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In DR Congo, a new president is announced, but not everyone is celebrating

Monday January 21 2019

Felix Tshisekedi.

Felix Tshisekedi was declared winner of DR Congo's presidential elections yesterday. PHOTO| AFP 

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Democratic Republic of Congo’s top court yesterday declared Felix Tshisekedi president after disputed elections, outraging opponents who alleged a stitch-up as an African Union delegation prepared to head to the volatile country.

Announcing the final results of the much-delayed poll, the Constitutional Court threw out a legal challenge by runner-up Martin Fayulu.

It declared Tshisekedi the winner, paving the way for him to take over from long-term leader Joseph Kabila.

The chairman of the African Union, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, was due in Kinshasa today after it and other international bodies voiced concern over the results. Fayulu has described the outcome as an “electoral coup”. He has alleged that Tshisekedi promised to protect Kabila’s political and financial interests in return for helping ensure his victory.

Fayulu called on world powers to reject the results, declaring himself “the only legitimate president”.

“I ask the entire international community not to recognise a power that has neither legitimacy nor legal standing to represent the Congolese people,” he said of Tshisekedi.

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Tshisekedi’s victory was provisionally announced earlier this month by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) but it was challenged both at home and abroad. Yesterday, the Constitutional Court, which is made up of Kabila’s allies, said Fayulu’s claims were “unfounded”. It said he had failed to prove any inaccuracies in the figures, describing his call for a recount as “absurd”.

“Only the CENI has produced authentic and sincere results,” judge Noel Kilomba said.

The court went on to declare Tshisekedi as the “President of the Democratic Republic of Congo by simple majority”.

CONFIRMED OUTCOME

The Financial Times and other foreign media have reported seeing documents that confirm Fayulu as the winner. The influential Roman Catholic Church, which says it deployed 40,000 observers to monitor the poll, has also dismissed the official outcome.
The electoral commission had previously scheduled the swearing-in of the next president for tomorrow.

Awaiting yesterday’s court announcement, hundreds of supporters of Tshisekedi gathered outside the court holding placards saying “No to interference” and “Independent country” as riot police stood nearby.

Leader of the country’s oldest and biggest opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, 55-year-old Tshisekedi has never held high office.

The dispute has raised fears that the political crisis that began when Kabila refused to step down at the end of his constitutional term in office two years ago could turn into a bloodbath.

“If the court declares Tshisekedi victor, the risk of isolation would be enormous and untenable for a country positioned right in the middle of the continent,” Adeline Van Houtte of the Economist Intelligence Unit wrote on Twitter.

The vast country lived through two regional wars in 1996-97 and 1998-2003. The previous two elections, in 2006 and 2011, were marred by bloody clashes.
At a summit on Thursday, AU leaders said there were “serious doubts” about the election figures and called for the final results to be delayed.

DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende had snubbed the demand, saying: “I don’t think it is the business of the government or even of the African Union to tell the court what it should do.”

Ahead of Kagame’s visit, the European Union said it joined the AU in inviting “all the Congolese players to work constructively with this delegation to find a post-electoral solution which respects the Congolese people’s vote”.

Before Sunday’s announcement by the court, the AU had announced its plan to send its commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat and Kagame to DR Congo on Monday. Observers warned Kagame’s options were limited.

He is viewed with suspicion in DR Congo, where Rwanda is accused of backing armed groups in various uprisings and of seizing land and minerals.

Prominent DR Congo press cartoonist Thembo Kash told AFP that Kagame’s visit risked fanning tensions in the country, which does not want to see “the arsonist play at being a fireman”. (AFP)

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First-time lucky for son of veteran opposition leader

Felix Tshisekedi, whose victory in the DR Congo’s presidential election was confirmed by the country’s top court yesterday, is the son of a veteran opposition leader but has never held high office or even a managerial role.

Known to friends as “Fatshi”, the portly 55-year-old’s win long eluded his late father, who spent 35 years leading the opposition but did not live to take office.

Tshisekedi heads the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), DR Congo’s oldest and largest opposition party which was founded and led by his father Etienne. After his father died in February 2017, Tshisekedi took up the reins.

