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The Unexpected Transfer Of Power In Congo

Felix Tshisekedi, the only one of six sons to enter politics, doesn't have his father's fire, some observers have said.

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Congo
Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Congolese main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) who was announced as the winner of the presidential elections gestures to his supporters in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jan. 10 VOA

Felix Tshisekedi has emerged from his father’s shadow to become Congo’s next president. For decades that post eluded his father, the venerated opposition politician, Etienne, whose death in 2017 helped catapult his son into the limelight.

The passage of power from father to son is a familiar story in Congo, where President Joseph Kabila took office at age 29 after the assassination of his father, Laurent, in 2001. He stayed on two years beyond his mandate amid delayed elections that finally took place on Dec. 30.

Now Tshisekedi, 55, is taking over after a disputed vote, with his inauguration on Thursday marking troubled Congo’s first democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 from Belgium.

Many Congolese say his surprise victory is one the largely untested opposition leader did not earn.

Congo, President, Election
Supporters of Felix Tshisekedi, Democratic Republic of Congo’s opposition politician declared winner of the presidential poll, sing and dance ahead of the Constitutional Court final decision on the presidential results, in Kinshasa, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Runner-Up Revolts

Runner-up Martin Fayulu on Sunday lost a court challenge to election results despite presenting leaked data from Congo’s electoral commission showing he easily won. Fayulu has declared himself the only legitimate president, but Congolese largely have not heeded his call for peaceful protests.

Fayulu and his supporters have accused Kabila of making a backroom deal with Tshisekedi when the ruling party’s candidate did poorly in the vote. Fayulu, an opposition lawmaker and businessman who is outspoken about cleaning up Congo’s sprawling corruption, has been seen by some as a bigger threat to Kabila and his allies.

Tshisekedi “was somebody who would compromise and somebody they felt they could work with because he wasn’t saying he would launch an investigation into Kabila,” said Andrew Edward Tchie, research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Congo, Election
Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Congolese main opposition party, was announced as the winner of the presidential elections. He gestures to his supporters at the party headquarters in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

His presidency will essentially be “a continuation of the regime,” Tchie said. Even if Fayulu had been declared the winner “it would have been the same thing,” given that Kabila’s ruling coalition won a majority of the National Assembly.

Tshisekedi, who was largely quiet after the election, has not addressed the allegation of a secret deal. He told supporters after the court’s declaration of his victory that “the Congo that we are going to form will not be a Congo of division, hatred or tribalism. It will be a reconciled Congo, a strong Congo that will be focused on development, peace and security.”

Nobody thought the electoral process would be peaceful, Tshisekedi has said, and no one thought an opposition candidate would win.

After division among African leaders over the disputed vote, some have congratulated Tshisekedi and urged Congolese to move on in the interest of stability after decades of rebel-led turmoil that have left millions dead.

Until his surprise victory, Tshisekedi’s most notable political act had been briefly supporting Fayulu as the candidate of an opposition coalition last year but then breaking away within a day to pursue the presidency himself.

Congo
Supporters of Felix Tshisekedi, who was announced as the winner of the presidential elections, celebrate in the streets of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

Tshisekedi, the father of five, quietly built his career in the shadow of his father, taking over Congo’s most prominent opposition party only a year after his death.

He had been named the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party’s national secretary in 2008, and was elected a national deputy in 2011 to the city of Mbujimayi in Kasai Oriental province. He later won a National Assembly seat and in 2016 became the party’s vice secretary.

The party’s supporters are nicknamed “the fighters” for their outspoken following. When they speak of Tshisekedi or the UDPS, there is usually mention of his charismatic father.

“Etienne left us the agreement [for Kabila to leave], now Felix is going to be president,” said one supporter, Jean-Baptiste Lay.

Etienne Tshisekedi’s death came at a fragile moment for Congo. He was deeply involved in efforts to persuade Kabila to agree to step down amid sometimes deadly protests over the election delay.

