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Congo (Kinshasa): Tshisekedi Place Hard to Fill
February 12, 2017 (170212)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"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
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
"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
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 http://www.africafocus.org/country/congokin.php
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Tshisekedi, Misunderstood and Maligned, Leaves Uncertainty in his
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
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:
- 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;
- 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;
- 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);
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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