Kabila Regime Confronts the Power of the People and the Church

Priest and protestors January 21 in front of Congo Parliament Building Kinshasa

Pope Francis has called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to pray and fast for an end to the growing political instability and decades of conflict in Congo and the South Sudan. In his February 4 prayers on St. Peter’s Square the Pope declared,”I invite all the faithful to a special day of prayer and fasting for peace on February 23, the Friday of the first week of Lent. We will offer it especially for the populations of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and of South Sudan.”

The date selected by the Pope precedes the third nationwide demonstration organized by Congo’s Catholic Lay Committee to end the “dictatorship” of President Kabila. Anticipating a large turn out among Congo’s 40 million Catholics for protests following worship on Sunday February 25, the Pope proclaimed, “Our heavenly Father always listens to his children who cry to him in sorrow and anguish, who ‘heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ (Psalm 147:3) I make a heartfelt appeal so that we also listen to this cry and, each one of us in his/her own conscience before God, ask ourselves, ‘What can I do for peace?’

With the potential for violent repression by the Kabila regime of the demonstrators, the Pope also urged non-Catholics to join in prayers on Friday, the 23rd. “I also invite non-Catholic and non-Christian brothers and sisters to join us in this initiative in whatever ways they deem most appropriate”.

Without pledging to join in the prayer vigil and fasting or the nationwide demonstrations, the leading voice of Congo’s 26 million Protestants did respond to the Catholic-organized initiatives. The President of the Church of Christ of Congo (elected last August) Rev. André Bokondua Bo-Likabe addressed the nation’s growing political conflict in opening the meeting of the unified Protestant Church’s Executive Committee. “We are called Protestants because we always protest against what is unjust”, averred the President, who appears to be taking his Church in a new direction in opposing the regime in power. Quoting from Proverbs 29 :2 Rev. Bokondua added, ‘When those committed to justice are in the majority, the people rejoice ; when those who are evil dominate, the people groan.” Reflecting on recent events in Congo, he summarized, “the situation of the Congolese people today is a collective groaning”.

President Rev. André Bokundoa of the Church of Christ of Congo Ph. John Bompengo of Radio Okapi

The Kabila administration now faces the most serious threat to its seventeen year rule. Recognizing that his hold on power is weakening, President Kabila recently held his first ever extensive press conference, made a rambling two and a half hour defense of his rule, and named a new Minister of the Interior to take office five days before the demonstration on February 25. In another move to avoid the example of Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Zuma in South Africa in resigning, the President and administration officials have pledged that the election to replace Kabila will take place in December this year. But the regime’s violation of the December 2016 Saint-Sylvestre agreement terms for organizing elections and the brutal treatment of protestors by security forces loyal to the regime has increased anger and opposition to the government.

Summarizing the administration’s response to the two prior nationwide protests, the Catholic Lay Coordinating Committee has noted “the persistence of its arrogance, of its scorn and uncaring attitude. In brief”, the Committee went on, “its categorical refusal to take into serious consideration the protests of an entire nation”. The Committee speaks for the vast majority of Congolese in stating that the people desire “free, democratic elections organized in a transparent and inclusive manner but not fixed and rigged elections which will not bring peace either before or after the elections are held”.

In what can be seen as an additional move by the Pope this month to strengthen the position of the Catholic Church in Congo, an assistant and successor to the Archbishop of Kinshasa Cardinal Monsengwo has been appointed by the Vatican. Twenty years younger than the current Archbishop, an outspoken, severe critic of the regime, the Archbishop of Mbandaka-Bikoro in Equator Province Fridolin Ambongo helped negotiate the Saint Sylvestre agreement with the administration. Archbishop Ambongo still serves as Vice President of Congo’s Conference of Bishops which issued a statement last week defending the rights of peaceful protestors. The Bishops endorsed the struggle for “a lawful State in the Congo” and encouraged the population to “remain steadfast and vigilant in taking its destiny in its hands with prayer and initiatives to block peacefully all attempts to seize power by non democratic and unconstitutional means.”

Congo Protestant Pastor Speaks Truth to Power

Protestant Centennial Cathedral filled with the power elite to commemorate assassination of President Kabila’s father 16 years ago. John Bompengo

On January 16, the highest officials of the government and members of President Kabila’s family heard the pastor of the Protestant national cathedral in Kinshasa call for dramatic change in rule of the country . In a stunning reversal of the Church of Christ of Congo’s (ECC’s) prior support of the regime in power, Pastor Francois David Ekofo lamented the deplorable conditions and poverty in a nation so rich in natural resources. “I have the impression that the State does not really exist” Pastor Ekofo declared.

“What kind of country are we going to pass on to our children and our grand children?” the preacher asked those gathered to honor the memory of Laurent Désiré Kabila, the current President’s father. “We must bequeath to our children a country in which the State is a reality, a State that is trustworthy, where everyone is equal under the law” the Protestant Bishop proclaimed. “We must bequeath to our children a rich country, a country producing enough food to feed its people. I recognize that there is need to import technology” he continued. “But to spend the limited foreign exchange we have to import what we must have to feed ourselves, that is unacceptable for the Congo.”

