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.”
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:
“Maman, we’re going to free this country” young Kinshasa slum dweller Christian tells his mother.
“Lumumba was going to free this country and he was killed” his mother responds and adds, “You think you’re going to do what Lumumba couldn’t.”
As we see in the one hour fifteen minute documentary film “Kinshasa Makambo” it is not Christian alone who will “free” the Congolese people. In the scenes following the dialog with his mother Christian shouts directions to a horde of other youth facing the troops loyal to the rule of Joseph Kabila. Christian is clearly a leader but he is not the only young leader featured in the Congolese Dieudo Hamadi’s film.
Ben has just returned from the U.S. to rejoin the struggle and Jean Marie has just been released from the notorious Kinshasa prison of Makala. We see in the film the reaction of their families to these three young men’s political activism. Though varied in tone and content each family’s response stops just short of the message that each should keep their distance. They are courting danger and proximity exposes family members to the danger. How different then are the celebratory greetings and embrace of Ben and Jean Marie when the two return to their brothers and sisters in the struggle.
Even more than the scenes of demonstrations where the young Congolese defy Kabila’s troops and risk death, the effusive welcome reveals that the power of resistance and making change flows not from the individual but from those who join them in the fight. Lumumba is quoted once in the film:
“One day, the history of the Congo won’t be written in the United Nations, in Washington, Paris or Brussels but in the streets of Mbandaka, Kinshasa, Kisangani… It will be a story of glory and dignity.”
The attention and awards gained by the film maker’s later documentary “Downstream to Kinshasa” (2020) has generated interest in this 2018 film. Both were shown as a double feature on the streaming site MUBI last September and both can be rented on Amazon Prime Video. While “Downstream” was intended to memorialize victims of the forgotten conflict in Kisangani in eastern Congo, “Kinshasa Makambo” covers the popular uprisings bringing down the Kabila regime after father and son’s twenty year rule. In contrast to the support for the plea of victims of the forgotten Kisangani War, the earlier film pays homage to the courage, the leadership qualities, the Christian faith (in the case of Christian) and the resolve of the three young men the film focuses on.
Hamadi is not only a fine storyteller in this film. Many of the scenes are filmed and edited in a cinematic style that convinces this viewer he will continue to gain a larger international reputation. One can only hope that his importance as an artist respected internationally will also protect him and his role as a leading documentarian of the Congolese people’s ongoing progress in freeing their land and themselves from the plunder of their resources.
One of the most dramatic suite of scenes in “Kinshasa Makambo” takes us from Ben squatting in the center of a sea of empty plastic bottles to his home where he cuts select bottles into shape. Poised directly above Ben’s bent back, the camera lingers on the bottles and in the next shot on the bottles at his home awaiting their repurposing as Ben slices into one. We don’t miss the irony that many of the bottles are labeled either “American Water” or “Canadian Pure” in a land with the second largest river in the world flowing through it. In a later segment Ben is seen brushing his teeth with water he has purchased. Hamadi makes “message” films but the messages he communicates he leaves open to the viewer’s interpretation and attention to detail.
Only later in the film do we learn Ben’s water bottles will help demonstrators fend off the effects of the most potent tear gas fired by the police. Jean Marie instructs a group of demonstrators in proper use of the homemade gas masks and the film then moves on to a shot of masked and butter-smeared faces awaiting deployment to the streets.
Lumumba’s vision that the Congolese people will make their own history becomes contemporary reality as we watch the rally celebrating Etienne Tshisekedi, the leading opposition politician, on his return from abroad. Beginning slowly with almost painful restraint, Tshisekedi affirms the demands made by voices in the crowd culminating in his affirmation of the date of Kabila’s last day in power. Other than noting his commitment to non-violence and the long Congolese history of struggle against authoritarian rule, Tshisekedi issues no direction or instruction on mobilizing the people’s power that ultimately brings down the Kabila regime. As the film consistently and powerfully reveals, no elder, no single political organizer or spokesperson is leading this uprising. The filmmaker demonstrates with this film that it is in art as well as in politics that it is in immersing oneself in the people’s dreams, their struggle, sacrifices and achievements that the power of the artist, as well as the political leader, participates in making history.
