Bulletproof vest nearly ‘suffocated’ Felix Tshisekedi during his inauguration

MANY CONGOLESE hope their new president Felix Tshisekedi will bring change after Kabila, who in his final address on Wednesday night urged the country to unite and support the new leader. But Tshisekedi faces the challenge of working with a legislature dominated by members of Kabila’s ruling coalition. That could hurt efforts to bring about dramatic reforms in Congo, a mineral-rich country of more than 80 million people.

“One must transform these words into actions,” said Ben Mpoko, Congo’s ambassador to South Africa and an influential member of Kabila’s ruling coalition. “We have lost much in wars and quarrels. We have no time to lose.”

Few had expected an opposition victory in Congo, where Kabila had hung on for more than two turbulent years of election delays.

Declared runner-up Martin Fayulu mounted a court challenge to Tshisekedi’s win, alleging widespread rigging and demanding a recount. The Constitutional Court on Sunday rejected it. Outside court, Fayulu accused Kabila of making a deal with Tshisekedi as it became clear the ruling party’s candidate did poorly at the polls.

Observers have said Fayulu, a businessman outspoken about cleaning up corruption, posed a bigger threat to Kabila and his allies. The new president saluted Fayulu in his speech as a “veritable soldier of the people.”

Just one African head of state, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, was seen at the inauguration after the African Union and others in the international community expressed reservations about the election. The United States and others have said they will work with the new leader but have not offered congratulations.

Congo gained independence in 1960. Its first leader, Patrice Lumumba, was removed in a military coup and assassinated in 1961. Mobutu Sese Seko ruled for more than three decades before he was overthrown in 1997 by rebel leader Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated in 2001. Kabila’s son, Joseph, then took over at age 29.

On Thursday, Congo’s new president caused a few minutes of confusion and worry by pausing during his inauguration speech. It turned out his bulletproof vest had been too tight.