And in less than two years, he appears to have hit the jackpot, after being named the surprise victor in December’s historic vote to succeed President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the volatile, poverty-stricken nation with an iron fist since 2001.

His first words after the provisional results were announced by election commission earlier this month were a tribute to Kabila.

“Today we should no longer see him as an adversary, but rather as a partner in the democratic change in our country,” he told crowds of triumphant supporters.

But it was not without controversy, with opposition rival Martin Fayulu, who came a close second, denouncing the result as an “electoral coup”. Yesterday, he called for the international community to reject the Consitutional Court’s confirmation of the results.

For a while, it looked like Tshisekedi’s name would not even be on the ballot.

On November 11, he joined six other opposition leaders to rally behind a single unity candidate, Fayulu, to take on Kabila’s handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

But the deal drew a furious response from his supporters, prompting him and fellow opposition leader Vital Kamerhe to abandon the deal and run on a joint ticket, effectively weakening and splitting the opposition.

The pair had previously agreed that if they won, Kamerhe would become Tshisekedi’s prime minister.

Since his father founded the UDPS in 1982, the party has served as an opposition mainstay in the former Belgian colony — first under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, then under Kabila’s father Laurent-Desire Kabila, who ruled from 1997 until his death in 2001.

A father of five, Tshisekedi goes to the same Pentecostal church as Fayulu in Kinshasa, the capital. Although he does not enjoy the same degree of popularity as his father, he has risen steadily through the party ranks.

“Etienne was stubborn and proud,” said one keen observer of the country’s opposition. “Felix is more diplomatic, more conciliatory, more ready to listen to others.”

In 2008, he became national secretary for external relations and was elected to the national assembly in 2011 as representative for Mbuji-Mayi, the country’s third city.

However, he never took up his seat as he did not formally recognise his father’s 2011 election defeat to Kabila. A month after his father’s death, Tshisekedi was elected as party head.
Although he holds a Belgian diploma in marketing and communication, he has had little political or managerial experience with some detractors even suggesting his diploma is not valid. After announcing his bid to run for the presidency, Tshisekedi promised a return to the rule of law, to fight the “gangrene” of corruption and to bring peace to the east of the country.

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Reject these tallies, urges opposition leader Fayulu

Much responsibility for shaping DR Congo’s post-election future now lies with a former oil executive who made a stellar rise from political obscurity.

The man in the middle is Martin Fayulu, who insists that electoral fraud has cheated him of the presidency of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country.

A fiery orator who made his name during months of protests against President Joseph Kabila, Fayulu went from being a relative nobody to being the alternative face of DR Congo’s opposition.

One of Kabila’s most vociferous critics, the 62-year-old ran as a unity candidate for a handful of opposition parties in the December 30 vote, taking the few opinion polls by storm.

But when the provisional results were announced earlier this month, the surprise victor was his rival Felix Tshisekedi, son of the country’s late opposition leader, who won with 38.57 per cent of the vote, with Fayulu coming a close second with 34.8 per cent.

The election commission’s announcement was confirmed by the Constitutional Court yesterday. Fayulu has denounced the results as an “electoral coup” and yesterday he urged the international community to reject them.

Impulsive on occasions, Fayulu took the forefront of several protest marches as the 2016-2017 crisis over Kabila’s extended term in office escalated. He was arrested several times and in one rally was even struck on the head by a rubber bullet.

Although Engagement for Citizenship and Development party held just three seats in the National Assembly, Fayulu was thrust into the limelight in November when he became the consensus choice of opposition stalwarts meeting in Geneva. His nomination was backed by six other opposition leaders.

They included two heavyweights — ex-warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi, the exiled former governor of the mining province of Katanga, whom Kabila reviles. Both men had been prevented from running.

Opposition Candidate Martin Fayulu.

Opposition Candidate Martin Fayulu, smiles prior to a joint meeting with the main presidential candidates and the African Union (AU) on January 2, 2019 in Kinshasa. PHOTO| AFP

Just days later, the deal fell apart as Tshisekedi, who heads the country’s oldest and biggest opposition party, said he would pursue his own bid for the presidency.

Fayulu began his campaign to great fanfare in the northeastern city of Beni, drawing huge crowds as he toured one of the DRC’s most dangerous regions, ravaged by more than two decades of violence and an Ebola epidemic.