The 84-year-old had formed the country’s first opposition party in 1982 against the longtime dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko and briefly served several times as prime minister.

Congo, President, Election
Congo opposition candidate Martin Fayulu greets supporters as he arrives at a rally in Kinshasha, Congo, Jan. 11, 2019. VOA

Tshisekedi went into exile in 2000 after clashes with Kabila’s father, who took power after Mobutu’s ouster. He made a triumphant return in 2003 as Joseph Kabila was early in his rule. He lost to Kabila in the 2011 presidential election amid allegations of vote-rigging and declared himself president in protest.

When he died in Belgium, Kabila’s government was so wary of the impact on people the return of his body to Congo could cause that until now they have blocked it from coming home.

Also Read: Calm Settles Over Congo After Election Result

Felix Tshisekedi, the only one of six sons to enter politics, doesn’t have his father’s fire, some observers have said. Questions remain about his abilities and qualifications. Some Belgian media have questioned the veracity of his diploma, but Congolese law says a candidate can either submit a diploma or serve a certain amount of time as a politician to qualify to run for president.

As Congo’s incoming leader inherits the troubled country, he will look to his father’s legacy. One of his first things Tshisekedi will do once sworn in, a spokesman said, is finally allow his father’s body to come home for burial. (VOA)

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The Challenges Ahead: To Do List For Ukraine’s President-Elect

Here are some of the president-elect's most pressing challenges once he is inaugurated, presumably on June 3.

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Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy. RFERL

Ukraine’s presidential election — and all the drama, mudslinging, and accusations between Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy that went with it — is over.

Now it’s time to get back to governing, and there are a number of issues demanding attention from President-elect Zelenskiy, a political newbie with a billowing popular mandate but virtually no established institutional base.

By all accounts, the Ukrainian people sent a strong message in this election: They are dissatisfied with both the pace of reforms and their politicians’ efforts so far to root out corruption. The economy is still struggling, including with the consequences of the loss of control over Crimea to Russia. And a conflict in the country’s east that has already left more than 13,000 people dead since 2014 still simmers, with Moscow’s support for the armed separatists factoring into everything Kyiv does both at home and abroad.

Ukraine’s president does not head the government, but the office does wield significant influence, including veto power over parliament and the authority to appoint some senior officials. The Ukrainian president is also the commander in chief of the country’s armed forces, a crucial role given the ongoing conflict in the Donbas.

Here are some of the president-elect’s most pressing challenges once he is inaugurated, presumably on June 3.

Corruption

Nothing looms larger than corruption. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, Ukraine ranks 120th out of 180 surveyed nations. The problem has deep roots.

From the courts to the cop on the street, bribery is “widespread among Ukrainian public officials.” According to the London-based Chatham House, tackling corruption in Ukraine will ultimately require “consensus among the elites to change the rules of the game.”

Some anticorruption efforts have not lived up to the hype. The newly created National Anti-Corruption Bureau has yet to “achieve a high-level prosecution because of the influence of vested interests over the judiciary,” according to Chatham House. However, there are signs of hope. On April 11, Poroshenko announced the launch of a special corruption court, the High Anti-Corruption Court, that was a condition for a $3.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “Today, we see the result: 38 new judges proceed to perform their duties in the new court,” Poroshenko wrote on Twitter at the time. It will be up to the president’s office to ensure that this court’s work is not impeded.

Zelenskiy has already signaled his eagerness to take on sitting officials with his election-night pledge to ensure the exit of Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko, the country’s controversial top prosecutor.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko (file photo)
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko. RFERL

But as economist Timothy Ash pointed out around the same time, many observers will also be scouring for indications that Zelenskiy is not beholden to Ihor Kolomoyskiy, the exiled oligarch whose TV station, advisers, and possibly frequent counsel have played such a major role in the 41-year-old comic’s political rise.