To view the trailer for the film copy and paste in your browser the link below. The film can be rented on Amazon Prime Video for $2.99.
A year ago the advances toward equal opportunity and justice made by the Batwa indigenous people were met in Congo’s Tshuapa Province by a violent backlash. Although the attacks on the Batwa (called “Pygmies” since the colonial era) by neighboring Bantu villagers have gone virtually unreported in international and most Congolese media news, Human Rights Watch just released a report on February 9 with the aim of bringing the atrocities to light and calling on the government to act. The report cites the deaths of at least 66 Batwa and the destruction of over 1000 homes in Batwa villages.
Only the UN sponsored Congolese radio network, Radio Okapi, has over the past year reported on the rising tensions between Bantu of the Nkundo ethnic group and the Batwa living in and on the boundaries of the vast Salonga Nature Reserve, the largest preserve of tropical rainforest biodiversity in Africa. Assigned by the Congolese government to manage the Salonga Reserve, two international environmental non profits have seen and supported the Batwa as the guardians of the forest where they have lived before the Bantu migration to Congo many years ago.
Hired by the non profits to oversee protection of the reserve’s teeming life, Célestin Engelemba continues to warn Congolese government authorities of the potential on the reserve’s boundaries for continued conflict. Although M. Engelemba has been elected to the national assembly and serves on its Commission for the Environment, he has been frustrated in his repeated attempts to safeguard Batwa human rights and enlist federal intervention. “If something happens in Eastern Congo”, he notes, “everyone gets involved. The people in my territory have the same right to be protected”.
In response to pleas by Engelemba, the Governor of Tshuapa Province (one of four provinces today produced break up of the Equator Province) in September did succeed in having household and farming implements sent to affected families. Despite this gesture of support, Deputy Engelemba called attention to the schools, churches and health clinics destroyed in the attacks. There are also over 10,000 Batwa left without proper shelter.
In this remote Tshuapa River region accessible only by boat, the Protestant Disciples of Christ Church has been more active than the public authorities in building schools and health facilities for more than one hundred years. The Church has also defended Batwa rights, Engelemba was educated in Disciples schools, and the Church supports many Batwa churches. The growing Bantu-Batwa conflict in the area of the Salonga Reserve and its potential to spread elsewhere in the “Grand Equateur” Region presents a formidable challenge to the Church.
Further complicating the situation is the attraction of the Region’s abundant resources to foreign capital eager to exploit the second largest rainforest in the world. Mahogany, teak and other relatively rare timber from “Le Grand Equateur” forests have become a prized commodity for European furniture makers. After a 2020 tour and dialog with persons throughout the Equateur Region, Deputy Engelemba declared himself in favor of a proposal to send water from the Ubangi River in the north to the drought stricken Lake Chad. “I am for that project as long as it commits profits to the uplift of our Region’s population” he stated.
The progress made in acceptance and understanding of the Batwa by the Bantu Nkundo was obvious in my 2010 visit of Congo. In contrast to the exclusion of Batwa from the Equateur village of Ikengo where I worked in 1970-71 fifty years later they were numerous and visible. The director of the agricultural center supervised a largely Batwa staff and had helped start a human rights organization with a young Batwa in Mbandaka. A year after my visit the first Batwa, a teacher, was elected to the Equator Provincial Assembly and after months of deliberations by its members they consented to seat him.
As there are several lokoleyacongo.com posts on the origins of Bantu-Batwa conflict and on Disciples support for the Batwa throughout the Region of “Le Grand Equateur” those interested can enter “the pygmie people” in the Search window. For a fascinating interview with the author of a PhD thesis on the original inhabitants of the Congo rainforest and the myths used to justify Bantu exploitation and scorn of them enter “Dr. Bijoux Makuta” in the blog Search engine.
