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Felix Tshisekedi makes a victory sign with his fingers
Image: Reuters/O. Acland

Congo: Felix Tshisekedi sworn in as president

January 24, 2019

DR Congo has experienced its first transition of power via an election. Felix Tshisekedi has taken over from President Joseph Kabila despite questions over last month's vote.


Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, replacing longtime President Joseph Kabila following disputed elections.

During his inaugural speech, Tshisekedi briefly fell ill and left the stage. He later returned to finish his remarks, saying that he was exhausted by the election process and overcome by the emotion of the occasion.

In his remarks, Tshisekedi pledged to release all political prisoners in the country. He also appealed for peace and tolerance.

Ahead of the swearing in ceremony, Kabila on Wednesday said he would hand over power "without regret" and urged Congolese to support Tshisekedi, the 55-year-old son of the late opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

Kabila, 47, had ruled the mineral-rich African giant since 2001 following the assassination of his father, rebel-turned-president Laurent.

Tshisekedi was declared the surprise winner of the December 30 election, which was held after Kabila delayed a vote for two years amid violent protests.

Thursday's ceremony marked Congo's first transfer of power via an election since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960. The country has been marred by a tumultuous history of coups, despots, assassinations, foreign interventions, civil war and the gutting of state institutions.

Questions over vote

Tshisekedi was declared the winner of the election with 38.5 percent of the vote, while the opposition runner-up Martin Fayulu gained 34.8 percent. Kabila's preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, got 23.8 percent.

Fayulu has claimed he was the true winner of the election and that Kabila and Tshisekedi carried out an "electoral coup." But Fayulu lost a court challenge for a recount.

His supporters accuse Kabila and Tshisekedi of striking a deal once it was clear Shadary had lost. Kabila and Tshisekedi deny there was a backroom deal.

Tallies made by Congo's Catholic Church, which deployed 40,000 election monitors, found that Fayulu won. An pre-election opinion poll by the Congo Research Group, an organization affiliated with New York University, put Fayulu in the lead with 44 percent, followed by Tshisekedi at 24 percent and Shadary lagging behind with 18 percent.

DR Congo's Martin Fayulu in Kinshasa
Fayulu claims Kabila and Tshisekedi struck a deal to keep him out of powerImage: Reuters/B. Ratner

Tshisekedi gets international backing 

African and Western powers that had previously questioned voting irregularities have since shifted their response to support Tshisekedi in an apparent bid to avoid sparking more violence in the conflict-ridden nation. The previous two presidential elections, in 2006 and 2011, were marred by bloody clashes.

The United States said Wednesday it looked forward to working with Tshisekedi and urged authorities to address "reports of electoral irregularities" and be inclusive.

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that "doubts" remain about the outcome of the election, but he stressed that the priority was to preserve peace and stability in the country.

Much of the population also appears to be simply content with Kabila leaving power and calls by Fayulu for protests have largely gone unheeded.

Kabila lurking behind the scenes? 

Kabila's ruling coalition will still retain power in the legislature and be able to appoint the prime minister. In legislative elections held alongside the presidential vote, Kabila's coalition secured about 70 percent of the seats.

Kabila's critics fear that he could rule from the shadows to protect his wealth and network of loyalist power structures, including in the security forces.

Kabila was barred from three consecutive terms but has not ruled out another run for office in 2023.

cw/kh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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