JOHANNESBURG - By all official measures, Felix Tshisekedi has won the presidency of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The nation’s highest court certified his win over the weekend, invalidating the claim by challenger Martin Fayulu. The African Union, which last week surprised observers by raising doubts over the messy, chaotic poll, also stood down from its challenge and postponed its Monday visit to Kinshasa.
Fayulu, whose claim to victory was backed by the influential Catholic Church’s observer mission, has called on his followers to protest.
But analyst Liesl Louw-Vaudran of the Institute for Security Studies says Fayulu should not expect support from other African countries, even when the African Union holds a summit next month.
"If we look at all the years and all the drama in countries like Zimbabwe, in Chad, in Burundi, in the Republic of the Congo — governments who changed their constitutions, leaders staying in power for a third, fourth, fifth mandate — and the AU just couldn’t do anything because of a lack of political will by other leaders, because they don’t want that kind of interference in their own situation, but also because of the institutional weaknesses," she told VOA.
Tshisekedi, who was declared to have won with 38 percent of the vote, has said his camp negotiated before the vote with outgoing President Joseph Kabila.
Critics of the longtime president and his party accused Tshisekedi of forging a deal with Kabila, whose official choice, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, was so unpopular that the electoral commission, said to be loyal to Kabila, could not have plausibly declared him the winner.
Analyst Elissa Jobson of the International Crisis Group, speaking from Addis Ababa where the AU is headquartered, told VOA that the continental body may be instrumental in helping the new president ease into something that does not come naturally in the winner-takes-all world of Congolese politics: compromise. Tshisekedi won the top seat, but Kabila’s party took the majority of parliament.
“To govern, he’s going to have to engage and work with the majority, but he’d also be wise to reach out Fayulu’s camp, and I suspect the AU will be encouraging him to do that, and hopefully the regional organizations will do that too,” she said.
Louw-Vaudran notes that the new president could also face pushback from some of Congo’s key allies. On Sunday, leaders of South Africa, Kenya, Burundi and Tanzania officially congratulated Tshisekedi. However, there were some notable holdouts.
“I think [what's] interesting is the ones that have been silent, the heads of state that have not congratulated Tshisekedi, like, for example, Angola, which is a major player in the DRC,” he said. “We haven’t heard any statements from Angola up to now. And of course, Uganda and Rwanda. In Uganda, we are told, [President] Yoweri Museveni was very critical of this whole election process. He was one of the leaders behind the AU statement last week. So, slowly a picture is starting to emerge of who were playing this game for and against the Kabila government and Felix Tshisekedi.”
Tshisekedi, the son of the former opposition leader who himself ran for the presidency, campaigned on a platform of change and renewal for a nation that has been ruled by the Kabila family — father and son — since 1997.
His election may turn out to be the first peaceful transfer of power the DRC has seen in its 60-year independent history. By winning, he’s proved that an opposition leader can win in Congo. Now, as he prepares for his inauguration, he faces a more daunting question: Can he govern?