Children as young as six are digging for cobalt in the Congo. The essential element in the manufacture of lithium ion rechargeable batteries, cobalt is yet another of the “strategic” minerals uniquely found in Central Africa. The continued production of electric vehicles by Tesla and other companies, and all other electronic devices, depend on the cobalt supply chains that originate with Congo mining.
Action to prevent the mining process’ funding of armed conflict in eastern Congo has recently been superseded by legal action opposing children’s involvement in cobalt mining in the country’s southern provinces. Last December, the U.S. based International Rights Advocates (IRA) filed a class action lawsuit against Apple, Alphabet (Google), Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla for complicity in forced child labor in Congo. Plaintiffs in the suit are 14 “guardians of children killed in tunnel or wall collapses while mining cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) or children who were maimed in such accidents”. The lead attorney in the case, and Executive Director of the IRA organization stated, “In my 35 years as a human rights lawyer, I’ve never seen such extreme abuse of innocent children on a large scale. This astounding cruelty and greed need to stop”.
Also on the legal team is Siddarth Kara, a Harvard lecturer in government and public health whose research in 2018 provided ample evidence for filing the lawsuit. After touring cobalt mining sites, buying stations and first stage refining complexes, Kara estimated 35,000 children dig for the cobalt bearing rocks for wages of slightly over $1 per day. In her September 2018 article in The Guardian she introduces us to the life of 15 year old Elodie.
Elodie spends her days with her 2 month old son strapped to her back. Both breathe the noxious brown air while she fills a sack with the heterogenite rock containing cobalt. The work day ends with her washing the rock in nearby Lake Malo before she receives around 65 cents for the rocks of a lower grade ore. After both her parents died from their “industrial” mining of cobalt, Elodie feeds her baby and herself with her earnings.
Explaining her support for the lawsuit against a few of the world’s most profitable corporations, Professor Kara stated, “this lawsuit represents the culmination of several years of research into the horrific conditions of cobalt mining in the DRC…… I hope our efforts are worthy of the courageous families who shared their immeasurable torment with us, and that justice and decency will triumph over the pursuit of profit at any cost.” Another volunteer on the lawsuit’s IRA legal team is Congolese national, Dr. Dr. Roger-Claude Liwanga. Dr. Liwanga expressed his pleasure with the suit’s filing, “This is the beginning of the end of impunity for those who have been economically benefiting from child labor in the DRC’s mining industry. He continued with, “DRC children also have an inherent and inalienable right to be protected from economic exploitation.”
To urge one or more of the companies, defendants in the lawsuit, to acknowledge responsibility and ensure improvement of conditions in mining cobalt in Congo , find various options here:
Having overcome self doubt and social stigmas due to her physical disability, Congolese professor and pastor Rev. Dr. Micheline Kamba Kasongo emerged as a spokesperson for the marginalized in Congo and worldwide as a leader in the World Council of Churches (WCC). In response to her death in Kinshasa earlier this month, numerous tributes extolling her outspoken advocacy were shared by academic and church leaders in many nations.
Born February 16, 1968 in Kinshasa, with the help of the Congo capital’s Presbyterian Community, she completed college. In 1998, the Church of Christ of Congo named her one of the Church’s delegates to the Harare Assembly of the WCC. During that Assembly she joined other attendees with disabilities in creating the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network. This forum enabled the Council’s member churches to enhance ministries with persons with disabilities in their work and that of the WCC.
At the 2013 Assembly of the Council in Korea, she shared the story of her awakening to her potential as a woman in leadership, “My experience as a young lady with disability influenced the most my spiritual life and my calling into the ministry. It was so difficult to be accepted as God’s creation. (…) I attempted many times to commit suicide but I had not succeeded.
