Congolese veteran opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, has died in Brussels aged 84, his party said on Wednesday. “President Tshisekedi died today at 5.42 PM (4.42 GMT) in Brussels,” Bruno Tshibala, deputy secretary-general of the UDPS told AFP. He died at the St. Elisabeth Hospital in Brussels.
Tshisekedi served as a minister under Mobutu before founding the UDPS, the first organized opposition platform in Zaire, in 1982. He was named prime minister four times in the 1990s as Mobutu contended with pro-democratic currents in the country, but Tshisekedi never lasted more than a few months as he repeatedly clashed with the charismatic autocrat.
His death comes at another inflection point in the country’s history following Joseph Kabila’s failure to step down when his constitutional mandate expired in December.
Tshisekedi was set to take the top post in a transitional council agreed in December under a deal to pave the way for Kabila to leave power in 2017 and refrain from running for a third term as president.
His death deprives the opposition of its principal figurehead as talks over implementation of the December accord falter. His son, Felix, is tipped to be named prime minister in a forthcoming power-sharing government.
As such, he was a pivotal figure in Congo, whose history has been marked by foreign intervention, civil war, coups and authoritarian rule. His stalwart activism meant he could draw huge crowds.
“A baobab (tree) has fallen,” Albert Moleka, his chief of staff during the 2011 election, told Reuters. “The baobab protects you from the rain and the sun … people like that can’t be replaced.”
He was considered as one of the main key advocates of democracy in the country. Etienne Tshisekedi was the runner-up in the November 2011 presidential election which was marked by voter irregularities.
Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, was born at Luluabourg in Kassai Occidental, on December 14th, 1932.
Jean Baptiste Karegeya