By Prince Kurupati
Felix Tshisekedi, the new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo was inaugurated on Thursday 24 January 2019. In his inauguration speech, the new president said that his first priority as he takes the highest office in the land is to unify the nation of Congo.
Peace the first priority
The second Congo War ended on July 18, 2003, when the Transitional Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo took power. However, even after the war had ‘officially ‘ended, some regions in the country have always been in a state of war. In fact, in some parts of the country, there are still some rebels who control certain locations. The struggle for resources and also the struggle for power are two of the main reasons why Congo has been perennially in a state of war.
Moreover, the mere fact that the country is made up of different ethnic groups has not helped either as many people align with their ethnic groups before they align with the country as a whole. As such, this has always caused frictions and at times exacerbated misunderstandings.
Speaking during his inauguration speech, Felix Tshisekedi did acknowledge that the country is not unified. While not ‘blaming’ past struggles for resources and power as well as ethnic differences to be the main cause of the divisions in the country, Tshisekedi did reference the political skirmishes that engulfed the nation following the ‘contentious’ election which saw him win the presidency as an example of the deep divisions in the country.
Acknowledging the divisions in the country, Tshisekedi promised to prioritize unity first. In a rather short inauguration speech which was interrupted for nearly 12 minutes after the president had fallen ill, Tshisekedi did not reveal the steps that he is going to take in unifying the country.
Other priority areas
In his inauguration speech, Felix Tshisekedi also took time to explain other key areas that his administration will look to prioritize. Most notably, Tshisekedi said that his administration is going to respect human rights and it is going to do a lot in correcting past mistakes. In his words, Tshisekedi said the justice ministry under his command will “draw up a country-wide registry of political prisoners, prisoners of opinions or similar, with a view to releasing them soon…During our term in office, we will ensure that respect for the practice of fundamental rights is guaranteed for all citizens. We pledge to banish all forms of discrimination.” In addition, Tshisekedi said that government workers will be taught their “responsibility towards our citizens.”
Furthermore, Tshisekedi promised to build a stronger Congo which is more inclusive. He said that “We want to build a strong Congo, turned toward its development in peace and security.” Tshisekedi also took time to announce that his administration is going to look at the issue of providing free basic education in the near future.
First peaceful power transition since 1960
Since independence in 1960, the DRC had never witnessed a peaceful power transition. Past power transitions were always coups or highly contentious and violent elections. As such, the recent DRC election is a major milestone for the central African state, something which many people hope will set a new precedence for subsequent DRC elections and also elections from other African countries which still find themselves under authoritarian rule.
Some small blemishes
In as much as the recent DRC election is regarded as a ‘peaceful’ election which paved the way for the country’s first peaceful power transition, the election had its own blemishes. Most notably, various observer mission stated that there is evidence to suggest voting irregularities. The Catholic Church (independent observer) said the results it got from its observers (after tabulation) did not tally with the results announced by the election body. Another election observer group also said that opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, won with about 60 percent of the vote.
In addition to the reports from the observer missions, there was also the issue of the illegally disqualified million plus voters. The voters were barred from casting ballots in regions stricken by the Ebola virus and ethnic conflict.
However, the decision taken by the Constitutional Court to dismiss the appeals by the two other opposition candidates as well as the change of heart by the EU, US and other African states who had earlier on expressed some doubts over the authenticity of the results did rub off the small blemishes.