One day my sister knew that and she came to me and said ‘my dear sister what you want to do is not a solution of your problems. Pray and ask your God what life means to you as a young lady with a disability and why God likes you to remain like this’. (…) My sister and I spent three days in fasting and praying so that God helps me. That time was really a healing time.
Since that time I have never prayed to God to heal me physically, because, I know as Paul recognized that ‘God’s grace is sufficient for you, His strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:10). Then I took courage and I believed in what my sister told me; she was inspired by Holy Spirit and since that time I am accepted as a woman with disability and knew that God had a good plan for me; this was in 1984.
Today, I understand my vocation concerning encouraging those who have physical impairments like me to ‘raise up and walk’ spiritually so that they can be independent, full of life for the transformation of their situation, both in church and society.”
Following her participation in the 1998 Harare Assembly, the Council sponsored Dr. Kamba’s work on her PhD in South Africa. During her PhD studies, she became the coordinator of the WCC’s Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) for French-speaking Africa and in 2006 she began serving on the WCC Executive Committee. That same year the Protestant University of the Congo (UPC) named her an Associate Professor in the School of Theology. In that role, she created the Master’s in Social Transformation at the UPC and helped found a nationwide pastoral ministry for people with disabilities in Congo.
Her Master’s program at the UPC now includes classes in leadership, human rights and gender violence. Dr. Kamba described its aims for U.S. supporters of the UPC, “This Master’s program will change how people view their environment.” The Professor and ordained minister continued, “Kinshasa is not disabled-friendly. We must change attitudes towards people with handicaps, because all people have value.”
Dr. Kamba’s design for the Master’s at UPC also aims to change how Congolese and all of us view women and members of minority groups who have been subjugated and suppressed by thought patterns, customs and legislation. Rev. Dr Kuzipa Nalwamba, WCC program executive for Ecumenical Theological Education described the UPC Masters in Social Transformation as “an admirable demonstration of the deep passion and concern she had for her people”.
was made lengthy by the multiple tributes. “Her voice was essential to our work to bring about justice and peace” the acting head of the WCC, Rev. Dr. Ioan Sauca, wrote about Dr. Kamba. The former general secretary of the WCC, Most Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, also praised her leadership, “Our dear sister Micheline was a remarkable, brave women contributing to the Church and the ecumenical movement in so many ways”. Micheline’s PhD chief advisor wrote from South Africa, “As a student she highlighted a biblical perspective of the challenges of African women living with disabilities.. . The legacy she has left through her writings, sermons and the program she established will outlive her.”
In a paper she wrote for a 2018 WCC Conference on Evangelism, Rev. Dr. Kamba reflected on the Acts passage (Ac3:1-10) which describes the healing of the lame beggar at the temple gate. Her words conclude the essay’s appeal to view healing of the lame, of ourselves and of society in a more holistic way.
“I speak as a person with a disability who has experienced failed physical healing. I demonstrated in my reflection that physical healing is not the only form of healing in this text, though initially, this story, in the Acts of the Apostles, aimed to supply many signs and miracles performed by the apostles. There are other forms of healing (emotional, social, and psycho-spiritual) that I described above which challenge people with disabilities as well as leaders of the Christian church, who think that when a person with a disability is not healed, he or she is being denied fellowship with God and fellowship with other people
In conclusion, my reading of this text is as a church leader for effective awareness of the integration of persons with disabilities in church. I should recognize that they need assistance to discover their real identities so they can take leadership in their respective communities for a transformative church.” When she wrote these words in 2018, Dr. Kamba had become more aware of how her work on behalf of the disabled was also a call to respect the dignity and worth of all members of society. Her holistic view of healing of the disabled had led her to a vision of how her faith could heal and transform the whole social order. “Social transformation” was an apt description of what her MA program at the Protestant University of Congo (UPC) prepared students for.
NOTE: I am indebted to Ms. Linda James, consultant in the Development and Alumni Relations office of the UPC for her assistance in the writing of this post.