He promised to move a huge army base from Kinshasa to the region to boost security if elected. When Fayulu moved on to the Katanga region in the southeast, the campaign heated up even more. Five of his supporters were shot dead by police and he was barred from holding a rally in Lubumbashi, DRC’s second city.

Kinshasa meanwhile accused him of trying to sabotage the election because of his implacable opposition to imported touch-screen voting machines.

Born on November 21, 1956, in Kinshasa when it was still known as Leopoldville, Fayulu went on to do his university studies in France and the United States, later taking up a role with the US oil group which became Exxon Mobil.

Starting in 1984, he spent nearly two decades working for the oil giant in successive African countries, first as an auditor and then as director-general. He stepped down in 2003.

He vowed, if elected, to invest $126 billion (108 billion euros) in the economy and to create 20 million jobs over five years in a country which remains one of the world’s poorest despite its wealth in prized minerals and land.

His first foray into politics was during a national conference in 1991-92 that ended the single-party rule of longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, but it was years later, in 2006, that he entered parliament.

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Key dates in the history of rich but troubled state

On June 30, 1960, the Belgian Congo becomes independent. Power is shared between Joseph Kasa-Vubu, the president, and his prime minister, Patrice Lumumba. Rivalry between the two quickly plunges the country into chaos. On July 5, a mutiny breaks out in the army.

In 1961, Lumumba, a popular figure in the campaign for independence from Belgium, is assassinated. Colonel Joseph-Desire Mobutu plays a key role in his murder, in which some foreign powers are also implicated. Several provinces, notably mineral-rich Katanga in the southeast, secede. A wave of violence unfurls, causing at least 500,000 deaths by 1965.

On November 24, 1965, Mobutu — now a general — stages a coup and imposes dictatorial rule. In 1971 he renames the country the Republic of Zaire and changes his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko. Two years later, he establishes the nationalist ideology of “Zairianisation” that involves pushing out foreign economic powers and replacing them with national ones.

In 1976, the first known outbreak of Ebola virus is found in DR Congo. Since then, the country has been hit by several more epidemics, with the most recent outbreak declared on August 1.

In 1977-1978, Mobutu manages, with international help, to contain secession attempts by Katanga province, renaming it Shaba. French and Belgian soldiers parachute into Kolwezi to save hundreds of Europeans held by the Katangan rebels. Mobutu’s dictatorship, which lasts more than three decades, keeps the country together but smothers all opposition and wrecks the economy.

On May 17, 1997 Mobutu is toppled by rebel Laurent-Desire Kabila after a six-month conflict — the First Congo War. Kabila, who was backed by Uganda and Rwanda, renames the country, calling it Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In August 1998, the Second Congo War — sometimes also called the Great War of Africa — breaks out. A fresh rebellion in eastern Kivu descends into a regional conflict involving government forces supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe and rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda. The fighting lasts until 2003. The death toll, mainly from disease and starvation, is generally estimated to be in the millions, making it the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. The highest estimate, since disputed, is 5.4 million.

On January 16, 2001, Kabila is murdered by a bodyguard. Ten days later, his 29-year-old son takes over. In 2006, Kabila is elected president in the country’s first free elections since independence. Five years on, he is re-elected in a vote marred by violence and fraud.

In May 2012, the M23 movement, a mainly ethnic Tutsi rebel group, begins an uprising in the Kivu region, which is eventually defeated by government forces at the end of 2013. Then in September 2016, the central Kasai region descends into violence after a powerful local chieftain is killed by the security forces.

Political turbulence marks the final years of Kabila’s tenure. In 2015, demonstrators take to the streets over suggestions Kabila may seek to extend his term in office beyond December 2016. As the rallies turn violent, dozens are killed. A political agreement allows Kabila to remain in power until elections in December 2017 but the date is then set back by a year. Several protests calling for him to step down are severely repressed.

On August 8 2018, Kabila finally ends speculation about his intentions by choosing hardliner loyalist and former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary to run as his successor. Elections finally go ahead on December 30, with opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi named by election officials as the provisional winner on January 10, 2019. The results are confirmed on Sunday, January 20 by the Constitutional Court, after it rejects a challenge by Fayulu. (AFP)