Recently elected DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi pledged Saturday to pardon political prisoners and said he would work for the return of those who had fled abroad for political reasons.
“To consolidate democratic progress in our country, I have decided to make the easing of tensions a major goal during the first 100 days” of his mandate, Tshisekedi told Congolese officials during a ceremony.
“Within 10 days I am going to grant a presidential pardon in favour of political prisoners who have been convicted by a final court judgment,” he said.
The president added that he would have the justice minister order the conditional release of those held for expressing their rights, especially during political rallies held ahead of elections on December 30.
“Along the same lines, I am going to work hard to create the conditions for a rapid return of compatriots who are now abroad for political reasons, so they may exercise their activities within the rule of law and republican institutions,” the president said.
On Wednesday however, dozens of people were arrested during rights protests in DR Congo, activists said, in an incident likely to pose a fresh challenge for Tshisekedi.
The former opposition leader was inaugurated as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo on January 24, succeeding Joseph Kabila who had led the country since 2001.
It marked the country’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
On Saturday, the new president presented a programme of urgent measures to be taken during the first 100 days of his term while commenting on the nation’s security, political and social situations.
He pledged that the judicial system would be administered “by honest people with irreproachable moral values, prepared to fight corruption” in the second-largest country in Africa.
Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in on Thursday as president of the 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 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.
Tshisekedi was declared the winner with 38.5 per cent of the vote, over his opposition rival Martin Fayulu, who was credited with 34.8 per cent.
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.
Analysts say Tshisekedi faces a raft of pressing problems after taking office.
He must defuse the anger of Fayulu’s supporters, carry out his campaign pledge of ending the “gangrene” of corruption after the Kabila era, and forge a power-sharing arrangement with the outgoing president’s bloc.
The pro-Kabila Joint Front for Congo (FCC) controls 337 seats in the 500-member National Assembly against 102 for Fayulu’s coalition, Lamuka, and 46 for his own coalition, Heading for Change (Cach).
“Tshisekedi will have little margin for manoeuvre,” said Stephanie Wolters at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think tank.
According to a “political coalition agreement” seen by AFP which outlines an arrangement for “power-sharing” between the FCC and Cach, the position of prime minister “will be rotated every five years.”
The defence, foreign affairs and interior portfolios will go to “the president’s political family”.
Kabila himself will become a senator for life, a position reserved for outgoing presidents under the constitution. He is widely expected to wield influence through his supporters.
His family has acquired a wide range of assets during the many years in power.
Conflict and poverty
Beyond the politics, Tshisekedi also has to deal with the brutal militias who control parts of the country’s strife-torn east where an Ebola epidemic is also unfolding.
He also has to meet the expectations of his supporters about easing poverty, which afflicts the vast majority of the country’s 80 million citizens.
Despite the poverty, DR Congo boasts a treasure trove of minerals, ranging from gold and diamonds to copper and coltan — a mineral essential for the batteries used in hand-held electronic devices.
Yet, in a country where the graft is entrenched, very little of the wealth trickles down to the poor. It ranks a mere 176th on the 189-nation Human Development Index compiled by the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP).
The swearing-in of the newly-elected president of DR Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, may be postponed by two days until Thursday, a source in his coalition said Monday.
“According to the information I was given this morning, the (ceremony) has been put off until Thursday,” Lydie Omanga, spokesman for the opposition coalition which backed Tshisekedi in the race to succeed outgoing President Joseph Kabila, told AFP.
Kabila’s deputy head of cabinet, Jean-Pierre Kambila, said: “a meeting will take place at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) today to settle the matter.”
“If the ceremony does not take place tomorrow, it will be on January 24, without doubt,” he added.
Sources close to the president-elect said Monday that aspects of the ceremony remained to be decided. Invitations notably have to be sent to foreign heads of state and government, they said.
The timetable of the national electoral commission, which oversaw the long-delayed elections across the vast country, provided for the new head of state to be sworn in on Tuesday, January 22.
Tshisekedi’s announced victory was legally challenged by runner-up Martin Fayulu, who called the outcome “an electoral coup” — an alleged stitch up between Kabila and Tshisekedi.
Leaked figures from the provisional vote count appear to point heavily in his favour.
But the Constitutional Court on Sunday dismissed his appeal.
Kabila came to power in 2001 while war raged in the vast and mineral-rich country.
He extended his term by two years from 2016, unleashing protests that the security forces bloodily repressed.
Tshisekedi, 55, is the son of the late veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who died in February 2017, aged 84.
African countries that had expressed reservations about the provisional results of the election have begun to acknowledge Tshisekedi as the next president.
And the African Union, which previously said it had “serious doubts” about the figures, said Sunday it had “taken note” of the court’s ruling.
It also said it was postponing sending a high-level delegation to Kinshasa on Monday to try to ease the dispute.