Since 2008 the mid October commemoration of Congo Week has sought to inform and educate people world wide on the ongoing crisis in the Congo. More recently an excellent thirty minute film has been produced which offers an overview of Congo’s tragic five hundred years of foreign exploitation and control. You can view and share the documentary “Crisis in Congo: Uncovering the Truth” by going to the web address at the bottom of this introduction. In 2019 Friends of the Congo organizers at www.friendsofthecongo.org have set October 12-19 for Congo Week events. But they urge us all to show the film at gatherings and share other materials from their web site at any time.
Former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki noted, “There cannot be a new Africa without a new Congo”. The nation at the heart of Africa rivals and many say surpasses South Africa in the wealth represented by its natural resources. The U.S. was the first nation to recognize King Leopold of Belgium’s creation of the Congo Free State in 1885. And Congo became the focus of U.S. Africa foreign policy since the highest grade uranium used in the first atomic bombs was supplied by a mine in Congo. President Barack Obama declared, “If Africa is to realize its promise, the problem of the Congo must be resolved.”
To download and view “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth” one of the two avenues below should take you there. Do respond with a comment to this blog post if you have any trouble.
Non profit activists in the U.S. and Congo are collaborating in a new effort to shepherd Congolese youth who will honor the legacy of Patrice Lumumba. The opening of the new Andrée Blouin Cultural Center in an upscale residential neighborhood of Kinshasa could mark a significant strengthening of ties with civil society supporters in the U.S. A short distance from the Nelson Mandela Plaza in the Congolese capital, the new Cultural Center building will house workshops, conferences, cultural programs as well as house offices managing the leadership development programs.
In addition to cultural exchanges and opportunities to travel throughout Africa and beyond, the Center is now taking scholarship applications from Congolese students. U.S. donors particularly in the areas of Washington, DC and New York City have generously supported the scholarship program. Applications for a scholarship may be found at this Facebook address maintained by a leading organizer of the U.S. assistance.
The new Cultural Center gala opening was celebrated on July 2, Patrice Lumumba’s birthday. U.S. friends of the Congo attending the event noted that civil rights leader Medger Evers was born on the same day as the leading Congolese advocate for self determination and national unity. Lumumba’s speeches often highlighted the equal rights of women and his Chief of Protocol Andrée Blouin was a leader in organizing women for the independence movement.
Naming the Center for Blouin will hopefully deepen appreciation for a Congolese woman who played a prominent role as advisor and organizer for Sekou Toure in Guinea before her return to Congo in 1959-60.
We can hope that the new Cultural Center in Kinshasa will also help fill in the story of a notable female leader in the African independence movement while further educating young Congolese on the legacy of the man who was called the 20th Century’s most significant African political figure by Malcolm X.
The fact there has been an election at all is a victory for and of the people of Congo. They demonstrated. They marched. They were arrested, beaten, shot. Some died and some are still in prison. As a result, the President of the country was forced to stop his efforts to change the constitution and campaign for another term. Then, when he maneuvered to delay them, the marches and the protests continued and he was forced to schedule the elections that just took place.
So regardless of the outcome, that there was an election, not just for President but for provincial and legislative offices as well, is a victory of and for the Congolese people. The December 30, 2018 election is yet another step in the long march of the Congolese toward self rule that began with the 1950’s struggle for independence from Belgium. It continued during thirty plus years of self dealing dictatorship followed by twenty years of plunder of the country’s vast strategic minerals resources by neighboring African countries and their foreign allies who have controlled Congo’s economy since independence. The faith, hope and courage demonstrated by the people over the sixty year long march toward self rule is represented for me by a small, heavily wrinkled woman I met in Congo in 2010.
She had walked over one thousand miles from her homeland in Bunia, Eastern Congo to Mbandaka, Equateur Province, where I met her. She had changed her name to Marie Sauve Vie or Mary “who saves life”. In an attack on her village, she was the only member of her family who survived. In Mbandaka she met the female Disciples of Christ pastor who had organized aid and a support group for women displaced from the East. When a Red Cross boat offered her and the others a return to their homeland she elected not to accept. There was nothing and no one there she wanted to return to. She had been able to survive in Mbandaka through sales of the mats she wove by hand. They are just the right size for doing yoga and remind me of Marie every time I use mine.
