President Lungu was yesterday among foreign heads of states that attended a state funeral held for veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the country’s capital Kinshasa. Opposition icon Etienne Tshisekedi, whose son is now Congo’s president, was laid to rest Saturday in his homeland more than two years after he died during a political stalemate over the country’s long-delayed elections.
Accompanying President Lungu to the funeral were Minister of Foreign Affairs Joe Malanji, Luapula Province Minister Nixon Chilangwa, Minister of Livestock Kampamba Mulenga, Copperbelt Province Minister Japhen Mwakalombe and North Western Provincial Minister Richard Kapita. Others included aides, Special Assistant for Politics Kaizer Zulu and Special Assistant for Press and Public Relations, Amos Chanda.
A funeral procession joined by thousands made its way to the outskirts of Kinshasa following several days of tributes to the man who was the face of Congo’s opposition for decades but died before his political nemesis agreed to step aside and allow a new presidential vote to go forward.
In life, Tshisekedi was at times put under house arrest and his supporters jailed. But on Saturday the 84-year-old received a farewell befitting a former leader now that his son, Felix, holds the presidency.
Tens of thousands greeted his casket as it was driven through the streets of the capital Thursday evening and then displayed at Martyrs Stadium the following day. Even the political coalition of his lifelong adversary, former President Joseph Kabila, issued a statement calling Tshisekedi “undoubtedly one of the major political actors of our country.”
At the time of his 2017 death in Brussels, family members say Kabila had blocked the return of his body to Congo for fear it could foment unrest and more calls for his ouster.
Tshisekedi was one of the most outspoken critics of Kabila, at one point accusing him of treason for not stepping down when his mandate ended. Kabila eventually allowed elections to be held in January, which Felix Tshisekedi won.
“I’m sorry that his body had to stay two years abroad but today we are showing our commitment to him still,” Georgette Lobota said as she sold bread at the sports stadium where Tshisekedi’s body lay in state Friday, dressed in fabric with his image. “He will finally be honored as a dignified son of Congo.”
On Saturday, Mass was celebrated and then he was interred at a mausoleum 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Kinshasa during a private ceremony with family members.
Tshisekedi helped found Congo’s main opposition party, UDPS, back in 1982 during the rule of then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Two years after the country allowed multiple political parties in 1990, Tshisekedi became prime minister in an uneasy on-again, off-again partnership with Mobutu.