In the Congolese capital Kinshasa today, more than two years after his death, tens of thousands of people said goodbye to former Congolese prime minister and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.
The farewell ceremony for Tshisekedi took place at the Stade des Martyrs. In addition to tens of thousands of Congolese, three heads of state from neighboring countries were also present at the ceremony: Denis Sassou-Nguesso (Congo-Brazzaville), Edgar Lungu (Zambia) and Faustin-Archange Touadéra (Central African Republic). Together with the vice-president of Uganda, Edward Ssekandi, they placed a flower wreath at the Tshisekedi coffin, which was set up in the middle of the stadium.
The presidents of Rwanda (Paul Kagame) and Angola (Joao Lourenço) also went to Kinshasa yesterday to pay tribute to the father of the current Congolese president. The presence of Kagame, in particular, is seen as meaningful, after years of tensions between Rwanda and Congo.
Etienne Tshisekedi also received a Congolese award today: he received the title of a national hero. Tshisekedi started his political career with dictator Mobutu Sese Seko but founded the opposition party UDPS in 1982. In the 1990s he was Prime Minister of the Congo a few times briefly. He then opposed President Mobutu and his successors Laurent-Désiré and Joseph Kabila.
His farewell ceremony had a very long history. Tshisekedi died on February 1, 2017, at the age of 84 in Uccle from a pulmonary embolism. His body was laid out for more than two years in a mortuary in Ixelles. Former Congolese president Joseph Kabila was reluctant to face a funeral of Tshisekedi, one of his greatest political opponents, in Congo. He feared an unseen assembly of opposition supporters.
But at the start of this year, Tshisekedi’s son Felix was named the winner of the presidential election. Since Tshisekedi junior came to power, difficult relations with Belgium have gradually improved and it has also become possible to organize the repatriation of Etienne Tshisekedi. Thursday his body was finally flown from Belgium to Congo.
After the ceremony, the coffin was transferred from Tshisekedi to N’sele, where he is buried.