But the influential Roman Catholic Church, which says it deployed 40,000 observers to monitor the poll, has dismissed the official outcome.
The election would mark the first peaceful transfer of power from one president to another in the Democratic Republic of Congo since independence from Belgium in 1960.
The vast country suffered two regional wars in 1996-97 and 1998-2003, and the last two presidential elections, in 2006 and 2011, were marred by bloody clashes.
Regional powers hailed Felix Tshisekedi as DR Congo’s incoming president on Sunday, despite claims by his opponents of an election stitch-up and the African Union earlier warning of “serious doubts” over the result.
Announcing the final results of the much-delayed poll, the Constitutional Court threw out a legal challenge by runner-up Martin Fayulu in an overnight declaration early on Sunday.
It declared Tshisekedi the winner, paving the way for him to take over from the country’s longtime leader Joseph Kabila, 47.
The election dispute has raised fears of fresh bloodshed in the vast and volatile central African nation.
The chairman of the African Union (AU), Rwandan President Paul Kagame, was due in Kinshasa on Monday after the AU questioned the election results.
The bloc had called for the final results to be delayed.
But the 16-nation Southern African Development Community congratulated Tshisekedi on Sunday for being declared president-elect and called for a peaceful handover of power.
“The SADC reiterates the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the DRC,” its chairman Hage Geingob, president of Namibia, said in a statement.
“SADC calls upon all Congolese to accept the outcome, consolidate democracy and maintain a peaceful and stable environment.”
Hundreds of Tshisekedi’s supporters celebrated by blowing whistles and horns near his party headquarters in the capital Kinshasa, where the atmosphere was otherwise calm on Sunday.
Fayulu alleges ‘coup’
Fayulu has described the outcome of the vote as an “electoral coup”.
He called for peaceful protests, though no major incidents were reported across the country on Sunday.
Fayulu has alleged that Tshisekedi promised to protect Kabila’s political and financial interests in return for helping to ensure his victory.
“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.
The winning candidate called for unity.
“This is not a victory for one side or the other,” Tshisekedi said in a video message.
“The Congo we are going to build will not be a Congo of division, hate and tribalism — it will be a Congo that is reconciled, a strong Congo, looking towards development, peace and security for all.”
Recount call rejected
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.
On Sunday, the Constitutional Court, which is made up of Kabila’s allies, said Fayulu had failed to prove any inaccuracies in the figures. It described his call for a recount as “absurd”.
The court declared Tshisekedi as the “president of the Democratic Republic of Congo by simple majority”.
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.
Fears of bloodbath
Awaiting Sunday’s court announcement, hundreds of Tshisekedi’s supporters 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.
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.
Doubts over vote result
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.”
He said the new president would “probably” be sworn in on Tuesday along with a new legislature — dominated, according to official election results, by Kabila allies.
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”.
Martin Fayulu, who came second in DR Congo’s presidential election, has appealed to the Constitutional Court to annul the provisional result which awarded victory to his opposition rival Felix Tshisekedi, his lawyer said Saturday.
“The request seeks the annulment of the result declaring Felix Tshisekedi president,” Feli Ekombe told reporters outside the court, saying “it was filed yesterday (Friday)”.
Foreign leaders reacted cautiously to the outcome of DR Congo’s presidential election Thursday, with many choosing not to congratulate the declared winner and appealing for disputes to settled peacefully.
Provisional results from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s much-troubled election granted victory to opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi.
But his opposition rival Martin Fayulu immediately cried foul, branding the results “an electoral coup”.
The Independent National Election Commission (CENI) gave Tshisekedi 38.57 percent of the vote, just ahead of Fayulu with 34.8 percent.
President Joseph Kabila’s preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, came a distant third with 23.8 percent.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all sides “to refrain from violence and to channel any eventual electoral disputes through the established institutional mechanisms,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
African Union leader Moussa Faki Mahamat was similarly circumspect.
“It is important that any disagreement over the proclaimed results, notably that they did not reflect voters’ wishes, be resolved peacefully, by turning to the relevant laws and through political dialogue between the parties involved,” he said.
His statement notably did not congratulate Tshisekedi, whose victory has been met with accusations that he had struck a deal with outgoing President Joseph Kabila.
In contrast, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, one of the key players on the continent, urged interested parties to “refrain from speculation and allow CENI to complete the process”.
The European Union said it was waiting for the verdict of election monitors.
“We have also noted that these results have been contested by part of the opposition,” said EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic.
“In the meantime, we call on all political actors in DRC to abstain from any kind of act of violence and allow for the democratic process to continue,” she said.
France, however, broke ranks to challenge the official result.
“It really seems that the declared results … are not consistent with the true results,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told CNews television.
“On the face of it, Mr Fayulu was the leader coming out of these elections,” he said.
The DRC’s Catholic Church, he argued, had reached the same conclusion after garnering data from its 40,000 election observers across the country.