The public criticism of the Kabila regime by a leader of the ECC’s sixty plus Protestant denominations signals a stronger Protestant movement under new leadership. Pastor André Bokundoa of the Baptist churches was elected last August as President of the ECC following Rev. Pierre Marini Bodho who had held the post for twenty years. Marini followed the example of the Disciple Pastor Jean Bokeleale who as leader of the Protestant denominations founded during the early days of the colonial era benefited from his unwavering support of the Mobutu dictatorship. Both the Protestant Centennial Cathedral and the Protestant University of Congo were granted land in the capital’s center by Mobutu. Like Bokeleale, Mobutu was a child of the Equator Province and saw the Protestant Christian minority as a force to counter the majority Catholic Church which emerged as the primary opposition to the dictator’s rule.

The Sunday after Pastor Ekofo’s sermon, Catholic priests in Kinshasa and in several provincial capitals led their parishoners and others into the streets to protest the extended delay in national elections. Since Kabila’s five year term ended in December 2016, the administration has pursued a strategy described by critics as “glissage” or “slipsliding” to prolong administration control of the vast wealth flowing from foreign exploitation of the nation’s resources. The UN reported at least five deaths at the hands of the regime’s security forces in response to the January 21 demonstrations in Kinshasa. Among the over 200 arrests were a dozen priests according to one report.

Peaceful protestors, here in front of a UN peacekeepers’ compound, were met by heavily armed regime security forces for the second time in less than a month

The Catholic Lay Coordinating Committee, headed by three notable Kinshasa based academics, noted that the number of parishes and members participating was larger than the December 31 demonstrations which also were met with bullets. The regime’s response to the growing protest movement has been met by increasingly fiery condemnation by the Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Monsengwo. “How can someone kill men, women and children, young and old while they are singing hymns, carrying Bibles, rosaries and crucifix?” the leading voice of the opposition asked.

In a country where education, health and community development services are largely organized and carried out by Catholic and Protestant churches, and where the civil society institutions are relatively weak, it is not surprising that church leaders have assumed the role of spokespersons for the masses of people. That a high profile Protestant pastor in Kinshasa has joined in calling for regime change is another sign that the Kabila administration’s hold on power is weakening. Impatience with the regime and its severe repression of dissent have resulted in more calls for immediate departure of the President and an interim government to take over and oversee preparations for the Presidential election.

Africans Rising Will Defend Human Rights In Congo

Africans Rising movement by Sarah Walsh

The struggle in Congo for fair elections and a government which represents the will and desires of the people has gained a potentially powerful ally. Africans Rising is a new Pan-African movement formally launched on May 25, 2017, “African Liberation Day”. In a conference nine months before the launch, two hundred seventy two activists from 44 African nations representing trade unions, people living with disabilities, parliamentarians, media organisations and faith-based groups approved the new organization’s founding document the Kiliminjaro Declaration.

One of the founding principles of Africans Rising established by The Declaration is the following: “We are committed to a decentralised, citizen-owned future that will build support and solidarity for local struggles, empower local leadership and immerse our activists in grassroots work of building social movements from below and beyond borders.” The first guiding principle reads, “Africa is a rich

Africans Rising Co-Coordinators Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan and Coumba Touré
continent. That wealth belongs to all our People, not to a narrow political and economic elite. We need to fight for economic development that is just and embraces social inclusion and environmental care.”

The Kiliminjaro Declaration overall reads like a manifesto for political and economic change in Congo. Those who work and pray for creation of a just, democratic State dedicated to serving the Congolese people should welcome Africans Rising’s solidarity with and support of activists for change in Congo. Among the co-conveners of the Arusha, Tanzania Conference which produced the Declaration, Kumi Naidoo, is the new chief executive for Amnesty International. In an article in The Guardian on the aims of Africans Rising Naidoo wrote, “We are building a movement that aims to finish the journey of true African liberation, for which so many people laid down their lives in the struggle against colonialism and since. We refuse to accept that all that blood was spilt for the difficult lives people live every day on the continent. The struggle continues!” Read the entire article at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/mar/26/

Among the resources prepared by Africans Rising for last year’s Africa Liberation Day is the following prayer for Africa. Let us consider this prayer as an appeal to God and the divine within each of us :

O God of many names,
We call to you on behalf of our beloved Africa,
Mobilizing around a shared vision: a more peaceful, fair, and prosperous Africa,
Trusting your guidance, as it is through you alone that we can move mountains;
O God of all creation,
As citizens and descendents of Africa, help us as we strive for a better future,
A future absent of corruption and greed; a future of social inclusion, dignity for all, and sustainability of all creation,
A future worthy of leaving to our children and grandchildren;
O God of all humanity,
Heal the people of Africa from the wounds of slavery, racism, and colonization,
Raise new leaders with the moral courage to help put an end to autocracy, tyranny, tribalism, and neocolonialism,
Strengthen and guide those who are already working for a more just Africa;
O God who hears all languages,
As allies in the fight for justice, equality, and equity, let us seek the way of peace together,
Challenging those who work against your will of compassion and liberation for all,
And creating a vision of Africa as your love would have it.
Amen.

