Etienne Tshisekedi: The man who couldn’t be buried until his son became president

Two years after his death in Belgium, a state funeral has been held for veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

His body was only flown home on Thursday following a row between his family and the former government.

The deadlock ended when his son, Félix, became president last year.

Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral mass in a stadium in the capital, led by Archbishop of Kinshasa Fridolin Ambongo.

The country’s influential Catholic church had urged its members to turn out at the 80,000-capacity Martyrs’ Stadium.

On Friday, the presidents of Rwanda and Angola, were among huge crowds to pay their respects in the same stadium in the capital, Kinshasa.

Analysts say the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame was significant, following years of conflict and enmity between his country and DR Congo.

On Friday afternoon, the Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa erupted in cheers as the casket containing Tshisekedi’s remains entered, reports the BBC’s Gaius Kowene.

His supporters screamed and blew whistles in the 80,000-capacity arena.

The campaign to bury Tshisekedi’s remains in his home country faced obstacles from President Félix Tshisekedi’s predecessor, Joseph Kabila.

For his supporters, Tshisekedi coming home represents a victory over the former government, a BBC correspondent says.

A life of opposition

Tshisekedi spent decades in politics but failed in several attempts to become president.

He served as interior minister under the country’s authoritarian leader Mobutu Sese Seko, before joining the political opposition.

After serving time in prison, he founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) in 1982 and was appointed prime minister by Mobutu, though the two frequently clashed.

In 1997, Mobutu was ousted as leader in a rebellion led by Joseph Kabila’s father, Laurent.

Tshisekedi became an opponent of the new regime, and of Joseph Kabila after Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001.

He boycotted DR Congo’s elections in 2006, alleging vote fraud, and was beaten in a 2011 race marked by allegations of widespread voting irregularities.

Félix Tshisekedi won a bitterly contested election last year. It marked the first peaceful transition of power since DR Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

However, several observer groups believe that another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, was the rightful winner.

Since coming to power, President Tshisekedi has agreed to work with the party of former President Joseph Kabila.

 

BBC