The church itself has so far only said that the official results did not reflect the data its observers collected from polling stations.
It has not published the name of the candidate that, in its view, was the true victor.
Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was on Thursday declared winner of DR Congo’s presidential election, but his victory was dismissed by the runner-up and questioned by the Catholic church, clouding the vote’s legitimacy and hopes of peace.
In a pre-dawn announcement, election officials named Tshisekedi, son of the country’s long-term opposition leader, provisional winner of the troubled vote to replace President Joseph Kabila.
The news brought thousands of supporters onto the streets while others who had backed his opposition rival Martin Fayulu came out in protest. Four people died in the unrest.
Fayulu, who came a close second, denounced the result as an “electoral coup.” The Democratic Republic of Congo’s influential Catholic church also said Tshisekedi’s victory did not tally with data collected by its own monitors.
“These results have nothing to do with the truth at the ballot box,” Fayulu told Radio France International.
“They have stolen the Congolese people’s victory and the people will never accept that.”
At stake is political stewardship of the notoriously unstable central African nation, which has never known a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
Election chief Corneille Nangaa declared Tshisekedi the winner with 38.57 percent of the vote, just ahead of Fayulu with 34.8 percent.
Kabila’s preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, came a distant third with 23.8 percent.
The last two elections in 2006 and 2011, both of which were won by Kabila, were marred by bloodshed, and many fear a repeat of the violence if the result lacks credibility.
Two civilians and two policemen were killed Thursday and another 10 people injured when a protest erupted in the western city of Kikwit, a Fayulu stronghold, police said.
In Kinshasa, thousands of people converged upon the headquarters of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the country’s oldest and largest opposition party, singing and dancing at his surprise victory.
Pouring onto the streets, they celebrated wildly, cheering and honking car horns in scenes of joy that lasted into the morning under the bemused eye of the security forces who had fanned out across the capital.
In his first remarks after the result, the portly 55-year-old, who has never held high office or even a managerial role, immediately pledged to work closely with Kabila.
“Today we should no longer see him as an adversary, but rather as a partner for democratic change in our country,” he told supporters.
But elsewhere in Kinshasa, the mood was sombre, with representatives of the Catholic church openly disputing the figures released by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI).
“The result of the presidential election as published by CENI does not correspond with the data collected by our observer mission from polling stations and counting centers,” said Father Donatien Nshole, spokesman for CENCO, which represents the country’s Catholic bishops.
The Church has long been pressing for the departure of Kabila, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2001, well beyond the limit of his second and final term in December 2016.
Calls for calm
Abroad, the mood was watchful, marked by a noticeable lack of congratulations for Tshisekedi.
Many have eyed the developments in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country with concern, with the United Nations leading calls to avoid violence.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian dismissed Tshisekedi’s victory as “not consistent” with the actual results, indicating that Fayulu had won.
The African Union said it “took note” of the result and warned any dispute over the outcome should be “resolved peacefully.”
The European Union also simply acknowledged the result — as well as Fayulu’s objections to it. It said it was awaiting clarification from international observers and urged all sides to refrain from violence.
In contrast, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged “all regional and international interested parties to refrain from speculation” and let the election board complete its work.
The announcement of an opposition win was a shock as many had expected the results to be stacked in Shadary’s favour, prompting heavy international pressure on Kinshasa to respect the wishes of the electorate.
‘Tshisekedi debt to Kabila’
The vast central African country has been increasingly on edge over the long-delayed vote.
Kabila had been due to step down two years ago but held on to power, sparking a political crisis and protests that were bloodily repressed.
“Kabila did not want to risk announcing Shadary as the winner, which would have triggered violent protests and international condemnation,” said Robert Besseling, executive director of risk consultancy EXX Africa.
“Instead, he chose to split the opposition by creating a power-sharing deal with Tshisekedi.”
Tshisekedi “owes his ascendancy to power to Kabila’s control of the electoral commission,” and in exchange, Kabila would look for immunity from any prosecution or asset seizure after handing over power, Besseling said.
Opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi has won the long-awaited presidential poll in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the electoral commission said on Thursday, paving the way for the country’s first handover of power in 18 years.
“Having gained… 38.57 percent of the vote, Felix Tshisekedi is provisionally declared the elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Corneille Nangaa, the head of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI).
Shouts of joy erupted at the commission’s offices as the historic results were announced.
TheDRC has been in the grip of a two-year-old crisis over the succession of President Joseph Kabila, who said last year he would step down after nearly two decades in power.
The candidate he hand-picked to succeed him, loyalist, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, came third in the poll.
The other main opposition candidate, former oil executive Martin Fayulu — who was tipped as favourite in the few pre-election opinion polls — came second, official results showed.
According to the initial timetable set out by the CENI, the definitive results are due on January 15 with the swearing-in of the new president three days later.
The result could still be appealed in the Constitutional Court.