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WHAT IS ETIENNE TSHISEKEDI PLAYING AT IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO?

OPPOSITION FOR THE SAKE OF OPPOSITION LEADS TO NO CHANGE

By Christophe Boibouvier, Jeune Afrique, 9.06.2006/Colette Braeckman, Le Soir, with additional reporting by A.R. Lokongo, Congopanorama.info

Patrice Emery Lumumba once said: “I would like to draw the attention of all, that it would be highly wise to foil from the outset, the plots of those who would like to profit from our apparent political realities in order to oppose us one against the other et thus delay our liberation from a colonialist regime. Experience has shown that in our African nations, the opposition that certain elements are creating in the name of democracy, is not often inspired by the concern about common good. The search for glory and personal interests is the main, if not the unique mobile or motivation (…). The existence of an intelligent, dynamic and constructive opposition is indispensable in order to balance the political and administrative life of the government in power (…). All our compatriots must know that they will not serve the common good neither through divisions, through fomenting them, nor through the balkanisation our countries into smaller weak states (Patrice Lumumba addressing the seminar on “Congress for Liberty and Culture”, organised by the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 22.03.1959).

What Patrice Lumumba said was and remains true of Etienne Tshisekedi, 73, particularly. Tshisekedi is closely associated with the chaos that has engulfed Congo since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960.

In 1960, Tshisekedi was still a law student when Mobutu made his coup against Patrice Lumumba, the only democratically elected leader in Congo since independence and dismissed President Kasa-Vubu afterwards (after Kasa-Vubu had dismissed Lumumba under the instigation of Western powers).

As commissioner for justice under Mobutu, it was Tshisekedi who signed Lumumba’s arrest warrant. Lumumba was subsequently assassinated a few weeks later. Since then, this Mobutu-Tshisekedi collaboration in crime lasted 20 years. After Mobutu’s 1965 coup d’état when he dismissed all the politicians and the army took full power, Tshisekedi, the first graduate of the faculty of law at the University of Lovanium (now University of Kinshasa), became Mobutu’s minister of interior and of traditional affairs, then later minister of justice. As minister of justice, Tshisekedi gave his backing to the assassination of Pierre Mulele, the leader of the insurrection in the Kwilu region which aimed at overthrowing the traitor government which has been put in place in Kinshasa after the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. Mulele was Lumumba’s minister of education. Alive, his ears were cut off, his eyes pierced out, his genitals cut off, his body chopped with a knife, put in a bag and thrown into the Congo river. That’s how cruel Mobutu and Tshisekedi were.

In 1966, Tshisekedi the minister of interior approved the hanging of four other opposition leaders from Lumumba’s party (Evariste Kimba, Alexandre Mahamba, Jerome Anani and Bamba). They were publicly hanged on a “Pentecost day”. Hence they are know as the “Hanged of Pentecost”.

In 1967, Tshisekedi co-founded the MPR, Mobutu’s unique political party with which he ruled the country till 1996. Tshisekedi he was the first secretary general of the party.

Tshisekedi apparently broke with Mobutu in 1980 when miners from his native Kasaï province were massacred by Mobutu’s army. Together with 13 other parliamentarians, he co-signed an open letter in which they denounced Mobutu’s arbitrary tactics, heavy handedness and the mismanagement of his regime. Tshisekedi was dismissed from the national assembly and relegated to his village in Kasaï where he was born on 14 December 1932. Upon his release, he founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), a party that has since fought not necessarily for a multiparty system, but for its recognition as an alternative strong, unique party beside Mobutu’s MPR.

And in 1992, Tshisekedi was elected Prime Minister by the National Sovereign Conference which discussed multi-party politics in Zaïre for the first time but he did not lift a finger when his fellow Kasaïans were expelled from Katanga on the basis of Mobutu’s divide and rule tactics. It was an ethnic cleansing. Many Kasaians who have been living and working in Katanga were expelled, many killed. It was a veritable manhunt. The criminals got away with it and Tsisekedi the Prime Minister and a lawyer did nothing to help his fellow Kasaïans.

During the last years of Mobutu’s dictatorship, UDPS did embody the hopes for a democratic change, but by now Tshisekedi was advocating for non-violent struggle. . When, in 1990, Mobutu proclaimed the beginning of the multi-party system in his Zaïre, he appointed Tshisekedi as Prime Minister. But unexpectedly Tshisekedi refused to abide by the text of oath, previously written by Mobutu and which compelled Tshisekedi to acknowledge Mobutu as the guarantor of the nation.

