3 February 2017

Congo-Kinshasa: DRC Mourns the Death of Preeminent Opposition Leader Etienne Tshisekedi

The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, has died in Brussels at the age of 84, the country's embassy in Brussels, Belgium has revealed.

His death comes at a critical time when incumbent president Joseph Kabila is facing intense pressure to step down. The country faces an uncertain future following the death of a key partner in the transitional council.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, has died in Brussels at the age of 84, the country's embassy in Brussels, Belgium has revealed. His death comes at a critical time when incumbent president Joseph Kabila is facing intense pressure to step down.

Tshisekedi served as a minister under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in the former Zaire before he formed his party the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party (UDPS). The party was the first organized opposition political party in 1982.

Before his death, Tshisekedi was set to take the top post in a transitional council agreed in December under a deal that would pave the way for President Joseph Kabila to leave power in 2017 after 17 years in power.

With his death, there is skepticism whether the transition process will proceed, and if it does, its success is being doubted.

A pivotal figure in Congolese politics

Tshisekedi was the principal leader of the fragmented opposition in the vast, resource-rich central African country. He played a prominent role in the politics of DRC since the 1960's. He served under Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba before joining the secessionists. He served as Prime Minister thrice. The first was from 29th September 1991 to 1 November, 1991 under Mobutu. The second time was from 15th August 1992 to 18th March 1993, and the third was from 2nd April 1997 to 9th April 1997 under Laurent Kabila.

Tshisekedi was seen as the beacon of opposition politics. He was one of the country's first lawyers, with over fifty years in politics, his death is a colossal loss to DRC's political sphere.

"Tshisekedi was a giant in Congolese politics," said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.

The reaction to his death

Tshisekedi was a pivotal figure in DRC, a country whose history has been marked by foreign intervention, civil war, coups and authoritarian rule.

Many Congolese abroad and diplomats said, President Kabila might not honour the December accord that might further create political instability which could lead to a repeat of the deadliest conflicts seen between 1996 and 2003 in which as many as 5 million lost their lives and millions displaced with starvation and disease.

He will be given a state burial.

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