Zaire Table of Contents
Alone among pre-1990 Zairian opposition groups, the UDPS began as a dissident faction within the legislature. In November 1980, thirteen members of parliament signed an "open letter to the president of the republic," a ten-point document cataloging corruption and abuse of power in the regime, and calling for legalization of a second political party. The thirteen signatories were arrested and stripped of their parliamentary seats.
In July 1982, some of the Thirteen--as the ex-deputies were known; but the exact number involved was unclear--were sentenced to fifteen years in prison for aggravated treason. In 1983 Mobutu lifted the prison sentences of six members of the group, but banished them to their home villages. The Thirteen became an opposition party in 1982 or merged with an existing clandestine party, under the rubric of the UDPS. Frédéric Kibassa Maliba, a former minister under Mobutu, was the party's first head.
The UDPS stood out among opposition groups as being distinctly moderate. The party identified itself as "the Party of Peace and Justice for all" and committed itself to achieving democracy in Zaire through nonviolent means. It aimed at establishing a multiparty political system with free elections, freedom of the press and association, and a free-market economy.
The UDPS suffered from several handicaps. It was seen as a party dominated by Luba-Kasai. In fact, of the original thirteen deputies who signed the open letter in November 1980, about half were from the Luba or related groups from Kasai-Oriental or KasaiOccidental , while others represented other regions of the southern half of the country. The most prominent members, including Tshisekedi, were Luba-Kasai. When the UDPS emerged as a party, new members were brought in from other regions. Nonetheless, the government had some success in painting the UDPS as an ethnic movement.
A second handicap, which contributed to frequent incoherence in the message of the UDPS, was the split between leaders in the country and in exile. This division was at the same time a strength of the UDPS. Its survival, when so many other opposition groups disappeared, was linked to its double status as a group within and outside Zaire. Particularly helpful was the willingness of Tshisekedi and others to attempt to work within the country. Also important was the early success of the UDPS in attracting the support of several United States congressmen.
On June 24, 1987, Mobutu announced that the last leaders of the UDPS had rejoined the MPR. "Apart from a few dozen noisy supporters, prudently based outside the country--notably in Brussels and Paris--and true militants isolated in Kinshasa--the UDPS had no impact in this too vast country of Zaire," the Paris weekly Jeune Afrique commented. It was too soon to write off the UDPS, however. Tshisekedi explained that permission had been granted to allow the group to continue as a "tendency" within the MPR. In January 1988, he attempted to address a public meeting in Kinshasa. Police beat and arrested hundreds of participants, including Tshisekedi himself.
In February 1989, when thousands of students took to the streets of Kinshasa to protest IMF-inspired austerity measures, including a hike in tuition fees, and inadequate and expensive transportation, security forces arrested Tshisekedi's wife, apparently to pressure the UDPS leader into confessing that he had instigated the demonstrations. In the meantime, Mobutu, perhaps attempting to subvert the opposition, named former UDPS president Kibassa to the low-ranking post of minister of sports.
Data as of December 1993