In support of the Catholic Church in Congo’s call for resistance to the Kabila administration’s control of the election results, and in response to the Presbyterian Church (USA) urgent call for action in support of democratic rule in Congo, I’ve written the letter below to President Obama. I’ll be mailing copies of the letter to Secretary of State Clinton and all members of the Senate and House Subcommittees on Africa.
Add your voice to those advocating an end to the cycle of violence in Congo. To assist us, a packet with sample letters and a sample script has been compiled by the Presbyterians. Access the 26 pages of resources by going to this web address:
Included in the packet is the powerful message of the Congo’s Catholic Bishops “to the Catholic faithful and to all the Congolese people”. Let us keep in prayer Archbishop Monsengwo and other clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, who will be calling for an end to the violence in Congo on February 16 and beyond. Our prayers and expressions of solidarity with them and all those standing up for free and fair elections in the country will strengthen their efforts.
Dear Mr. President:
Next week people in the Democratic Republic of Congo will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of another massacre of fellow citizens in their beleaguered, tragic march toward truly independent self rule. On February 16, 1992, at least thirty persons were killed during a peaceful demonstration in the streets of their capital city of Kinshasa. They were holding candles after leaving worship that Sunday, signifying their hope that the Sovereign National Conference would be reconvened. Once
again, the Congolese hunger for peace and justice to rule in their country had been denied by the forces of the reigning dictator Mobutu.
When the U.S. finally made clear its opposition to Mobutu’s rule in 1996-97, it was too late. Upwards of eight hundred thousand people had been slain in Rwanda, and the rape and pillaging leading to five million deaths in Congo were to soon begin. Since Congo’s independence in 1960, successive U.S. administrations have backed authoritarian, repressive rule in the country. Our support as the DRC’s foremost international “friend” has helped to deny the highest aspirations and fundamental rights of the Congolese people.
Since the accession to power of 29 year old President Joseph Kabila, two elections have been held in Congo and both have supposedly resulted in the people’s endorsement of this young man’s rule. The Congolese people don’t buy the fiction of his victory in either election and see both elections as expensive charades which mock and oppose their rights and their will.
At the time of his rise to the presidency as the son of his assassinated father, Joseph Kabila was a virtual unknown. When the election was held in 2006, he still did not speak Lingala, the language of the capital city where nearly ten million people live. Many saw him as an outsider who had spent most of his adult life in neighboring countries. He was far from capable of representing the aspirations of the Congolese people with no credentials or background for leading a complex nation with over fifty million people and the greatest wealth in natural resources on the continent of Africa.
To turn our backs on the Kabila administration’s most recent staging of a sham exercise in democracy would be to condemn this tragic nation to further violent repression of the people’s rights. It would be to allow once again the hope represented by those thousands of candles lit twenty years ago to be snuffed out. It would be to condone the continuing cycle of violence caused by dictatorial rule and the support of the U.S. for such rule.
Having followed and studied the background to events in the Congo for more than forty years, I would call your attention to the conclusion of the leading U.S. political scientist on Congo regarding the November presidential polling there. It is, according to Prof. Nzongola-Ntalaja, “now or never” for the people of Congo. Should the Kabila administration be allowed to fortify its hold on power with another bogus election there is no stopping Congo’s further descent into chaos and death as the people struggle for self rule.
Mr. President, your hands are not tied and there is another leader ready to take power in Congo. At present, we are planning to put $900 million in aid into Congo. Surely we can do more to advance democracy in Congo by withholding such aid until the people’s support for M. Etienne Tshisekedi’s leadership is recognized. M. Tshisekedi may not be the choice of the U.S. to lead the Congo. But since Mobutu removed him from the position of Prime Minister in 1991, he has embodied the people’s aspirations for an end to military dictatorship. Help turn the hope of the Congolese people into joy by a clear affirmation of his right and the people’s right to a free and fair election of their nation’s President.
Join with the people of Congo in honoring the memory of the martyrs of February 16, 1992 by withholding aid from Congo until a coalition government begins rule in Congo and prepares for the next presidential election in five years. Join in holding aloft the torch of liberty represented by our nation and help bring to an end the cycle of violence in Congo. Join in stopping the bleeding at the heart of Africa. It’s “now or never” Mr. President.
Rev. Douglas W. Smith