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Starting anew in the Congo

Felix Tshisekedi
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Felix Tshisekedi took the oath as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo Thursday, 24 January 2019, signalling a fresh start for the country. He is the fifth president. The country’s Supreme Court had earlier certified him as the winner of the controversial elections on Sunday, January 20. The judicial victory was critical given sustained doubts about Tshisekedi’s victory. Congratulations to Tshisekedi and the people of the DRC, formally known as Zaire.

Election monitors criticised the DRC poll. They cited vote tampering and alteration of results. The Catholic Church in DRC deployed 40, 000 monitors; they concluded that the person the electoral body declared as runner-up, Martin Fayulu, was the real winner of the poll by a landslide.

The election featured three main contestants. Tshisekedi, Fayulu and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, originally favoured by outgoing president Joseph Kabila. Shadary stood no chance with the electorate, so Kabila struck a deal with Tshisekedi.

Ahead of the oath of office, Tshisekedi received valuable international endorsements. Many countries from Europe through America and back home in Africa contested his election victory. Even the usually reticent African Union spoke against the election, calling for better handling. The United States of America led this condemnation. It changed its tune Wednesday 19 January.

“The US welcomes the Congolese Constitutional Court’s certification of Felix Tshisekedi as the next president”, in the words of Robert Palladino, spokesman of the US State Department. “We are committed to working with the new DRC government. We encourage the government to include a broad representation of Congo’s political stakeholders and to address reports of electoral irregularities”.

Angola and Congo Republic also gave thumbs up to Tshisekedi. Relations between Angola and DRC strained due to the two-year delay in holding the elections by former president Joseph Kabila. He was due to exit in 2016 but kept postponing the poll. He was looking for someone who would compromise and cooperate with the outgoing government. They found Tshisekedi and did the African routine with the election result.

Even so, foreign leaders stayed away from Tshisekedi’s inauguration. Only Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was present.

Interestingly, two years before, Kabila’s central government bombed the offices of Tshisekedi’s the Union for Democracy and Social Progress. Many lives perished in that attack on the opposition party.

Joseph Kabila is stepping down after 18 years in office. The reasons include internal and external pressure to abide by his admission to comply with term limits. He is determined however to be the back-seat driver of the DRC vehicle. While the Union for Democracy and Social Progress ostensibly won the presidential vote, Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy won three-quarters of the Senate vote. Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy under Congo’s constitution appoints cabinet members and thus may wield more power.

Tshisekedi was born into the politics of the DRC. His father, Etienne Tshisekedi, founded Congo’s longest-running opposition party, and was alternately jailed and given official positions by the three leaders Congo has had over the past half-century. He got involved in the politics of his country as a young man and abandoned school at a time because of his political involvement. It would seem to have paid off nicely now.

Tshisekedi has some obvious tasks on his plate. The primacy is reducing poverty.

DRC exemplifies the African dilemma. It is resource-rich yet poor. The second largest country in Africa by land mass, DRC measures 905,365 square miles (2,344,855 square kilometres). It shares borders with nine countries of Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

 

DRC has over 200 ethnic groups, with nearly 250 languages and dialects spoken throughout the country. Kinshasa, the capital, is the second largest French-speaking city in the world. Before and after its independence in the 1960s, war has been a recurrent feature of this country. It has lost over 5.4 million people to war and is reputed to have suffered the deadliest conflict since World War 2.

 

At the centre of the Rift Valley, DRC has enormous mineral wealth in the south and east of the Congo River. These include cobalt, copper, cadmium, and diamonds. Others include gold, silver and zinc. Then there is manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite. It also has iron ore and coal in plentiful supply.

 

Gold, tantalum, tungsten and tin available in DRC are minerals used in electronics such as cell phones and laptops. However, Congo only exports the raw minerals and does not derive the wealth in the processing and beneficiation. Rather, they have become “conflict minerals” and source of pain to its citizens from wars and struggles for their control.

 

One record shows that “in the DRC, only 1.8% of existing roads are tarred and less than 10% of the population has access to electricity. Recently there have been pushes to improve, including the announcement of a $1 billion package from the World Bank for infrastructure”.

 

Health indices are poor. Since 1976, DRC has suffered ten outbreaks of Ebola. Health authorities confirmed 14 new cases in January 2019, notching up to 713 confirmed and probable cases and 439 deaths. Education similarly suffers.

We join the people of DRC to wish President Tshisekedi the wisdom to walk the tightrope that is his presidency and to deliver better outcomes to that blessed but suffering country.

 

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