"I'm going to try my best to perpetuate his [Etienne Tshisekedi] dream, his dream of a country of rule of law, of a better Congo, where our sons and daughters can flourish”
Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was declared the surprise winner of the landmark presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the process is realising his father’s dreams.
Tshisekedi is the head of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the oldest and largest opposition party, founded by his father Etienne Tshisekedi, who spent his all life as the country’s opposition leader but died in Brussels in February last year without ever becoming president.
If Tshisekedi’s victory is confirmed in the next ten days by the constitutional court, he will become the first leader to take power through the ballot box since the charismatic Pan-Africanist Patrice Lumumba, who was tortured and assassinated during a joint American-Belgian operation just seven months after independence in 1960.
The 55-year-old UDPS leader is set to replace President Joseph Kabila, who had ruled for 18 years in a country plagued by wars, extreme poverty and disunity.
"But I'm going to try my best to perpetuate his dream, his dream of a country of rule of law, of a better Congo, where our sons and daughters can flourish, that's what I am pursuing," Felix said in a BBC interview when he was campaigning as a candidate.
Despite criticism that he is inexperienced, Tshisekedi grew up within Congolese politics as the son of a leading political figure.
When his father founded the opposition UDPS in 1982, the young Tshisekedi, along with his family, was forced into domestic exile in the central Kasai province.
After three years, when President Mobutu allowed Felix Tshisekedi junior, his siblings and mother to leave, he moved to the Belgian capital Brussels in 1985, where he studied marketing and communication and eventually became national secretary for external affairs for the UDPS.
While the young Tshisekedi was living peacefully in the capital city of the Congo’s coloniser, Belgium — itself accused of genocide for the killing of up to 15 million Congolese between 1885 and 1908 — Etienne was busy waging a decade-long war against the three consecutive autocratic regimes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Laurent Kabila and Joseph Kabila.
But eventually, Felix moved back to Kinshasa and took up the torch as the new head of the opposition UDPS in March 2017, a month after his father Etienne passed away.
Initially, Tshisekedi did not plan to run for office. In November 2017, he joined six other opposition leaders to rally behind a single unity candidate, Martin Fayulu, to take on Kabila's handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
However, the deal drew a furious response from his supporters, prompting him to abandon the deal and run for office himself.
In the Kinshasa neighbourhood of Limete where Tshisekedi lives, thousands of people danced in the streets and cars honked their horns in celebration after Felix’s victory was announced.
Some chanted that DR Congo had “turned the page” on the Kabila era, which began in 1997 with Joseph Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila, and continued with Joseph Kabila from 2001 until this election.
The smile he had on his face when he stepped out of his home to greet his supporters earlier today, could leave his face soon though.
Prominent political figures have already raised their voices against Tshisekedi’s unexpected victory.
Opposition candidate Fayulu, who was widely assumed to be the winner, slammed the election results and called Felix’s victory as “an electoral coup”.
Fayulu’s camp claimed that before the announcement of the election results, Tshisekedi struck a power-sharing pact with Kabila’s ruling coalition, a claim which Tshisekedi’s camp denies.
Also, the country’s powerful Catholic Church, which monitored the election through 40,000 observers at all polling stations across the country, challenged Tshisekedi’s win and named Fayulu as the winner.
Former colonial powers are also among those who cast doubt on the official results. France’s foreign minister said the final declaration was "not consistent" with the results saying that Fayulu appeared to have won. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said his country planned to raise concerns at the UN Security Council.
As the post-election atmosphere become tense in the capital Kinshasa, fears are growing that post-election violence, a common occurrence in the country’s past, could spread through the fragile country.