In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the National Episcopal Conference (CENCO) has called on all social and political actors to honor the death of longtime political opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi by committing to the December 31 agreement that expressed his final political wishes for the DRC.
That agreement arises from negotiations mediated by the Roman Catholic bishops of CENCO, and must move forward despite the loss of Tshisekedi’s leadership, said Bishop Marcel Utembi in a formal letter.
Utembi called Tshisekedi’s February 1 death in Belgium “a hard blow” for the entire Congolese people, noting that the 84-year-old activist and politician embodied much of the country’s political history and was an emblematic figure for the Congolese opposition.
In recent days, authorities used tear gas on supporters mourning the loss. Reports of new violence on Friday in Kimpese, with at least 10 dead, underscored the fragility of a nation that has seen cycles of demonstrations, violent suppression, and human rights violations exacerbated by the political impasse under Congolese President Joseph Kabila.
Tshisekedi had come back to Kinshasa in July to help lead the resistance to Kabila – who he ran against in 2011 elections marred by irregularities and allegations – and to demand, in the current political crisis, a new presidential election in keeping with the Congolese constitution.
Kabila’s term limits have expired, but he has yet to step down or formally act on the December 31 agreement to create a one-year transitional process before elections are held.
As head of the Rassemblement coalition, Tshisekedi was expected to help lead the Implementation Council dialogue to oversee the transition process, and his death casts further uncertainty on a process that has remained stalled.
Further discussions have been suspended until after the funeral services, according to CENCO. Those plans, to be coordinated by the UDPS party, are in progress.