Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in on Thursday as president of Democratic Republic of Congo, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful handover of power after disputed election results.
Tshisekedi, 55, took the oath of office before receiving the national flag and a copy of the constitution from outgoing president Joseph Kabila, who is stepping aside after 18 years at the helm of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country.
Thousands of Tshisekedi supporters, many of them dressed in white, celebrated the historic event outside the Palace of the Nation, the seat of the presidency.
“We hope that this will be a real change, especially as he has taken power without bloodshed,” said Saddam Kongolo, a member of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).
One of Tshisekedi’s first tasks will be to appoint a prime minister in a move which will see him sharing power with Kabila’s supporters, who hold an overwhelming majority in parliament.
The ceremony caps more than two years of turmoil sparked by Kabila’s refusal to step down when he reached the constitutional limit on his term in office.
A country the size of continental western Europe, DR Congo has lived through two regional wars in 1996-97 and 1998-2003.
The last two presidential elections, in 2006 and 2011 — both won by Kabila — were marred by bloody clashes.
The ballot, which took place on December 30 after three postponements, surprised many by the lack of violence, but a political storm swiftly brewed over the vote count.
Tshisekedi was declared winner with 38.5 percent of the vote, over his opposition rival Martin Fayulu, who was credited with 34.8 percent.
Fayulu branded the result a fix but lost a challenge to the Constitutional Court, and foreign support for his position ebbed as countries took comfort in a peaceful transition.
Among foreign nations attending the ceremony, Kenya and Zambia were represented by their presidents and Tanzania by its vice presidents, according to the RTNC state television, while China, France, Japan and the United States sent their ambassadors.
“The opposition has run out of recourse to challenge the election results and the threat of widespread post-election violence is gradually subsiding,” said Robert Besseling of EXX Africa, a business risk consultancy.
Tshisekedi took over the UDPS, DR Congo’s oldest and largest opposition party, after the death of its founder, his father Etienne, nearly two years ago.
His ascent to the presidency surprised many, for he never held high office and did not match the crowd-pulling popularity of his father.
Analysts say Tshisekedi faces a raft of pressing problems after taking office.
He must defuse the anger of Fayulu’s supporters, carry out his campaign pledge of ending the “gangrene” of corruption after the Kabila era, and forge a power-sharing arrangement with the outgoing president’s bloc.
The pro-Kabila Joint Front for Congo (FCC) controls 337 seats in the 500-member National Assembly against 102 for Fayulu’s coalition, Lamuka, and 46 for his own coalition, Heading for Change (Cach).
According to a “political coalition agreement” seen by the media which outlines an arrangement for “power-sharing” between the FCC and Cach, the position of prime minister “will be rotated every five years.”
The defence, foreign affairs and interior portfolios will go to “the president’s political family”.
Beyond the politics, Tshisekedi also has to deal with the brutal militias who control parts of the country’s strife-torn east where an Ebola epidemic is also unfolding.
He also has to meet the expectations of his supporters about easing poverty, which afflicts the vast majority of the country’s 80 million citizens.
DR Congo boasts a treasure trove of minerals, ranging from gold and diamonds to copper and coltan — a mineral essential for the batteries used in hand-held electronic devices.
Yet, in a country where the antique yet strangling hold of colonialism are still felt, very little of the wealth trickles down to the poor. It ranks a mere 176th on the 189-nation Human Development Index compiled by the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP).
Malawi’s parliament elects opposition MP as first-ever female speaker
Catherine Gotani Hara from the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) gathered 97 votes to defeat her opponent from the ruling party
History has been made in Malawi as lawmakers on Wednesday elected a female member of parliament as speaker for the first time in the country’s history.
Catherine Gotani Hara from the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) gathered 97 votes against 93 of Esther Mcheka Chilenje of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The Malawian parliament which has 193 seats, was dissolved in March this year, ahead of the fresh elections held on 21st May.
After announcement of the voting results, Eisenhower Mkaka, MCP lawmaker and party spokesperson said; “the victory of Hara as first-ever female speaker of parliament is what every Malawian hoped for. Her election should encourage women that if you invest in girls, they can also become leaders.”
Viwemi Chavula, who is the team leader of the 50-50 campaign, a consortium of civil rights group which campaigns for 50% representation of women in public offices, has described Hara’s election into office as a milestone for Malawi.
“It has been our aim to increase women’s representation in leadership and decision making positions. The election of the first female speaker of parliament is a huge achievement for Malawi,” Chavula said.
Hara has previously held several ministerial positions including that of health and gender under Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first women president.
