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Felix Tshisekedi

Felix TshisekediOn 10 January 2018, DRC's presidential elections, the Democratic Republic of Congo's election board, CENI, proclaimed Felix Tshisekedi (pronounced CHISH-sue-keh-dee) the winner of the country's presidential elections. The election commission named Tshisekedi, son of the country's late veteran opposition leader, as provisional winner of the bitterly-contested December 30 vote – a surprise result his main opponent promptly denounced as an "electoral coup".

Tshisekedi is the head of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), a party founded by his father Etienne, who spent decades as the country's main opposition leader but died in February last year. 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.

Felix Tshisekedi was born in Kinshasa on June 13, 1963 to Marthe and Étienne Tshisekedi. When his father created the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) in the early 1980s, publicly opposing Mobutu, Félix was forced to accompany his dissident father into house arrest in his native village in central Kasaïa. This led to Felix ending his formal studies. In 1985, Mobutu authorized Felix, his mother and his brothers to leave Kasaïa. Mr. Tshisekedi went on to live in Brussels, Belgium, where he worked and became an active UDPS militant.

In 2008, Felix Tshisekedi 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 defeat to Kabila in a presidential election the same year. In May 2013, Felix refused a position of rapporteur at the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), saying, “I don’t intend to put my political career between brackets.” The CENI’s article 17 excludes membership for those who are members of a political formation.

In October 2016, Tshisekedi became vice secretary general of the UDPS, the oldest and largest opposition party in the DRC. Felix Tshisekedi draws much of his political legitimacy from being the son of late veteran opposition leader. Étienne Tshisekedi, a cunning and relentless Congolese opposition leader who was a thorn in the side of his country’s big men for decades, died on Feb. 2, 2017 in Brussels. He was 84. He had traveled to Belgium for treatment when his condition quickly worsened. Tshisekedi refused to compromise on his beliefs or accept a highly-paid position as a minister in Mobutu's government.

As early as 2004, some of Tshisekedi's lieutenants were working to succeed him as party leader. The idea of "inheriting" the party seemed optimistic, since it was identified so closely with Tshisekedi and would likely shrink to a shadow of its former self if he died or retired. The only one of Tshisekedi's sons who was politically active is Felix Tshisekedi, president of the UDPS federation in Belgium, but he apparently was not interested in succeeding his father at that time.

A party conference on 31 March 2017 elected Felix Tshisekedi as party leader and the party’s candidate for the forthcoming presidential election Since his father founded the UDPS in 1982, the party had 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. At least two of the nine political platforms represented in the party did not accept the process which led to the choice of Felix Tshisekedi as leader and former Kabila ally Pierre Lumbi as president of the bloc's political bureau. The organisation of the conference was challenged by the UDPS/Tshibala, one of the party’s dissident wings. In 2017, the regime had encouraged this split, especially bynominating UPDS dissident Bruno Tshibala as prime minister.

Felix Tshisekedi, who was widely seen as the frontrunner, entered the presidential race late, after the opposition chose another man as their coalition candidate. Congolese opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi rejected suggestions that he might make a deal with President Joseph Kabila, at a rally which passed off peacefully 24 April 2018.

In November 2018, his decision alongside ally Kamerhe to pull out of an opposition agreement to back Martin Fayulu as a common candidate scuppered the opposition's hope of presenting a broadly united front in the race. Tshisekedi has said he would select Kamerhe as his prime minister if he wins the vote. In return, he will back a candidate from Kamerhe's Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party in the 2023 presidential election. Under the agreement reached in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, if Tshisekedi wins the presidency in the December 23 polls he will make Kamerhe his prime minister. Kamerhe, who ran against Kabila in 2011, will be Tshisekedi's campaign director. The pair withdrew from an agreement hammered out in Geneva in which seven opposition parties coalesced around a joint candidate in order to boost chances of victory.

Felix Tshisekedi returned home to Kinshasa on 27 November 2018 greeted by tens of thousands of supporters as he kicked off his campaign to replace longtime president and foe Joseph Kabila in the upcoming elections. "We will go with the people and we will win," said Tshisekedi. He vowed to deploy teams of observers to combat election fraud, while his running mate Vital Kamerhe, a former speaker of parliament, said on Twitter that the pair made a "winning ticket". Tens of thousands of supporters from Tshisekedi's main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party and Kamerhe's Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) were on hand to greet them as they arrived at Kinshasa's airport.

A father of five, Tshisekedi goes to the same Pentecostal church as Fayulu in Kinshasa, the capital. Although he did not enjoy the same degree of popularity as his father, he had 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." Tshisekedi has promised a return to the rule of law, to fight the "gangrene" of corruption and to bring peace to the volatile east of the country, where several militias remain active more than 15 years after the end of DR Congo’s bloody civil war.

Although he holds a Belgian diploma in marketing and communication, his opponents point out that he has never held high office or had managerial experience. And some detractors have even suggested his diploma is not valid.

Felix Tshisekedi promised a return to the rule of law, to fight the "gangrene" of corruption and to bring peace to the volatile east of the country, where several militias remain active more than 15 years after the end of DR Congo’s bloody civil war. When asked by RFI on April 5, 2018 whether Kabila will not be prosecuted by Congolese justice, he said : "In the name of the stability of the state, I think we have to turn a blind eye to certain things because the Congolese first, the people first." Tshisekedi told AFP that if he won the presidency he would set up a "truth and reconciliation commission" to call Kabila to account, but would allow him to stay in the country. He promised a return to the rule of law, to fight the "gangrene" of corruption and to bring peace to the conflict-wracked east of the vast central African country.




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Page last modified: 10-01-2019 12:21:15 ZULU