The people of Congo will continue their march. They have not reached their destination. There remain many obstacles on the way to achieving a stable, effective government that serves the people. There remain formidable structures of power barring the way to the country’s control of its many, so much sought after resources. But the hope, the strength and the resolute will to live in safety and dignity that carried Marie from Bunia to Mbandaka has already brought change to all of Congo and the people’s long march will continue and bring about more and greater change some day.
The election was not the only victory for the Congolese people in 2018. There was the truth telling sermon of the Protestant pastor before the presidential family and entourage at the beginning of the year. In the packed national Protestant Cathedral, Pastor Francois David Ekofo stepped from his place on the long march to declare it was time for governmental rule that promised true progress and would make the people proud. In October, a Congolese Doctor was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication to healing women horribly violated by the chaos in Eastern Congo. Before the elections, the unified Protestant Church of Christ of Congo leadership joined the Catholic Council of bishops in calling for a fair, transpararent voting process. Forty thousand “observers” were deployed by the Catholic Church to polling places throughout the country. It was the only nationwide oversight, domestic or international, of the electoral process. That it took place without widespread government interference or opposition can also be considered a victory.
There are signs that international pressures on the current administration are also having an effect. The government expelled the Ambassador of the European Union two weeks before the national voting. This move was undoubtedly intended to avoid greater foreign condemnation should the President’s choice of a successor win the election. His chosen, Emmnganuel Ramazani Shadary, former Minister of the Interior, is now on a list of aides who are banned entry to the EU for violating the human rights of their fellow Congolese.
Pre-election polling and initial reports from the polls have former Exxon Mobil executive Martin Fayulu, of the Lamuka Coalition, holding a sizable lead in the Presidential race. M. Fayulu posted to Twitter shortly after the polls closed, “After the three soundings yesterday, I would like to heartily congratulate all my countryfolk for their clear desire for change. We are going to begin a new era, one which will enable our country to regain its dignity and experience prosperity. Let us meditate on Ph 2:13.” The verse cited from Paul’s letter to the Philippians reads, “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. M. Fayulu might have also cited the verse from the Book of Revelation often quoted in the first years of Congolese independence, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rv 21:5).
We celebrate the co-awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo. See this blog’s 2016 post on Dr. Mukwege’s call for political change in Congo titled “From ‘Beyond Vietnam’ to Congo 2016” and found below here:
“It is sadly apparent that the gravest threat to Congolese civilians comes from the country’s own security forces” declared the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches meeting on the occasion of the ecumenical movement’s 70th Anniversary. Along with welcoming the first visit of Pope Francis to its Geneva headquarters, the World Council singled out for concern and action the DRC as the nation with more displaced persons than any other in Africa due to the “deepening political, human rights and humanitarian crisis and escalating conflict”. In warning against further postponement of the presidential election now scheduled for December, the statement calls “upon the Government of the DRC to stop the killing due to political intolerance” and “to respect fundamental human rights to assembly and to freedom of opinion and expression”.
With over 90 % of the population now professing some form of Christianity, the Congo has the eighth largest number of Christians among the world’s nations. It has more Roman Catholic adherents than any other country in Africa and the Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Monsengwo, was considered to be a top drawer candidate in the last papal election. The World Council’s June 20 statement notes the significant role of the Catholic Church leadership in designing a process for peaceful, democratic political change while also deploring the firing by Congo security forces “into Catholic church grounds to disrupt peaceful services and processions following Sunday mass”.