Morsi: Egyptian authorities accuse UN of trying to “politicise a case of natural death”
The spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had called for an independent investigation into Morsi’s death
Egypt accused the United Nations on Wednesday of seeking to “politicise” the death of the country’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi by calling for an “independent inquiry”.
Foreign ministry spokesman, Ahmed Hafez said he condemned “in the strongest terms” the call by the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, for an independent investigation into Morsi’s death during a court hearing on Monday.
Hafez said it was a “deliberate attempt to politicise a case of natural death.”
Colville called Tuesday for a probe into whether the conditions Morsi faced during his nearly six years in custody had contributed to his death.
“Any sudden death in custody must be followed by a prompt, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation carried out by an independent body to clarify the cause of death,” he said.
“Concerns have been raised regarding the conditions of Mr. Morsi’s detention, including access to adequate medical care, as well as sufficient access to his lawyers and family,” Colville added.
He said the investigation must “encompass all aspects of the authorities’ treatment of Mr. Morsi to examine whether the conditions of his detention had an impact on his death.”
Morsi was toppled by then army chief, now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013 after a single divisive year in power. He was later charged with an array of offences including espionage.
Since his ouster, authorities have waged an ongoing crackdown on dissent of all kinds that has seen thousands of Brotherhood supporters jailed and hundreds facing death sentences.
A group of British parliamentarians in March 2018 warned Morsi’s detention conditions, particularly inadequate treatment for his diabetes and liver disease, could trigger “premature death”.
Tunisia fishermen are the lifesavers of the Mediterranean
Fishermen from Zarzis have saved the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years,
The Tunisian trawler radioed in for help as it passed the migrant boat in distress out at sea. But with the packed craft still adrift two days later, captain Chamseddine Bourassine took direct action. Fishermen from Tunisia are spending more and more time pulling in stranded migrants after a sharp decline in humanitarian and European naval patrols along the stretch of water between war-wracked Libya and Italy.
Bourassine, his crew and three other fishing boats ferried the 69 migrants back to shore on May 11, five days after their boat pushed off from Zuwara on the western Libyan coast. “The area where we fish is a crossing point” between Zuwara and the Italian island of Lampedusa, said Badreddine Mecherek, a Tunisian fisherman from Zarzis near the border with Libya.
Fishermen from Zarzis have saved the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years, and as the number of boats leaving western Libya for Europe spikes with the return of calmer summer seas, they will probably have to save even more. “First we warn the authorities, but in the end, we end up saving them ourselves,” Mecherek grumbled as he tinkered with his rusting sardine boat.
European countries in the northern Mediterranean are trying to stem the number of migrants landing on their shores, and the Tunisian navy with its limited resources only rescues boats inside the country’s territorial waters.
Since May 31, Tunisia itself has barred 75 migrants from coming ashore after they were saved in international waters by a Tunisian-Egyptian tug boat. Contacted multiple times by journalists, Tunisian authorities have refused to comment.
“Everyone has disengaged” from the issue, said Mecherek, adding it was hampering his work. Fishermen who run across migrants on their second day out at sea are at least able to have done a day’s work, he added, “but if we find them on the first night, we have to go back”.
“It’s very complicated to finish the job with people on board.” The complexity of the rescues grows when fishermen find migrants adrift closer to Italy.
When Bourassine and his crew last year tugged a boat towards Lampedusa which was adrift without a motor, they were jailed in Sicily for four weeks for helping the migrants. It took months to recover their boat.
Humanitarian boats and those of the European Union’s “Operation Sophia” anti-piracy force had scooped up most stranded migrants in recent years, but rescue operations dropped in 2019. “Now most often we are the first to arrive… if we aren’t there, the migrants die,” Mecherek said.
On May 10, a Tunisian trawler just barely saved the lives of 16 migrants after they had spent eight hours in the water. Sixty others drowned before the ship arrived.
Survivor Ahmed Sijur said the boat’s appearance at dawn was like that of “an angel”. “I was losing hope myself, but God sent the fishermen to save us,” the 30-year-old from Bangladesh said.
Police of the sea
Mecherek is more worried than proud. “We don’t want to see all these corpses anymore. We want to catch fish, not people,” he said, adding his crew was growing uneasy. “I have 20 seamen on board asking, ‘Who will feed our families?'” he added.
“But local fishermen will never let people die at sea.” For Tunisian Red Crescent official Mongi Slim, the fishermen “are practically the police of the sea”, adding that many migrants say large ships won’t stop to help.
Under pressure to catch their quota during a short annual season, big tuna boats out of Zarzis often call the coast guard instead of stopping themselves to help. “We report the migrants, but we can’t bring them back to shore… We only have a few weeks to fish,” said one crew member. For Chamseddine, the summer months look difficult.
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