Thousands of Congolese welcomed the remains of former opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo which recently elected his son Felix as president.
A revered opponent of authoritarianism in DRC, Tshisekedi died in Belgium in February 2017 at the age of 84 and was unable to witness his son’s victory in bitterly-contested presidential election.
Felix Tshisekedi has vowed to repatriate his father’s remains and bury them in his home country, a goal that faced multiple roadblocks under his predecessor Joseph Kabila.
The funeral is scheduled for Saturday.
The programme of mourning includes a display of the body, mass and rally on Friday at an 80,000-seat stadium in Kinshasa, followed by a funeral on Saturday in Nsele, on the eastern outskirts of the capital.
Etienne Tshisekedi’s illustrious career
Etienne Tshisekedi spent decades in politics but never reached the top job.
He served as interior minister in the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, before joining the opposition, where he was a persistent thorn in the dictator’s side.
He co-founded the UDPS in 1982 after a stint in prison and in the 1990s was appointed prime minister several times, each time falling out with Mobutu after a matter of days or even months.
In 1997, Mobutu was ousted in a rebellion led by Joseph Kabila’s father Laurent. Tshisekedi quickly became an opponent of the new regime — a stance that continued after Laurent Kabila’s assassination in 2001 and the rise of his son Joseph.
Tshisekedi refused to recognise Kabila’s legitimacy to the very last. He boycotted the country’s elections in 2006 on the grounds of fraud, and was beaten in the 2011 ballot, which was tainted by massive irregularities.
Felix fulfills father’s dream
Almost two years after his death, on January 24, Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as president after elections that saw Kabila step down after 18 years in power.
It was the first peaceful transition of power since the DRC gained independence from Belgium in 1960.
The handover however was marred by allegations of election rigging and by Kabila’s continued domination of politics after amassing extensive clout during his years in office.