Major credibility test for Tshisekedi

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Felix Tshisekedi holds the constitution after being sworn in Thursday as president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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By Emeka Mayaka

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta was the only head of state who attended the inauguration of Felix Tshisekedi as the new leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tshisekedi succeeds President Joseph Kabila who has been in power for 18 years.

Tshisekedi, 55, will be the first Congolese head of state to take power through an election since independence leader Patrice Lumumba in 1960. The historic December 2018 election was particularly significant because there wasn’t bloodshed, which has characterized past power transitions.

Equally, the polls brought Kabila’s reign to an end having extended his stay beyond his constitutional limits. This was a major victory for democracy in a region where leaders have been fighting to cling to power and subverting the people’s will.

Tainted win

But Felix, son of veteran Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, was announced winner in a poll largely believed to have been won by opposition chief Martin Fayulu. Describing Tshisekedi’s election as “an electoral coup”, Fayulu unsuccessfully contested the result at the Constitutional Court. He later swore himself in.

There is a sense of disappointment by large sections of the county which supported Fayulu but which opted to live with the new president “for stability”. 

It is said that when Kabila realised his hand-picked candidate Ramazan Shadar had no chance of winning, he shifted support to the more amenable Tshisekedi with whom he said to have struck a power deal which could see members of the former President’s family appointed to government.

Kabila will serve as a senator for life, a position guaranteed under the Constitution. From here, he is expected to wage considerable influence on his protégé.

The pro-Kabila Joint Front for Congo (FCC) controls 337 seats in the 500-member National Assembly against 102 for Fayulu’s coalition, Lamuka, and 46 for his own coalition, Heading for Change (Cach).

Credibility test

But Tshisekedi’s faces a credibility test following the lukewarm reception for his election by the African Union, France, the US and local Catholic Church. This partly explains the absence of the African presidents from the January 24  swearing in.

US congressman Chris Smith, the immediate former chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa claimed that the election results were tainted, and that Tshisekedi was declared victor because of “a corrupt bargain” between him and Kabila.

French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian expressed doubt about the poll saying the results were the “opposite of what we expected.”

And in an unprecedented move, the AU advised that the final results be postponed, saying the poll was characterised with fraud and irregularities. But Congo rebuffed the call saying the post-electoral process would not change as Kinshasa had “the sovereign right to control it”.

Following the Court’s pronunciation, Fayulu refused to concede.

“To African Presidents who ask the Congolese people to respect the constitutional court, I ask them to respect the sovereign decision of the Congolese people who elected me president with over 60 percent of the vote. Let us not encourage, fraud, lies and forgery,” he fumed on Twitter.

Fayulu, an oil tycoon and 30-year veteran of politics, is celebrated for his bravery and effectiveness. He also has the backing of political heavyweights Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Vice-President who was cleared  of war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court and former North Kivu governor Moise Katumbi, who were barred from running in the elections.

Bemba and Katumbi blame Kabila for their political woes, hence their backing for Opposition chief Fayulu, the president’s nemesis.

The new leader has indicated that he will fight corruption and help tap into the country’s rich mineral resources for the benefit of its people.

DRC Congo boasts a treasure trove of minerals, ranging from gold and diamonds to copper and coltan, used in the manufacture of phones.

During his swearing in, he rallied for national reconciliation, while Kabila said he was leaving power with his head “held high.” (

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