A regime change in the Democratic Republic of Congo renews hopes for real turnaround in that Central African country
Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in on Thursday as president of Democratic Republic of Congo, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful handover of power after chaotic and bitterly disputed elections. Tshisekedi, 55, took the oath of office before receiving the national flag and a copy of the constitution from outgoing president Joseph Kabila, who is stepping aside after 18 years at the helm of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country. Thousands of Tshisekedi supporters, many of them dressed in white, celebrated the historic event outside the Palace of the Nation, the seat of the presidency. “We hope that this will be a real change, especially as he has taken power without bloodshed,” said Saddam Kongolo, a member of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). One of Tshisekedi’s first tasks will be to appoint a prime minister in a move which will see him sharing power with Kabila’s supporters, who hold an overwhelming majority in parliament. The ceremony caps more than two years of turmoil sparked by Kabila’s refusal to step down when he reached the constitutional limit on his term in office.
A History of Turbulence
A country the size of continental western Europe, DR Congo has lived through two regional wars in 1996-97 and 1998-2003. The last two presidential elections, in 2006 and 2011 — both won by Kabila — were marred by bloody clashes. The ballot, which took place on December 30 after three postponements, surprised many by the lack of violence, but a political storm swiftly brewed over the vote count. Fayulu branded the result a fix but lost a challenge to the Constitutional Court, and foreign support for his position ebbed as countries took comfort in a peaceful transition. Among foreign nations attending the ceremony, Kenya and Zambia were represented by their presidents and Tanzania by its vice presidents, according to the RTNC state television, while China, France, Japan and the United States sent their ambassadors, AFP journalists saw. “The opposition has run out of recourse to challenge the election results and the threat of widespread post-election violence is gradually subsiding,” said Robert Besseling of EXX Africa, a business risk consultancy. Tshisekedi took over the UDPS, DR Congo’s oldest and largest opposition party, after the death of its founder nearly two years ago, his father Etienne. His ascent to the presidency surprised many, for he has never held high office and failed to match the crowd-pulling popularity of his father.