Congo’s Election Was a Debacle for Everyone but Tshisekedi

Congo’s Election Was a Debacle for Everyone but Tshisekedi
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi waves to the crowd during his swearing-in ceremony for a second term in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jan. 20, 2024 (AP photo by Guylain Kipoke).

Last month, Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in for a second five-year term as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo in an inauguration ceremony in Kinshasa attended by more than 20 African heads of state and government as well as other international dignitaries.

The extensive presence of foreign luminaries at the Jan. 20 festivities contrasted visibly to the scene at Tshisekedi’s first inauguration five years ago, when then-Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was the only other head of state in attendance. Back then, international leaders kept their distance after a transfer of power between Tshisekedi and his predecessor, former President Joseph Kabila, that was tainted by a dubious election now widely accepted to have been fraudulently awarded to Tshisekedi. This time, however, Tshisekedi’s resounding reelection victory and subsequent investiture were embraced by the international community, which once again chose the path of least resistance: an expediently defined “stability” over democratic accountability in yet another African country.

The large margin of Tshisekedi’s victory this time around explains some of the shift in international sentiment between 2019 and 2024. On Dec. 31, Congo’s electoral commission declared him the winner of the nonetheless disputed first-round ballot with more than 70 percent of the vote. Tshisekedi—who, in fairness, was always considered the odds-on favorite to win a second term—defeated more than 20 candidates, several of whom later signed a declaration rejecting what they described as a “sham” election and calling for a rerun. Congo’s Constitutional Court instead upheld the result of the election, rejecting a plea by one of the opposition candidates to annul the vote and thus paving the way for Tshisekedi’s inauguration for a second term.

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