To critics, Congo new leader is inexperienced, lacks his father's charisma

Saturday January 12 2019

Felix Tshisekedi,

Felix Tshisekedi, the son of Democratic Republic of Congo late opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi takes part in his father's funeral wake in Brussels on February 5, 2017. PHOTO | AFP 

More by this Author

For someone whose election as a Member of Parliament was invalidated because of absenteeism, to become president is a major turnaround for Felix Tshisekedi.

The 55-year-old politician comes from a political dynasty, which makes it easier for outgoing president Joseph Kabila, the son of a former president, to feel comfortable with him.

Critics say he is unproven (he lived too long in Brussels), inexperienced and lacks the charisma of his father, the late Etienne Tshisekedi.

Etienne became the doyen of opposition politics in the DRC when he defied then president Mobutu Sese Seko and told him to his face to introduce multipart politics or perish.

But the younger Tshisekedi just inherited the constituency of his father and the loyalty to the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) — the oldest and largest opposition party in DRC.

Etienne Tshisekedi, who died in February 2017,
Etienne Tshisekedi, who died in February 2017, was the main opponent of the late Mobutu Sese Seko in the then Zaire. PHOTO | AFP


Opinion polls before the opposition talks for a single candidate in Geneva in November last year showed that Mr Tshisekedi was leading as a presidential candidate with 36 percent, followed by Vital Kamerhe (17 percent) Mr Emmanuel Shadary at 16 percent.

But when the opposition chose Martin Fayulu, Mr Tshisekedi teamed up with Mr Kamerhe—the leader of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party—to form a coalition in Nairobi on November 22, 2018.

Moise Katumbi and Jean Pierre Bemba—the duo who had been barred from contesting — did not trust Mr Tshisekedi because they claimed he could be compromised by Kabila.

Known simply as “Fatshi”, Mr Tshisekedi was a reluctant politician, who was forced to take over the leadership of the UDPS in March 2018 after the death of his father in February 2017.

House arrest

Born in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) on June 13, 1963, Mr Tshisekedi, of Luba ethnicity, hails from Kasai Province in southwestern Congo, bordering Angola.

He had a comfortable life as a youth in the capital Kinshasa. But when his father created UDPS in the early 1980s to oppose Mobutu, the family was put under house arrest in their native village in central Kasai, which forced the young Felix to end his studies.

Later in 1985, Mobutu authorised him, his mother, and his brothers to leave Kasai. He went on to live in Brussels, where he did odd jobs, enjoyed the night life, and became an active UDPS activist around Europe.

In 2008, Tshisekedi was named the UDPS National Secretary for external relations.

In 2011, he won the seat in the National Assembly, representing the city of Mbuji Mayi in Kasai-Oriental Province. He did not take up the seat, citing a fraudulent election that Joseph Kabila won against his father, and his seat was later invalidated for absenteeism.

In March 2018, he was elected to lead the UDPS, after his father's death on February 1, 2017, and became the party’s presidential candidate. On January 10, 2019, he was declared the winner of the presidential election.