Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday witnessed the first peaceful transfer of power, as outgoing president Joseph Kabila handed over to incoming president Felix Tshisekedi.
Millions of Congolese will now look to 55-year-old Tshisekedi to implement his campaign agenda of reducing poverty, providing free education and health, in addition to securing peace in the troubled Eastern region of the country.
In his inauguration speech that was interrupted for 12 minutes when Tshisekedi was taken ill, he highlighted three key issues that could define his presidency.
We want to build a strong Congo, turned toward its development in peace and security.
Tshisekedi called for “a reconciled Congo” following a contentious election that saw him narrowly defeat another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, and Kabila’s hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
His victory in the Dec. 30 election was marred by accusations he struck a backroom deal with the outgoing president.
Fayulu told Reuters on Thursday that he would never work with Tshisekedi.
“Felix has to start by telling the truth,” Fayulu said. “He’s not the president-elect. He is the president appointed by Kabila.”
Tshisekedi on the other hand praised Fayulu, describing him as a “soldier of the people,” and also thanked the third-placed candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who was Kabila’s preferred candidate.
Enhance respect for human rights
Tshisekedi vowed to enhance DRC’s respect for human rights, explaining that he would direct the justice ministry to “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,” he declared.
“The government will launch an awareness campaign for all employees of the state regarding their responsibility towards our citizens,” he added.
Build a strong Congo
The thousands of supporters who were gathered on the lawn of the presidential palace to witness history cheered when Tshisekedi said he would work to build ‘a Congo in which everyone has a place’.
“We want to build a strong Congo, turned toward its development in peace and security,” he said
His supporters dressed all in white cheered soldiers as they marched along the palace lawn, and longtime political foes sat together in the tribune.
“I am happy today because Felix will change the country. He will give children free education and people food,” said Nsangaa Tshibula, 39, whose white gown was decked in glittery beads.
Congo remains deeply unstable years after the official end of a 1998-2003 regional war in the eastern borderlands with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi that led to millions of deaths, most from hunger and disease.
Dozens of militia continue to ravage those areas. Three days of ethnic violence last month in the normally peaceful west also killed nearly 900 people, according to the United Nations.