In Congo, Tshisekedi’s death undermines chances of 2017 transition

KINSHASA – The death on Wednesday of Congo’s opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi leaves opponents of President Joseph Kabila seriously weakened in their bid to force Kabila to quit power after he defied constitutional term limits to stay on last year.

Democratic Republic of Congo has never experienced a peaceful transition of power and Kabila’s refusal to stand down when his final term expired in December has raised fears the chronically unstable country could slide back into civil war.

Despite his 84 years and failing health, Tshisekedi known as “the Sphinx” for his sparse but profound statements, remained the undisputed leader of the opposition to Kabila. He was expected to head a transitional council to oversee Kabila’s exit by the end of this year under a deal struck on Dec. 31.

As hundreds of mourners congregated in front of a hastily-erected, candlelit shrine at his house in the Limete district of the capital, Kinshasa, on Thursday, many said they had little faith that anyone else could carry on his legacy.

Nearby, police fired tear gas at more than a hundred Tshisekedi supporters from his Union for Democracy and Social Progress Party (UDSP) as a nearby vehicle burned, a Reuters witness said.

Tshisekedi founded the party in 1982, creating the first organised opposition party under former leader Mobotu Sese Seko’s single-party rule. Many admired him for remaining outside the folds of power in a country where many opponents have cycled in and out of government over the decades.

“He never betrayed the nation,” said Rejeton Tshawuke, 35, his eyes misty, speaking over the loud wails of female mourners. “We can’t invest hope in just anyone. Many opposition leaders are only interested in money.”

In an interview on Thursday, Okello Oryem, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in neighbouring Uganda, told Reuters that the instability almost certain to follow Tshisekedi’s death meant there should be no rush to push Kabila out of office in accordance with the December deal.

Source: Angola Press News Agency