The opposition leader, who embodied the resistance against Mobutu’s dictatorship and the struggle for democracy is never where everybody expects him to be. In 1993, Mobutu’s Zaïre was shaken by a looting and pillaging spree, spearheaded by unpaid soldiers followed by the pauperised masses in general. Tshisekedi nearly had power given him on a golden plate, dictated by circumstances. Even France and America were ready to evacuate a destabilised Mobutu by force and proposed to hand over the commands of power to Tsisekedi, the star of the National Sovereign Conference , which elected him prime minister in 1992). Tshisekedi unexpectedly failed to seize the opportunity. In fact, Tshisekedi never ceased to defy Mobutu, but without really rendering him a striking blow.

Ironically, in 1997, when Mobutu, suffering from prostate cancer, was hospitalised in Nice, in France, Tshisekedi, the leader of the opposition to Mobutu’s dictatorship called upon his compatriots “to pray for the recovery and the good health of the head of the state”. He went to visit him in hospital in Nice and unexpectedly, against every common sense, accepted to be appointed as prime minister, when Laurent Désiré Kabila’s troops were nearly at the doors of Kinshasa. Mobutu returned home, welcomed by a disillusioned rented crowd and appointed General Likulia as prime minister to head the counter-offensive. Tshisekedi was once duped by Mobutu.

Vis-à-vis Laurent Désiré Kabila, the new leader, Tshisekedi asked “his brother Kabila” to send foreigners back to their countries of origin, that is to say “Tutsi Rwandans and Ugandans who are holding him hostage”, and Tshisekedi, the impudent, forever an opposition leader to all regime in Congo, was once more relegated to his native village by Kabila, equipped with a tractor, “in order,” as Kabila put it, “to learn to cultivate”.

When the country was invaded in 1998, by a Rwandan-Ugandan-Burundian,-Anglo-American-South African coalition, the people of Kinshasa bear handedly tracked the invading troops and lynched them. Young people opposed a stiff resistance against the invaders in Kinshasa before Zimbabwean, Angolan and Namibian troops came to our support. Tshisekedi accused Kabila of “sending our young people to death”.

Later on Joseph Kabila re-established multiparty democracy in 2002, launched an inter-congolese dialogue in Sun City, South Africa in order to put an end to a war that has cost 5 millions lives. Tshisekedi, always Tshisekedi, ever persuaded that he is still the prime minister once elected by the National Sovereign Conference, played a haughty game, as he now has had close ties with the RCD-Goma, a so-called rebel movement which was founded by the Tutsi President Paul Kagame in Rwanda. He was seen eating at the table of a Tutsi, Azarias Ruberwa, now leader of RCD-Goma, the same Ruberwa “who came in Kabila’s bag” as Tshisekedi put it. What a dupery! What a shame! (photo below: Tshisekedi in Kigali, Rwanda)

Tshisekedi embarked on a tour which led him to Kigali, to see Kagame, “who once held Laurent Désiré Kabila hostage”, according to him, and while in Goma and Kisangani, he took part in the military parades of Rwandan and Ugandan troops and their Congolese stooges, whom the Congolese people considered as troops of invasion and of occupation. Tshisekedi has no shame, no conscience! Such a shameful collaboration cost his party dear.

At the end of the Sun City conference, Tshisekedi who, took it for granted that the position of one of the vice-presidents in Congo during the transition was guaranteed him as a matter of fact, omitted to put his candidature forwards and found himself excluded from the “1 + 4” team (one president, 4 vice-presidents now leading Congo during the transitional period), whereas he had signed the inclusive accord. Since after the signing the peace accord establishing the transition, Tshisekedi is now sulking the team leading it. And then he has decided to boycott the July elections, to the damn his partisans.

“We go the polls to vote who?”. That is the question you hear in Mbuji Mayi Etienne Tshisekedi’s fiefdom in Oriental Kasaï, where many partisans are disorientated. They feel helpless even more, following their leader’s decision not to stand as a presidential candidate on 30 July 2006.

One of Tshisekedi’s most faithful militant in Kinshasa, said: “How can someone who has suffered so much refuse to bring it to a successful conclusion?”

Catherine Nzuzi wa Mbombo, a staunch Mobutuist and one of Tshisekedi’s long-time acquaintance, herself a presidential candidate, blurts out: “There are times I don’t understand Etienne. He plays, and just when the moment to score the goal comes, he stops!”

