Opposition groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) under the umbrella group Rassemblement are expecting talks with the government will begin next week, despite the death of the group’s leader, Etienne Tshisekedi.
Opposition supporters and civil society organizations expressed concern that Tshisekedi’s demise could imperil the transition agreement recently signed with the government. The agreement will, among other things, allow President Joseph Kabila to lead a transitional government for a year, after which fresh elections would be held.
The Catholic Bishop mediators, who suspended negotiations between the Rassemblement and the government, are expected to return to the capital, Kinshasa, to jump start the talks next week, according to Freddy Mbuyamu Matungulu, leader of the opposition Congo Nabiso Party (known as Congo — in the local Lingala language).
“It is my hope that the talks would resume and would take it to a fruitful conclusion, because the passing of our elder and leader only happened a few days ago. We haven’t had time to really test the goodwill of the government. Everybody has invested so much in these discussions and I am hoping that the government is going to continue being serious about how we take all these processes forward and we do complete [them],” said Matungulu who is also a prominent member of the Rassemblement negotiating team.
“As the opposition, we are taking very seriously the talks in a view of completing the discussions [which] would help consolidate Tshisekedi’s political legacy. We are going to work hard to make sure that we complete the discussions successfully, so that we can consolidate his legacy of bringing democracy to this country,” Matungulu added.
Some Congolese say failure of the opposition groups to choose a leader to rally around could create divisions and embolden President Joseph Kabila to scuttle the deal, and amend the constitution to remove term limits.
Kabila’s supporters and his ruling party have rejected the accusations as without merit. They said the government has demonstrated good will by engaging the opposition in talks to ensure the country remains united, peaceful and stable in spite of the accusations and suspicions.
“Tshisekedi was head of the wise men committee in the Rassemblement and it is going to be falling on us now to decide who would eventually lead the group at that particular level going forward. But we have been working together closely since his passing, making sure that there is good coordination between the different platforms that are in the Rassemblement,” Matungulu said.
Civil society groups say the government’s statement to the United Nations that the re-emergence of M23 rebels in the country’s east could derail the transition agreement with the opposition, is yet another indication that the administration is not committed to the negotiations and a subsequent agreement. They called on the Rassemblement to pressure the administration to assure the country that the transition agreement would be respected.
“We are going to be working hard to make sure that this agreement is going to be respected. We have told the people of this country that they would have to remain vigilant to continue being committed to monitoring developments as we go forward,” said Matungulu.
“The agreement is very clear, we have to make sure that we have these elections as soon as possible in 2017 and we are going to be working hard as part of the new government that is going to be eventually going to be set up so that we are able to achieve those particular objectives.”
“The other guarantee is the commitment of the international community. We have been working closely with the major partners in the international community, the U.N., the United States of America, France, Great Britain and Belgium. Everybody involved trying to do their bit so that we have the possibility of ensuring a very successful implementation of this agreement,” added Matungulu.