DRC’s new president puts focus on rights on first day in office

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Democratic Republic of Congo’s new president, Felix Tshisekedi, turned the spotlight on human rights on Friday, on his first full day in office after succeeding Joseph Kabila, in power for 18 years.

“I have already scheduled a meeting of the Senior Security Council, to which I will attach agencies such as the ANR,” Tshisekedi told journalists, using the French acronym for the powerful National Intelligence Agency.

Closing down illegal prisons – which the ANR is regularly accused by rights watchdogs of having – will be “one of my first decisions,” Tshisekedi added.

The 55-year-old took the helm of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country on Thursday after gruelling elections.

There were fears that notoriously unstable DRC would be plunged into bloodshed once more.

But polling on December 30 took place relatively quietly, leading to the country’s first-ever peaceful transition of power despite angry claims of a fix by runner-up Martin Fayulu.

In his inaugural speech on Thursday, Tshisekedi vowed to release all political prisoners swiftly and offered words of reconciliation for Fayulu and third-placed candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

Kabila handed over his office to Tshisekedi on Friday after the pair spent more than two hours closeted together.

They walked down a flight of stairs and shook hands.

Tshisekedi’s campaign chief and political ally, Vital Kamerhe, has been appointed his chief of staff.

The new president will have to share power with Kabila supporters who wield an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly.

Parliament reconvenes on Monday, when the new president is likely to start building his new government and choosing a prime minister.

Fayulu’s coalition confirmed on Friday that it will take up its seats in the National Assembly while continuing its quest for “the truth” of the December election outcome.

The DRC is a vast, mineral-rich but impoverished country the size of continental western Europe.

The country has been chronically unstable since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

It lived through two regional wars in 1996-97 and 1998-2003 that claimed millions of lives and sucked in armies from around the region.

Presidential elections in 2006 and 2011 – both won by Kabila – were marred by bloodshed.

Dozens died in a crackdown on protests after Kabila chose to remain in office in 2016 at the end of his constitutionally-limited second term in office.