Congo: the new era

FÉLIX TSHISEKEDI: (left) the new Congolese leader has been accused of coming to a power-sharing arrangement with the outgoing president, which he denies (Photo: RMKPress)

by Debora Kayembe · International outrage and one of the first major human rights campaigns in modern history led to the Belgian government taking Congo off King Leopold’s hands and annexing it.

Although the worst human rights abuses ended, the main priority of the Belgian Congo, despite Belgium’s earlier reluctance to enter the colonial game, remained the exploitation of the country’s mineral wealth for the benefit of the Belgian economy.

Lumumba was significant in the Republic of Congo securing its independence and eventually becoming what we now know as the DRC.

Due to his considerable and understandable dislike for his Belgium colonizers, he joined the Liberal Party of Belgium in 1955. Following his arrest by the colonial government, he went on to co-found the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) in 1958 and proceeded to win the elections in 1960 at the age of 34.

Becoming the first ever elected Congolese Prime Minister—whilst speculation and conspiracy still surrounds his assassination in 1961 till this day—it has long been alleged that he was murdered by the US working together with Belgium.

Direct rule
During the period of direct rule, the European institutions and structures that were brought in took little account of local culture and conditions.

After independence, rather than reform the state, local leaders simply took it over, alienating themselves from the population.

While the law is not perfect, and the due diligence reporting is only a small step in the right direction, some companies are working hard to ensure their products are not helping fuel violence in the Congo.

The answer is not for companies to leave Congo and find these minerals elsewhere. Doing so would cause many Congolese to lose their jobs and make life even more difficult. Instead, companies should find ways to source these minerals responsibly, and only from mines that have been certified to be conflict-free.

In January 2019, a 55-year-old father of five, Mr Tshisekedi, was for a long time known for being the son of the late veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, but he insisted that he was not trying to rival his father.

Felix Tshisekedi’s father founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (known by its French initials UDPS) in 1982, and was a feared rival of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who died months after being ousted in 1997, and later of Presidents Laurent and Joseph Kabila.

After 17 years as president, Joseph Kabila surprised many by announcing he would step down. His presidency has been dogged by allegations of corruption and human rights abuses.

The electoral commission said Mr Tshisekedi had received 38.5 per cent of the vote on 30 December, compared to 34.7 per cent for Martin Fayulu, another opposition figure. Ruling coalition candidate Emmanuel Shadary took 23.8 per cent.

But doubts were raised about the results include by the country’s influential Catholic Church, international experts based in the US, and the French and German governments. Mr Fayulu accused Mr Tshisekedi of coming to a power-sharing arrangement with the outgoing president. He denied the accusation.

Félix Tshisekedi
The surprise victor of the election was Félix Tshisekedi, leader of the country’s main opposition party. Tshisekedi beat opposition politician Martin Fayulu by a narrow margin.

However Fayulu, a widely respected former business executive and parliamentarian, claims that he in fact won by a landslide and that Tshisekedi struck a deal with Joseph Kabila to be declared victor.

Fayulu’s claims have been bolstered by DRC’s influential Catholic Church, which deployed 40,000 election monitors on the day of the election and has stated that its data showed a different winner to that announced by the electoral commission; which ultimately marked the first peaceful transfer of power in sub-Saharan Africa’s most vast country since independence from Belgium in 1960.

The swearing in of Mr Tshisekedi saw the first peaceful transition of power in DR Congo since independence in 1960. Felix Tshisekedi was born in Kinshasa—then known as Leopoldville—on June 13, 1963. He grew up in the luxury of the elite, including his father Etienne, one of the main collaborators of Mobutu, before spending most of his sights in Europe.

“He is really nice!”, says a Congolese from Belgium who knows “Felix” since the 1980s. “He speaks to everyone. In general, he tries to calm the spirits. But he has no analysis or political ideas.”

He told the crowds at his inauguration that he wanted to “build a strong Congo, turned toward development in peace and security—a Congo for all in which everyone has a place”.

Mr Tshisekedi has said he will make the fight against poverty a “great national cause”. He aims, for example, to increase the average per person income to $11.75 (£9.30) a day, compared to $1.25 today. He says his programme can be accomplished over two presidential terms—a period of 10 years—and will cost an estimated $86billion.

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