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On 6 February, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Félix Tshisekedi officially took over the rotating chairship of the African Union (AU) for 2021 – this as he manoeuvres to consolidate power at home.

He has managed to end his alliance with former president Joseph Kabila and is now trying to put together a governing majority in Parliament. Tshisekedi’s ‘sacred union’ seems to be taking shape. He’s managed to have the speaker and president of the lower house, Jeanine Mabunda, as well as prime minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba removed by the National Assembly. Both belong to Kabila’s camp.

Tshisekedi seeks the appointment of a new and more loyal prime minister and government. His path is, however, not as clear as he would hope. The sacred union is a loose alliance that will be severely tested ahead of elections in 2023. Preparations for this poll may once again see the ambitions of DRC’s political elites, including Tshisekedi himself, taking precedence over the country’s political stability.

Given the above developments, can Tshisekedi devote the necessary time and attention to the position of AU chair? And what about the fact that the DRC hasn’t ratified at least one key AU instrument – the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union?

The DRC hasn’t ratified the AU protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council.

Chairing the AU comes with certain prerogatives captured under the duties of ‘representing the Union and promoting the objectives and principles of the AU’. This presents an opportunity for Tshisekedi, who can use the AU’s strategic importance to increase his stature in the multilateral space, and at home.

He ascended to power in the DRC under tumultuous circumstances that placed the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at opposing ends. This has given Tshisekedi first-hand experience of how crucial regional and continental organisations can be in one’s bid for power.

Chairing the AU also requires a solid and well-oiled diplomatic machinery. Tshisekedi has appointed a high-level panel to prepare for the task and help him during his 2021 AU chairship. The panel has a department for each priority area of his mandate.

His main focus would perhaps be on “the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and economic integration”. The agreement was brokered by the (AU) and was signed on by 44 of its 55 member states in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, 2018. To date, many African countries have come on board, Agenda 2063; the AU’s external partnerships such as with the European Union; health (particularly COVID-19); and culture (as part of the AU’s 2021 theme which is Arts, Culture, and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want).

Tshisekedi will also push for the prioritization of and investment in the longstanding Grand Inga Dam hydroelectric project on the Congo River. In its current form, the scheme could meet up to 40% of the continent’s electricity demand. African leaders especially those in SADC, should consider ganging up and investing on this project.

Dealing with COVID-19 and its effects will also be high on Tshisekedi’s list of priorities. He’ll oversee the continental initiatives spearheaded by former chair Cyril Ramaphosa, the AU Commission, and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Africa is still grappling with the timely acquisition of vaccines, which is being coordinated by the Africa-CDC.

To execute these priorities, Tshisekedi will be counting on his foreign affairs minister, who has set up a task force for the chairship including the country’s ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative to the AU. Diplomatic capacity will need to be mobilised, and whether the DRC has it readily available is an open question.

The details of the DRC’s AU work for 2021 are yet to be revealed, but it’s unlikely that Tshisekedi will have the standing to make any pronouncement on election issues in Africa.

We call upon AU to assist and empower President Tshisekedi to deal with his internal problems first before he delivers continentally. The DRC faces myriad of problems that needs the assistance of the entire continent in order for them to realize their full potential.

That should involve those countries that surround the DRC and have deployed their Armies into the vast rain forest under the guise of fighting their perceived rebels when in actual fact they are busy pillaging and looting the country’s resources. It’s a free for all in the DRC as long as you have a gun. We know of certain countries who are listed on the “Kimberly Process” when they do not own even one diamond mine in their territories. Let the AU deal with and help heal these and many other wounds that the DRC has first so that the country may realize its full political and economic potential.


Dr Mustafa Mheta

Researcher/Head of Africa Desk

Media Review Network


011 837 3220