The statement provides a comprehensive summary of the worsening crisis in Congo and closes with some calls for action. It is reprinted below in its entirety:
“Solidarity with the People and Churches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (revised)
1. The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have already suffered so much for so long at the hands of so many self-interested actors from within and from outside the country. A deepening political, human rights and humanitarian crisis and escalating conflict are again afflicting the country and its people.
2. Some 4.5 million people – more than in any other country in Africa – have been displaced from their homes, and tens of thousands of refugees are again fleeing to neighbouring countries. DRC’s neighbours are already hosting approximately 600,000 people who have fled conflicts in the centre and east of the country.
3. More than 13 million Congolese affected by recent violence are in need of emergency assistance, including food, sanitation, shelter, and education – the same level of need as in Syria. The conflict and instability have been accompanied by exceptionally high levels of sexual and gender-based violence, and have entailed particular suffering for people living with disabilities. Well over half of the number of crisisaffected people are children. An estimated 2 million children are at imminent risk of starvation.
4. Despite its great wealth of natural resources, the DRC remains one of the world’s poorest countries due to endemic instability, conflict, corruption, poor governance and unregulated exploitation of its resources. Ten out of 100 children in the DRC die before they reach the age of 5, and more than 40% have stunted growth due to malnutrition
5. President Joseph Kabila has stayed in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, and elections have been twice postponed on questionable grounds. In the context of this constitutional crisis, dissent and opposition is being brutally repressed, and violence is being fomented in different parts of the country for political ends, particularly in the Djugu territory of Ituri province, the Kasai region, North and South Kivu, and Tanganyika provinces.
6. It is sadly apparent that the gravest threat to Congolese civilians comes from the country’s own security forces. According to the UN human rights office in the DRC, some 1,180 people were extra judicially executed by Congolese “state agents” in 2017, far more than those killed by any of the armed groups, and a threefold increase over two years.
7. Government security forces have even fired into Catholic church grounds to disrupt peaceful services and processions following Sunday mass, killing at least 18 people and wounding and arresting scores of others. Hundreds of opposition leaders, supporters and pro-democracy and human rights activists have been imprisoned, often without charge or access to family members or lawyers, and meetings and demonstrations banned.
8. The Saint Sylvestre Accord, a power-sharing agreement signed on New Year’s Eve 2016 following mediation by the Roman Catholic Church, allowed for President Kabila to remain in power another year beyond the end of his constitutional two-term limit on 19 December 2016, but included a commitment to organize elections by the end of 2017. However, in November 2017 the Electoral Commission (CENI) set 23 December 2018 as the new date for elections, but suggested that numerous “constraints” could result in further postponement.
9. This long-running political crisis is deepening the misery of the people of the DRC, and raising the spectre of increased regional instability with very serious effects for the whole Great Lakes region and beyond.
10. The DRC has been identified as one of the ‘stations’ – or focuses – for the ecumenical movement’s Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. The WCC central committee, meeting in Geneva on 15-21 June 2018, reflecting on the mid-point of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace between the WCC’s 10th and 11th Assemblies, and with deepening alarm and concern for the deteriorating situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
-Calls upon the Government of the DRC to stop the killing due to political intolerance, to protect its citizens from violent attack and harassment by state or non-state actors, and to respect fundamental human rights to assembly and to freedom of opinion and expression;
-Further calls on the Government of the DRC to uphold the constitution and refrain from worsening the crisis and provoking more widespread conflict and violence by further postponement of the elections;
-Appeals to all members of the international community, and particularly the Southern African Development Community, to strengthen their engagement for durable peace, stability, justice, development, and human rights in the DRC;
-Implores that countries and companies engaged in exploiting the natural resources of the DRC respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and the human rights of its people;
-Urges all churches and faith communities of the DRC to work together against politically-motivated violence and incitement to atrocity crimes, for a peaceful and fair election process, and for social and economic justice that provides a foundation for sustainable peace;
-Requests strengthened international ecumenical solidarity with the churches and people of the DRC in the midst of the current severe crisis, and support for their struggle for peace, for justice and for dignity.”