Leading the Opposition to Congo’s Ruling Elite is the Congolese Catholic Church

Fred Bauma, head of the newly created Ebuteli research institute, presented its first report in the series “Mukalenga wa bantu, bantu wa mukalenga” (the leader exists thanks to the people, and vice versa). This proverb from the Kasai region emphasizes the vital role of civic political education and mobilization in a democracy.

Ahead of the presidential election in 2023, Kinshasa-based Ebuteli this month released “The Catholic Church in the DRC: A Neutral Arbiter or at the Heart of Protest?” As the leading institutional voice questioning the results of the 2018 election naming Etienne Tshisekedi as the Congolese President, the Church has continued its opposition to the ruling elite from the early days of Mobutu’s rule.

The National Bishops’ Conference of Congo (CENCO) deployed 40,000 monitors across the country during the 2018 election and vote counting. While the official count elevated Tshisekedi to leadership of Africa’s second largest nation, CENCO announced that its estimates showed Martin Fayulu had a decisive lead. The Archbishop of Kinshasa Cardinal Monswengo stated in a press conference, ” The bishops have clearly said that, according to their observers, Fayulu won the elections”.

Kinshasa-based Ebuteli notes in its report’s conclusion, “the struggle for democracy between 1990 and 2018 reveals a church that is largely invested in the promotion and consolidation of democracy”. It further credits the lay and clergy leadership for the Church’s relatively progressive political positions. “The dynamism of the Congolese church is most likely the result of strong leadership, but also of an invested lay community that remains inspired by the legacy of Cardinals Monsengwo and Malula (the first Congolese Cardinal), as well as the pre-colonial mystic Béatriced Kimpa Vita and the beatified martyrs Isidore Bakanja and Marie-Clémentine Anuarite Nengapeta.”

Continuing the tradition of his courageous predecessors, Archbishop of Kinshasa Fridolin Ambongo has been an outspoken critic of the Congolese state’s leaders since Pope Francis named him to his post in November 2018.

Celebrating its opening in February this year, Ebuteli described its work as research on the politics, violence and administration of the Congo. Executive Secretary Fred Bauma noted the name means “stairway” in Lingala which emphasizes the role of credible, reliable information in enabling the nation’s advance to a trustworthy democracy. “Our contribution consists in contributing credible research and information to the political discourse not only of the elite but the whole population” Bauma stated.

Partnering with Ebuteli in the current and in future reports is the Congo Research Group at New York University. Since its founding in 2015 the CRG has largely focused on the numerous rebel groups and neighboring countries fighting over and exploiting the population and resources of eastern Congo. The new partnership with Congolese based researchers, in preparation for next year’s election, represents an expansion of the CRG vision for benefiting Congo’s stability and self determination. Jason Stearns, director of CRG, commented on the significance of the first report, “The Catholic Church has been the bedrock of protest movements in the Congo since at least 1992, a moral authority and mobilization network.”

**************************** *****************************

The writer of this blog is indebted to the Congolese Actualité.cd for its article dated Feb. 26, 2022 on Ebuteli’s founding and to the website of the Congo Research Group. You may read the English version of the 22 page report on the Congolese Catholic Church’s history of opposition to the Congolese state’s leadership here:

The Catholic Church in the DRC: A Neutral Arbiter or at the Heart of Protest?