“What a waste!” The words comes back continuously out of the mouth of a militant in Mbuji Mayi who has already gathered his documents in order to stand for legislative elections. “25 years of sacrifices for nothing!” he laments. The evening of 2.04.2006 was the deadline for all the candidates to submit their dossiers. His stayed at home. For this UDPS veteran, and for many more, the frustration is immense. And the same question is on all the lips: “Why is the old man not standing?”

Tshisekedi is not stubborn. He gives very few interviews. He makes two or three statements in a year. He has a breadth of shoulders of an athlete and a grumpy look. He likes to make himself rare and merits his nickname: “the Sphinx of Limete”, Limete being the Kinshasa borough where he lives. However, on 4 March 2006, the old opposition leader was compelled to utter a few words. He probably said more than he wanted to say. That day, several hundreds of UDPS students, exasperated by his silence came to protest in front of his house. “We want him to stand as a presidential candidate”. It is not possible to imagine that he stays there, sleeping, without doing anything”. At the end of a few hours, the Sphinx appeared and said: “Are you going to accept that the father of democracy [in Congo] goes to the ballots through the window?” “No,” the crowd replied. The troops calmed down and returned home. What a good spin, what a good pirouette which encapsulates well the old lion’s obsession: the window is not big enough. He wants the revision of the lists and a certain influence over the Independent Electoral Commission.

On the first sight, the “Leader Maximo” has shot himself in the foot. In 2002, he signed the Pretoria Peace Accord. But in 2003, he deigns not stand as a candidate for one the vice-presidential posts. He waits until they go to look for him, as it was in 1992 during the National Sovereign Conference, which elected him as Prime Minister. His former companions in struggle, beginning with Joseph Olengankoy, betrayed him. They chose to go with someone else. With a bang, Tshisekedi goes to war with against the actors of the transition, the president and the four vice-presidents. The same vice-presidents whom he is seeing again now, especially Ruberwa and Bemba, all of whom are responsible for crimes against humanity. If Ruberwa can leave the country because he is Tutsi and nobody will touch Tutsis even if they responsible for crimes against humanity, Bemba dares not leave the country. Even when Tshisekedi went to South Africa to be hospitalised, he asked President Joseph Kabila for money, and the latter gave him money ). Tshisekedi’s war cry: “1 + 4 = 0” is therefore an empty slogan.

It was gearing. On 30.06.2005, his most fanatic partisans marched against the prolongation of the transition. And they boycotted the enrollment on the electoral lists as well as the constitutional referendum on 18.12.2005. For three years, Tshisekedi who has been saying “NO” to everything, at the turning of the year 2006, changes his mind. But it is a bit too late. Three months are not sufficiently long enough to catch up with the lost time.

TSHISEKEDI WANTS TO DIE AS AN OPPOSITION LEADER, BUT HE IS ALSO SIGNING THE DEATH WARRANT OF HIS PARTY

The view from Paris, Brussels or New York is that the leader of the UDPS headed alone straight to the wrong path. Too bad for him. A few days before the deadline for the submission of candidatures for the presidency, Louis Michel, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, made an apostrophe in the Belgian daily, La Libre Belgique: “I implored Tshisekedi to be a candidate. I still don’t understand why. Whereas he signed the Peace Accord, he called upon his partisans to boycott the enrollment of voters. What is that rhyming to? If he is popular, and I do believe he is, he must be a candidate.”

In Kinshasa, Jean-Marie Guéhemo, the UN Vice-Secretary General for Peace Keeping Operations, met Tshisekedi, and then said: “Some political parties give the impression of being scared to face the verdict of the ballot box.”

A western diplomat hit the nail on its head when he said: “Not going to the polls, means refusing to reckon with oneself, to confront the reality. Tshisekedi wants to die as an opposition leader, but he is also signing the death warrant of his party.”

At 73, is the old fighter from Kasaï afraid now? Is he trying to shirk from the judgement of the voters as a horse in front of an obstacle? Not so easy. Within the UDPS, the debate has been very tight pitying the liberals against the neo-cons, the like of Joseph Mukendi, Rémy Massamba, Velentin Mubake, Marcel Mbayo., Eve Bazaïba and others, including Marthe Tshisekedi, the gripping wife of the Sphinx.

Some pleaded for the vote. With a simple argument. “We are strong enough to beat the cheats”. They back their approach, with two strong references: “In Kinshasa, in 1992, Mobutu has two third of the conference hall in his favour during the Sovereign National Conference. But his did not prevent UDPS to turn the Sovereign National Conference to its favour. And in Madagascar in 2002, the dynamic of change swept all the cheats from power”. This, without forgetting the metaphor from current news: “In the World Cup, the host nation, the organising country is always favoured by the referee, but it is not because of that, that Germany is going to win the World Cup this year!”.

