Felix Tshisekedi was on Thursday sworn in as Congo’s new president, marking the first peaceful though not undisputed transfer of power in the troubled country’s history.
The inauguration in Kinshasa was full of pomp and ceremony and ushered in the end of more than two decades of rule by the Kabila family.
“Our Congo will not be a Congo of hate and tribalism. Our fight will be to improve the lives of each citizen,’’ Tshisekedi said at the ceremony.
The December elections were the first time an opposition leader won at the polls, but they were not without controversy, another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, has alleged fraud.
Fayulu alleged that after President Joseph Kabila’s chosen successor and ruling party candidate lost the vote, Kabila and Tshisekedi did a back-room deal.
Voting tallies by the influential Catholic Church, as well as results leaked to several foreign newspapers, also appear to show that Fayulu was the winner.
While the international community had been slow to congratulate Tshisekedi, most have now come on board, presumably wishing to avoid an outbreak of violence in a country that has already seen many conflicts.
On Tuesday night, the U.S. State Department joined countries including France and South Africa in congratulating Tshisekedi though with a caveat.
The statement encouraged the government “to address reports of electoral irregularities.”
“We also recognise President Joseph Kabila’s commitment to becoming the first president in DRC history to cede power peacefully through an electoral process,” it added.
Reports say there was high security in Kinshasa for the inauguration on Thursday.
Fayulu said on the eve of the event that the swearing in of Tshisekedi was like “spitting on the truth.”
“No serious president will be present at this deception ceremony,” he said of foreign leaders.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was in attendance at the swearing-in, as well as Zimbabwe’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.
In an odd turn of events, Tshisekedi briefly left his own inauguration ceremony in the company of medical personnel.
However, a few minutes later he reappeared and continued with his address. “I felt weak for a oment,” he explained.
Tshisekedi has a political lineage as his father was an opposition politician before him.
The 55-year-old, who sports glasses and often dons a tweed golf cap, joined his father Etienne Tshisekedi’s political party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), as a young man.
He has a degree in marketing and communications from a university in Belgium and had worked in Europe.
Tshisekedi won about 7 million votes compared to Fayulu’s 6.3 million, according to the country’s electoral commission.
The Dec. 30 elections – which were delayed for two years as Kabila clung to power beyond his term were plagued by problems, including a fire that destroyed voting machines, militant attacks and an Ebola outbreak.
Among the many election setbacks was that voting did not take place in three areas of the country, with the electoral commission putting it off due to Ebola and violence.
Those regions have been told they can vote in March, but with the new president already sworn in, over a million voters have effectively been disenfranchised.
The Central African country has been plagued by wars and is also home to numerous militias – some fighting along ethnic lines and others over lucrative mineral resources.
Congo has abundant deposits of copper, gold, diamonds and cobalt, which is highly sought-after because of its use in mobile phones.
The mineral wealth has not, however, trickled down and millions of Congolese remain mired in poverty.