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The long-suffering Democratic Republic of Congo finally went to the polls on December 30, 2018.

In future, it is likely to be regarded as one of Africa’s most remarkable elections. First, it had been delayed by two years. Since 2016, Joseph Kabila had been caretaker president. This period was consumed by opponents struggling to prevent him from changing the Constitution to extend his stay in power; wrangles over election laws; and funding for elections in Africa’s second largest country after Algeria.

Second, with the election of opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi (or indeed had it been Kabila’s chosen successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary), this will be DRC’s first transfer of power through a ballot, even a flawed one, since Independence in 1960.

Third, and most important, if the opposition, the influential Catholic Church, and diplomats are correct, Kabila has raised election-rigging to a whole new level and rewritten the vote swindle book.

No doubt it was made easy by the fact that Kabila is leaving power, albeit reluctantly, but he’s the first to help steal the presidency for the candidate who came third.

The ways of election fraud are well established, so everyone had mobilised to prevent him from cheating for Shadary. They weren’t watching the window that opens from his house to Tshisekedi’s.

According to the Catholic Church and various independent audits, Fayulu won with 62 percent of the vote, Shadary got 18 percent, and Tshisekedi 15 percent.

The evil genius of Kabila’s election heist was even more apparent in the dilemma in which he placed his foes.


If the Constitutional Court had annulled Tshisekedi’s victory, then Kabila would continue as president for an unknown period, as the country struggled to find money to put on another election. And they didn’t want that.

So, when Fayulu called for protests after the Constitutional Court ruled that Tshisekedi could keep his tainted prize, the church sat on the fence. The protest flopped.

In much the same way police academies use famous robberies and other notorious crimes to teach their cadets how the bad guys operate, this Kabila-inspired election theft will be studied and written about for years to come.

Yet, the real revelation is not the rigging, but Kabila’s understanding of how opposition has evolved in most of Africa. Felix Tshisekedi is the son of the late DRC opposition veteran Etienne Tshisekedi, a stubborn and largely honest man in notoriously corrupt Congo.

However, Tshisekedi Senior was a luminary in dictator Mobutu Sese Seko’s government, before they fell out.

Junior represents the most successful and fastest growing class of African opposition politicians in Africa – those who fell out with the ruling party (plenty in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Nigeria, almost everywhere you look), and those born into prestigious opposition pedigree (like Raila Odinga in Kenya).

They form a kind of opposition royalty, and are not anti-establishment the way the leftists and radicals from the peasant and working classes of years gone by were.

Tshisekedi Junior is the quintessential opposition aristocrat. Kabila understood that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]