In December, DR Congo fell into shambles as the people took to the streets protesting the continued rule of President Joseph Kabila whose mandate had expired. Although the President may have finally had his way, considering that he still remains the President, a dead man, Etienne Tshisekedi, may be set to change all that.
Etienne Tshisekedi died on February 1 this year at the age of 84. It has been almost 3 months since and his body continues to languish in a morgue in Brussels. A battle is being waged over when his body will be repatriated from Belgium to DR Congo.
While alive Etienne Tshisekedi was a Congolese opposition leader who in 1982 founded the country’s first opposition party and worked against the successive Presidents; Mobutu Sese Seko, Laurent Kabila, and Joseph Kabila.
In 2011, he ran for President against Kabila and lost but the elections were widely viewed as flawed and Tshisekedi’s followers continued to regard him as the legitimate President.
After Kabila’s play to refrain from stepping down in 2016, Etienne Tshisekedi was instrumental in persuading the President to agree to a process that would allow elections to take place in 2017. Tshisekedi was then meant to head an oversight committee, “Rassemblement,” tasked with monitoring the carrying out of that agreement.
How Etienne Tshisekedi threatens President Joseph Kabila
The Union for Democracy and Social Progress want their veteran leader buried in a mausoleum at the party’s headquarters in Kinshasa. Authorities in DR Congo are, however, having none of that.
They refused the claims of the party by citing a colonial-era law that prohibits burial in residential areas over public health concerns. They even went as far as interrogating the mausoleum’s architect, and are instead proposing that Etienne Tshisekedi is interred in a cemetery like everyone else, and they want to control the funeral proceedings.
Congolese authorities fear that Tshisekedi’s funeral may become a mass demonstration against President Joseph Kabila. They also have to consider the fact that if Tshisekedi is buried in the capital, Kabila’s fiercest rival Moise Katumbi may do as he has vowed and return from his own political exile to attend the funeral.
Moise Katumbi will be sure to draw even more politically inclined mourners. In fact, the only hindrance to the opposition in these days is the fact that they have not found a clear leader to get behind.
Congo is still clinging to the hope that President Kabila will respect the New Year’s Eve agreement, which prevents him from seeking a third term or holding a referendum to change the constitution but if he does so, it will be a refreshing break from character. For the battle ahead, the people will need to find a living and present opposition leader that will knock horns with Kabila and win them the victory that they deserve.