DR Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi dies

Friday, February 3, 2017

Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)'s opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDSP), has died, according to an announcement on Wednesday by the party. He was 84.

Tshisekedi's supporters during his 2011 election campaign.
Image: Vote Tshisekedi Presidential Campaign (Flickr).

Tshisekedi was in Brussels, Belgium for medical treatment. He recently spent two years there for health issues, returning in July to DRC capital Kinshasa. He went back to Brussels last week.

Tshisekedi was due to oversee a power-sharing deal aimed at ending political stalemate with President Joseph Kabila. Kabila is due to stand down under the deal, brokered by the Catholic Church. Kabila's most recent electoral victory is disputed, with international observers alleging election fraud and Tshisekedi supporters calling him the "elected president".

A founding UDSP member, Tshisekedi helped found the party when elections scheduled in the 1980s failed to materialise. At that point the nation was ruled by Mobutu Sese Seko; Seko appointed Tshisekedi his Prime Minister four times but they quarrelled and Tshisekedi only managed to stay in the role for months at a time.

Since then, he led the opposition to Joseph Kabila's father Laurent, who became President in 1997 after leading a rebellion. His son, President from 2001, was declared winner of the 2011 election with Tshisekedi declared runner-up. Tshisekedi was exiled to Kasai under Kabila sr. Locals nicknamed him the Sphinx of Limete, a reference to the longevity of the mythical sphinx and the Kinshasa district in which he made his home.

Albert Moleka, who was Tshisekei's chief of staff for the 2011 presidential election, told Reuters "A baobab [tree] has fallen [...] The baobab protects you from the rain and the sun [...] people like that can't be replaced." UDSP said their leader was in Brussels for a checkup following his earlier treatment.

The government has promised a state funeral.