing in ceremony.

In more recent years, despite living abroad, he again became the symbolic figurehead of the struggle for democracy, this time over the defence of the constitution, and particularly its two-term limit for the president, and the need to organise elections on time in December 2016. They have since been delayed.

This position allowed him to improve cooperation with his fellow opposition leaders, and in June 2016 he was a driving force behind the creation of the Rassemblement, combining the forces of several parties and high-profile figures, including Moïse Katumbi and those in the "G7" (an umbrella group of opposition parties that left the ruling majority in 2016), giving the opposition renewed cohesion and strength.

When Tshisekedi returned to Kinshasa on 27 July 2016 after years of self-imposed exile, he was greeted by massive crowds, demonstrating his unique credibility and ability to get people out onto the street. These were seemingly undamaged by simultaneously being in direct and secretive talks with Kabila's governing majority.

As president of the Rassemblement's "governing council" (Conseil des sages), Tshisekedi provided legitimacy and political credibility to the other parties and individuals, most of whom had been part of the ruling majority or held positions in government. These actors needed Tshisekedi's street credibility and popularity as they tried to build a more pragmatic negotiation strategy. At several moments, tension within the Rassemblement was palpable as the G7 tried to manage the unpredictability of the platform's leader.

After the elections were pushed back by 18 months, a combination of mounting popular tension and pressure by the international community led to the signing of the 31 December 2016 global and inclusive agreement mediated by the Congolese Catholic Church. It called for a transitional government, a promise that President Kabila will not run for another term, and elections to be held in 2017. Tshisekedi no longer had the physical strength to participate in the talks, but his symbolic importance was underlined when he was appointed as the president of the critical follow-up committee, the Conseil National de suivi de l'accord et du processus électoral (CNSA).

The transition process stalls

Tshisekedi left Kinshasa on 24 January as negotiations on the implementation of the 31 December agreement stalled over several issues, including the procedure to appoint a new prime minister and the division of ministerial positions. The lack of progress, in the context of deepening economic malaise and insecurity in several provinces, including Tshisekedi's native Kasai Central, will increase popular frustrations and tensions.

Tshisekedi had symbolic importance for the population; despite his at times vainglorious or inflammatory approach, he represented hope of a better political future. Those now taking over the mantle of political opposition will find it hard to channel the frustrations of the population, already deeply sceptical about politicians, into constructive political engagement. The only moral authority and beacon of hope at this stage remains the Catholic Church, currently attempting to resuscitate the agreement it mediated in December.

Before his demise, Tshisekedi's party had already been struggling with the succession question. And while some have been pushing for Tshisekedi's son Felix to take over, others refuse moves that make the party seem like a hereditary monarchy, whatever the strength of the name Tshisekedi. This struggle played out in the broader political negotiations and disputes over who should become prime minister, with some pushing for Felix to take that role in the name of the Rassemblement.

The opposition now faces considerable challenges, especially after the earlier loss of Charles Mwando Nsimba, the G7's president and Rassemblement's vice-president, who died in December. Moïse Katumbi would be an obvious choice to take on a more prominent leadership role. But he is still in a form of exile abroad, pending an eventual agreement on his judicial prosecution (a sensitive case, that is now, per the December agreement, managed by the National Episcopal Conference of Congo [CENCO]). Moreover, while Katumbi has a certain national popularity, he does not have the political party, political weight or legitimacy as an opposition leader that Tshisekedi could command.

Talks that had been extended for a week by CENCO after the failure to meet the 28 January deadline are likely to be halted for a while during the funeral and mourning period. After that, there is an opportunity for political leaders to work in good faith to implement the 31 December agreement and to open up political space. But renewed popular anger will be an increasing challenge as people's faith in the political process plumbs new depths.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Congo (Kinshasa)||Africa Politics & Human Rights|

URL for this file: