A coffin containing the remains of late former DR Congo Prime Minister and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, is placed at the burial site on June 1, 2019 in Kinshasa. The remains of Etienne Tshisekedi, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s revered opposition leader, arrived in Kinshasa on May 30, in an emotion-laden moment for the country after his son Felix became president this year. AFP photo
Veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi was laid to rest Saturday as his son, the president, looked on, following three days of ceremonies honouring his memory.
President Felix Tshisekedi was visibly moved as he watched the final ceremony for his father, who died in February 2017 in Brussels at the age of 84.
His body was flown back to Kinshasa on Thursday aboard a private jet, ending a protracted battle by his family to secure its repatriation.
The former prime minister turned opposition leader was buried in a private plot at Nsele, on the outskirts of the capital Kinshasa.
Etienne Tshisekedi was a revered figure in the opposition for his resistance to former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and ex-president Laurent Kabila.
Etienne Tshisekedi never got to see his son ascend to the presidency, after bitterly-fought elections at the end of last year that led to the first peaceful transition of power in the country’s history.
Laurent Kabila’s son, Joseph, who stepped down as president at the beginning of the year, did not attend the funeral.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled the neighbouring Republic of Congo for 35 years in all since 1979, however, was present.
And a number of other African leaders came to pay their respects during the three days’ of ceremonies to honour Tshisekedi.
President Joao Lourenco of Angola, Faustin-Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic and Zambia’s Edgar Lungu all attended.
And in a surprise move Friday, so too did President Paul Kagame of DR Congo’s eastern neighbour Rwanda, with whom relations have long been strained.
Kagame’s visit, his first since 2010, represented an important sign of rapprochement between the two countries.
The three days’ of ceremonies have not dispelled post-election tensions inside the country.
Leading opposition figure Martin Fayulu, who maintains that a behind-the-scenes deal between Felix Tshisekedi and Kabila robbed him of victory in the presidential election, paid tribute to Etienne Tshisekedi’s “fight for justice and democracy”.
But he stayed away from the ceremony — as did fellow opposition figure Moise Katumbi.
Thousands of people paid their respects to Tshisekedi on Friday when his coffin was displayed at the 80,000-seater Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa.
But the turnout, with the stadium half full, was a far cry from the vast crowds and fervour the elder Tshisekedi was able to muster in his heyday.
Earlier Saturday, Jean-Marc Kabund, interim leader of the UDPS, paid tribute to his party’s founder.
“Like a Gandhi, a Nelson Mandela, a Martin Luther King, the fight of Etienne Tshisekedi was for dignity, liberty and the fulfilment of the Congolese man,” he said before the coffin was taken from the stadium for burial.