DR Congo's main opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi has died in Brussels at the age of 84, sources reported Wednesday.
According to UN-backed Radio Okapi, the opposition icon left Congo on January 24 for a medical check-up in Belgium, the mineral-rich Central African's former colonial master. The historic heavyweight had made a triumphant return to Kinshasa in July last year after two years of medical treatment in Brussels.
The opposition leader who founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party in the country in 1982(then Zaire) was supposed to head a National Transition council with a prime minister to be named from opposition ranks under a deal to pave the way for President Joseph Kabila’s exit at the end of this year according to a deal reached last December.
The cause of his death has not been divulged as neither family nor his political party has officially commented on that, but Radio France Internationale (RFI) said “the Old Man”, as Tshisekedi is affectionately known among his political allies died from a pulmonary embolism.
His death deprives the opposition of its principal figurehead as talks over implementation of the December accord falter. His son, Felix, who recently became a prominent political figure and headed the coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement is tipped to be named prime minister in a forthcoming power-sharing government.
Joseph Kabila who took over the reign of the chronically unstable DR Congo in 2001 was re-elected for a second mandate in 2011, but showed no signs of wanting to relinquish power after his reign expired in December 2016 despite being constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Tshisekedi unsuccessfully fought the 2011 presidential poll against Kabila but supporters of the opposition supremo referred to him as the "elected president" of the vote which was allegedly marked by massive fraud.
Another opposition leader in the country, Moise Katumbi has been sentenced to a three-year term in prison in an alleged case of property fraud and faces another trial in an alleged case of mercenary recruitment.
Observers fear Kabila may tinker the constitution before the end of 2017 and scrap the two years presidential term limits in the country.
By Ndi Eugene Ndi in Yaounde