Feb. 6, 2017 (GIN) – Etienne Tshisekedi, a popular leader of the Congolese opposition, was a crusading voice for political pluralism and democracy in the Congo. He passed last week in a hospital in Brussels where reportedly he had been treated for a pulmonary embolism.
After a previous hospital stay in Belgium for 2 years, Tshisekedi returned to the DRC to a welcome by hundreds and thousands of supporters.
Tshisekedi began his political career as an adviser to Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1960. A close loyalist of Mobutu Sese Seko, he broke ranks after 20 years to found the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, nicknamed the “school for democracy” which was immediately banned. In the 1990s, Mobutu promised a move to multi-party democracy and Tshisekedi briefly became prime minister four times in the 1990s.
Later he resisted the governments of Laurent Kabila and his son, the current president Joseph Kabila.
In December 2016 he called on Congolese to rise up in peaceful opposition to Kabila when it became apparent that the young Kabila would not schedule elections when his term expired. Under a deal agreed by the parties on New Year’s Eve, Tshisekedi was promised a top post in a transitional council.
About 100 supporters gathered outside the headquarters of the Union of Democracy and Social Progress, following his death on Wednesday.
“Our leader is dead. We have no other leader, like Tshitshi, who can fight without the need for guns. How could he die in Belgium?” asked UDPS activist, Yves, using Tshisekedi’s nickname.
“UDPS still existed because of him. His son will try to pick up the pieces as he can,” author and historian Gerard Prunier said speaking of Felix Tshisekedi, who some hope can fill his father’s shoes.
“Given the extraordinary disparity of the Congolese political landscape, nobody will manage to keep the UDPS in one piece. It will explode and go in various directions,” Prunier predicted.
“He was an historic opposition leader in former Zaire, today’s DRC,” Tanzanian political analyst Jenerali Ulimwengu told the German news agency Deutsche Welle. “He had that certain mystique that people look for in their political leaders – it is something that age cannot destroy.”
Kabila is due to stay in power until elections, which were initially due last November, are held by the end of this year. Talks are expected to resume this week for a transition agreement.