Long time Congolese opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi Wa Mulumba passed away on Wednesday, February 1st at the age of 84. The congolive team produced a show to help our listeners know who he was.
Our guest, Dr. Nzongola Ntalaja, a professor of African, African-American, and diaspora studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a professor emeritus of African studies at Howard university, served as a diplomatic advisor to Tshisekedi when he was a prime minister in the 90s. He shared with us what impact Tshisekedi had on Congolese politics over the decades.
Tshisekedi was born on December 14, 1932 in Kananga, formerly Kasai-Occidental. He obtained a doctorate in Law in 1961 from the Lovanium University in Kinshasa. He was the first Congolese to receive such a degree.
When Mobutu took over in a coup in 1965, Étienne Tshisekedi joined his government as Minister of Interior. It was shortly after this period on June 2, 1966 where the four Pentecost martyrs were publicly hung by the state for plotting to overthrow the regime.
Tshisekedi later played a key role in drafting the original documents of Mobutu’s single party state enshrined in the Popular Movement for the Revolution – MPR in French. He served Mobutu and the MPR faithfully until 1980 when he and 12 others spoke out openly about the ravages of the dictatorial Mobutu regime. This initial outspokenness would presage the founding of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, UDPS in French in 1982. Thus began his non-violent struggle for democracy and the rule of law. He courageously confronted Mobutu and paid a deer price with jailing, beatings, house arrests and internal exile.
By the early 1990s, Étienne Tshisekedi firmly ensconced as leader of the opposition to Mobutu, served a brief stint as Prime Minister, which came about as a result of pressure on the Mobutu regime by the non-violent, pro-democracy forces. Just as he resisted Mobutu, Étienne Tshisekedi would later resist both Laurent Desire Kabila and his son Joseph Kabila. Although he boycotted the 2006 elections, he ran for President in 2011. Joseph Kabila claimed victory in the fraudulent elections. Tshisekedi refused to recognize Kabila as president and swore himself in, unfortunately to little effect.
Following the 2011 elections, Tshisekedi was subject to extended illness that saw him spending most of the time in Belgium. In July 2016, he returned to Kinshasa after having unified opposition forces to resist Kabila’s efforts to remain in power in contravention to the Constitution that required him to step down.
His final major contribution as leader of the loyal opposition was to join with the Catholic Church to broker a deal between the Kabila regime and the opposition on December 31, 2016 that called for elections to be organized in 2017 and Kabila to step down upon the election of a new President.
His overriding legacy will be a fight for democracy and rule of law through non-violent means.