CONGO WEEK Begins Sunday October 16

For the themes and resources for public education during this year’s Congo Week go to:


Catholic Clergy Calling for Mass Civil Disobedience in Congo

Archbishop of Kinshasa  Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, 71 years old
Archbishop of Kinshasa Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, 71 years old

Messengers of good news for the poor, some Roman Catholic clergy in Congo are calling for civil disobedience to protest the election results and the lack of response by the Kabila regime to the widespread charges of fraud.  Leading the charge for resolution of the post election crisis and respect of the people’s will in Congo, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa has issued a call for widespread civil disobedience.  In a Kinshasa parish mass celebrated on January 7, Bishop Albert Kisonga declared, “under normal conditions, political power deserves to be honored. But under current conditions in the DRC where power was installed by cheating, it does not deserve to be honored”.  In his homily , Bishop Kisonga described the current Kabila administration as a ” power of oppression and unresponsive to the will of God”.  His remarks followed the fierce condemnation of the conduct and official results of the election by the leading Catholic prelate in Congo, Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

“The results announced by the CENI [Independent National Electoral Commission] on December 9 comply with neither truth nor justice,”  Archbishop Monsengwo told journalists the day after Joseph Kabila was announced to have won the presidency by a wide margin.  While Archbishop and now Cardinal Monsengwo has continued to denounce the Kabila regime’s manipulation of the election

Archbishop Monsengwo became Cardinal Monsengwo in 2010
Archbishop Monsengwo became Cardinal Monsengwo in 2010

, the conference of Bishops in Congo, CENCO, also issued a statement rejecting the election results.  In a message titled “The Congolese people are hungry and thirsty for justice and peace”, Congo’s Catholic Bishops proclaimed that “one does not build a state of law in a culture of cheating, lies and terror, of militarization and flagrant attacks on the freedom of expression.” This solidarity of the leading Catholic clergy in the country is a new development in the tradition of Catholic opposition to  authoritarian rule in Congo.

Cardinal Monsengwo’s predecessor, also Cardinal and also Archbishop of Kinshasa, Frederic Etsou Nzabi-Bamungwabi upbraided the Catholic priest heading the Electoral Commission which declared Kabila the victor in the 2006 election.  “Abbot Malu Malu must respect the outcome of the polling” Cardinal Etsou declared and continued with a bold dismissal of the legitimacy of Kabila’s rule,  “I say no to this exercise in imposing on the Congolese people a candidate whose sole mandate is to satisfy the gluttonous and predatory appetites of his foreign handlers”.  Within two months of this statement Cardinal Etsou had died in Belgium, amidst rumors of his being poisoned before leaving Congo.

While now reigning Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Monsengwo has made it known that he is ready to sacrifice himself for “truth and justice”, others believe he is destined for even greater earthly authority.  In a 2009 National Catholic Reporter article speculating on front runners to succeed the current pope, Cardinal Monsengwo was one of three leading candidates mentioned.  The author argues for Monsengwo’s chances to become the first African pope since Gelasius in the fifth century by noting, “two-thirds of the 1.1 billion Catholics in the world today live in the Southern Hemisphere, and nowhere is Catholicism more vigorous than in Africa”.  It could also have been noted that Congo’s Catholics outnumber those of any other African country and that Pope John Paul II visited the country twice during his papacy.

Whether Cardinal Monsengwo will restrict his future statements to calls for fair upcoming provincial and municipal elections, as most

Cardinal Monsengwo was formerly Archbishop of Kisangani where he met Kabila in this Photo
Cardinal Monsengwo was formerly Archbishop of Kisangani where he met Kabila in this Photo

of the foreign donors are now doing, or will continue to support calls for mass opposition to the current regime will soon be revealed.  Twenty years ago, on February 16, 1992, the largest demonstration during Mobutu’s rule was led by Protestant and Catholic clergy.  Following Sunday worship on that day, Christians marched with candles to gather in calling for the reconvening of the Sovereign National Conference (CNS).  Police broke up these rallies and 30 protestors were killed in Kinshasa.  St. Joseph’s Parish in Limete district Kinshasa, where Bishop Kisonga denounced the Kabila regime last month, led in organizing the demonstrations twenty years ago.  On February 16 this year, many Congolese Christians and their compatriots will want to honor the memory of those who gave their lives twenty years ago for the vision of a nation ruled by and for the Congolese people.  How we in the U.S. might be involved in honoring their memory and supporting the realization of their vision will be considered in future postings here.