Economy 

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine have left more than 13,000 dead, tens of thousands injured, and more than a million people displaced, according to United Nations estimates. They also dealt a near death blow to Ukraine’s economy. The Donbas, epicenter of the continued fighting, is also the historical heart of much of Ukraine’s heavy industry. And warfare and economic growth don’t mix, although there is some room for optimism.

In 2015, Ukraine’s economy was shrinking, according to the World Bank,contracting by just under 10 percent. Since then, as international lending accelerated and the conflict has cooled a bit, Ukraine’s economy has recovered. The IMF is predicting growth of 2.7 percent for Ukraine in 2019.

There are other encouraging signs as well. Ukraine’s State Statistics Service recently reported that real wages were up 11 percent year-on-year in February. The average monthly nominal wage is 9,429 hryvnyas, or around $350. The average wage in Kyiv is up 50 percent. Foreign direct investment (FDI) remains meager at 2 percent, but “Ukraine has started reappearing on investors’ radar screens,” according to Andy Hunder, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine.


Energy Independence 

Russian’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 “was very much driven by undermining Ukraine’s energy and gas-diversification strategy,” according to Frank Umbach, an associate director at the European Center for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS).

The Russian takeover cost Kyiv its access to some of the vast offshore oil and gas resources in the Black Sea, estimated at 4 trillion-13 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, according to Umbach. Despite that and other major setbacks, Ukraine has made progress in decoupling itself from Gazprom, Russia’s state gas giant. In February, Ukraine’s state-owned energy firm Naftogaz won a landmark victory over Gazprom in a Stockholm courtroom. The judges of the Stockholm arbitration court ruled that Ukraine no longer has to buy a fixed amount from Gazprom.

Arbitrators also nullified the inflated gas prices agreed under a controversial deal struck by Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009, when she was prime minister.

Naftogaz, meanwhile, boasted in January that it had gone from importing 74 percent of its gas from Russia to getting all of its gas from elsewhere in Europe. In January, Ukraine exported its own natural gas to Europe for the first time in 15 years. In the future, experts say, Ukraine must tap into its own gas reserves. According to BP, Ukraine has 600 billion cubic meters (bci) of proven reserves, enough to meet its energy needs for 20 years. At the same time, more Ukrainians are opting for solar power. In 2018, more than 7,500 households installed solar panels on their homes, and those numbers are expected to grow.

Ukraine has greatly reduced its dependence on Gazprom for energy.
Ukraine has greatly reduced its dependence on Gazprom for energy. RFERL


Conflict In The East 

In early 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine’s armed forces numbered 157,000 troops. But only one brigade — around 6,000 service members — was considered battle-ready, according to Mykola Bielieskov, deputy director of the Institute of World Policy in Kyiv, in The National Interest. Prosecutor-General Lutsenko has since suggested that the country’s armed forces “nearly collapsed” in 2014.

Around 30 volunteer militias and private armies — some with far-right leanings, the Azov Battalion among the most notorious — helped fill that defense vacuum.

Today, Ukraine’s combined military ranks number about 250,000 active-duty troops and roughly 80,000 reservists. Ukraine has reportedly made huge strides building its own force of drones, integral to reconnaissance along the front lines.

“In the last two years since this organization has been set up, they’ve rapidly advanced from using dirigibles or balloons to do reconnaissance to building their own UAV systems,” Lieutenant Colonel Ty Shepard, a U.S. Army National Guardsman advising a Ukrainian military command and control program, told Air And Space magazine. “And that’s from zero.”

Machine-gunner Yana Chervona, the mother of two young children, was killed in a mortar attack by Russia-backed separatists on April 2.
Machine-gunner Yana Chervona, the mother of two young children, was killed in a mortar attack by Russia-backed separatists on April 2. RFERL

They also built up their arsenal, including with a shipment of Javelin antitank missiles from the United States in 2018, and Washington might be open to supplying more. On September 1, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and current U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker suggested in an interview with The Guardian that Washington’s future military aid to Kyiv could include weapon sales to Ukraine’s air force and navy as well as the army. (RFERL)