Against the vote, other retorted: “The handicap is very important. Our militants are not enrolled. The Independent Electoral Commission has refused to re-open the enrolling stations for our voters, whereas it had plenty of time to do so at the beginning of this year. That is the proof that this Electoral Commission follows the orders of the ruling government, what is more grave and different from the situation in 1992, is the fact that the international community is not on our side. It does not support us. On the contrary, it gives its backing to the attitude of the Independent Electoral Commission and of its President Father Malu Malu. It is a sign that donors back the candidate Kabila and that the elections are played in advance.”

The anti-vote won. A UN envoy was right when he said laughing in Mbuji Mayi, Tshisekedi’s fiefdom: “The UDPS? You try to gag them by dousing them in a barrel of acid, they will always show up, shouting : Tshisekedi, Tshisekedi!”.

The problems with Tshisekedistes is that the choices they make are not all rational. First of all, because UDPS is one man party. When the “national president”, takes a decision, nobody flinches. By fear of the president’s blasts – it is less admitted – or by fear of reprisals from the party’s big hands, those fists clenching “stand up parliamentarians” ever ready to punch. This year however, a woman faced it. It is the National Secretary Madame Eve Bazaïba. In Kinshasa, she defied the interdict of the “Leader Maximo”. She is standing in the legislative elections as an independent candidate.

“When I announced my decision, I was insulted on the telephone, right down to my intimate parts. But I am holding fast, I am standing firm,” she says. “I am with Mr Tshisekedi since 1988. He has always fascinated me. But I think if you want to change the system, you must do as termites do. You must join the system.” In Kinshasa, many call her “Mère Courage” – Courageous Lady.

Tshisekedi’s past no longer confers him a special status, a status to which he is still clinging to but which is no longer there. The boycott worked partly only in Kinshasa and the two Kasaï. Kabila is not Mobutu.

But the Sphinx of Limete is still betting on one thing: the failure of the whole process. He is brandishing the sceptre of an imminent chaos which will force all political forces in the country to sit down and renegotiate. The current process will then be buried and the “Phoenix of Limete” will emerge, fresh and alive from the ashes of the Sun City Peace Accord.

Joseph Mukendi, one of Tshisekedi’s most trusted lieutenant warned: “ Elections will, without any doubt take place, because Westerners want it by all means. But what will happen afterwards?”

It is the hypothesis of chaos. UDPS will find a new legitimacy. On the eve of the report of the date for the presidential elections, now scheduled for 30.07.2006 (for technical and logistics reasons), but initially programmed for 30.06.2006, the most influential Catholic Church was not far from making the same analysis.

“The transition will end on the forthcoming 30.06.2006. There must be a consensus, with a formal act of the political class, to come to agree of the after 30.06.2006,” lashed Mgr Laurent Monsengwo, Catholic Archbishop of Kisangani and former president of the 1992 National Sovereign Conference, which elected Tshisekedi as Prime Minister, a “right” Tshisekedi is still clinging to. But since then, a lot of water has gone under the bridge.

Read between the lines. The prelate is advocating for new negotiations between the parties for a new electoral calendar accepted by all.

Archbishop Mosengwo was very precise to the Belgian press: “In the history of our country, we never solved any political problem through exclusion. Never. Inclusiveness means that Tshisekedi and others must be there.” In Mosengwo’s entourage, it is even thought that the end of the transition without the Kasaïans could lead to the same crisis as in Ivory Coast.

In Western embassies, nobody wants to contemplate that option. They are seeking to convince Tshisekedi not to rebel. Tshisekedi must be contained. The voting cards have already arrived from South Africa, and 30.07.2006 is not far away. The 30.06.2006 armageddon promised by Tshisekedi’s fanatics all over the world risks not to materialise. The people of Congo have not voted for 45 years, and if they loose this opportunity, the demise of Congo will be but certain.

Tshisekedi is not the only one. Bad losers for certain, such as Bemba and the Tutsi who are living in Congo and who have now become a political force by the design of the West must be contained. They still have Museveni and Kagame on the other side of the border and Congo’s wealth is coveted by the whole world. Settlers from the Middle East and White farmers from Southern Africa want to settle there, as well as the population of all Congo’s neighbouring countries. The stake are very high! And the prophets of doom in the West have are already become very vocal!

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