Felix Tshisekedi is facing his maiden test as president of Democratic Republic of Congo – not from rivals in the political arena, as many have expected, but from striking workers.
Since the December 30 elections, labour unrest in the public sector has exploded as unions, eyeing a new regime headed by a former opposition leader, demand back payment of wages and a crackdown on cronyism.
Stoppages have hit transport, a key port, television, insurance and the fire service and were continuing on Wednesday as Tshisekedi was in Kenya on his first foreign tour.
Although the public sector is only a small part of the national economy – most Congolese work in small- or medium-sized private businesses – the strikes are providing an early trial of Tshisekedi’s political smarts.
“Baptism of fire,” the daily Le Potential said, wondering whether Tshisekedi had the power to match his electoral rhetoric with deeds.
Head of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS, the country’s oldest and largest opposition party, Tshisekedi vowed on the campaign trail to combat poverty and root out graft.
After a ballot marked by repeated delays and a bitterly-disputed result, he succeeded President Laurent Kabila, whose 18-year tenure was marked by authoritarian rule, patronage and crackdowns.
It was the first peaceful transition in the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC – a state that traces its origins back to independence from Belgium in 1960.