Bob Dole and the Congo Cover-Up

Sen. Bob Dole endorsed Trump prior to the Republican Convention and was seated to the left of Donald Trump Jr. in Cleveland. After the election, Sen. Dole’s lobbying led to the new President’s controversial phone call with Taiwan’s President.

Have you no shame Robert Dole? The former Senator from Kansas and ex contender for the U.S. Presidency Bob Dole has exposed himself as one of those mired in the swamp that Donald Trump pledged to drain in his campaign for President. As Trump himself reaches out to autocratic rulers in the Philippines, Turkey and Russia, Bob Dole just signed on to the budding campaign to improve the ties and the image of the Congo’s Kabila government in Washington, D.C.

When his law and lobbying firm office in D.C. contracted with Mer Security and Communications of Israel to further the foreign policy aims of Mobutu’s successor, it was Sen. Dole who signed the $500 k deal. Why the Congolese sought out an Israeli international security corporate power to gain influence and support in the U.S. is likely due to the moves under the Obama administration to penalize and pressure Congo’s elite to hold presidential elections as called for by the country’s constitution.

In a stunning reversal of the former administration’s policies vis a vis the Congo, less than two weeks after his inauguration, Trump’s administration had succeeded in getting both House and Senate to repeal the “Anti-Corruption” ruling of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as called for by the Cardin-Lugar Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank legislation . Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md) lamented the repeal vote in a statement noting that Section 1504 required “domestic and foreign oil, gas and mineral companies traded on U.S. stock exchanges to publish the payments they make to foreign governments”. He went on to state, “Big Oil might have won the battle today, but I’m not done fighting the war against entrenched corruption that harms the American people’s interests and leaves the world’s poor trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty while their leaders prosper.”

Congo’s day laborers make a few dollars a day while Congo’s elite reap payments from foreign mining corporations

The corruption in Congo and the “vicious cycle of poverty” there was specifically mentioned as the target in the discussions before passage of Section 1504. EXXON’s then CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were among the leading opponents of that congressional action back in 2010. With the quick repeal of the Cardin-Lugar “anti-corruption” measure, Congo’s current leaders could expect further support of the status quo by the Trump administration. The threats by Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to curtail U.S. funding for the UN Congo peacekeeping mission can now more clearly be seen as a pretext for realizing the neoconservative desire to weaken the UN and jeopardize U.S. funding of the international body and not in any way intended to undermine Kabila’s government. Haley’s chief adviser at the UN, former Heritage Foundation staff member Stephen Groves, assisted the most extensive congressional investigation ever of the UN in what became known as the Iraq “oil for food scandal” in the late 1990’s.

It is increasingly accepted that one of the UN’s principal aims in Congo, the facilitating of a free and fair presidential election, is now being countered on multiple fronts by the country’s ruling elite. In a blatant violation of the December 2016 agreement between the Kabila government and the opposition leadership, the current administration named a new Prime Minister on its own in April and thereby succeeded in further dividing the opposition’s coalition. Weakening the resistance to Kabila’s rule through naming of opponents to more than 50 cabinet level posts in the governing bureaucracy, violent repression of anti government demonstrations and the closing of non partisan and opposition media outlets outline the government’s plan to prolong indefinitely preparations for the elections in what is widely referred to as the “glissement” (slipping away) strategy.

Following the 2017 death of leading opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi and Kabila’s naming of other opponents to government posts a la Mobutu, the President’s maneuvers to delay elections has met with little parliamentary resistance.

With the signing of the huge $5.6 million contract with a term of December 8, 2016 to December 31, 2017, the ruling elite’s campaign to gain international acceptance is seriously under way. In the contract, Mer Security pledges to “represent” Congo’s government and advise on “U.S. policy and political concerns regarding African security issues”. Replying to an inquiry from the U.S. Center for Public Integrity, Mer Security’s CEO said in an email the firm was hired “to explore opportunities through which the U.S. government can support the DRC government in its efforts to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the Congolese people.”

Sen. Dole, and his Alston & Bird firm, will not be alone in his work on behalf of close relations for Congo’s elite with the current U.S. administration. Adnan Jalil who served as the Trump campaign’s liaison with the House of Representatives in 2016 has already received $45,000 from Mer Security for his Congo lobbying. Other than his work for Trump and as staffer for Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-North Carolina), Jalil has no experience in Congo and no background with political issues there. He stated, “the Congolese people, their safety and human rights can only improve if the United States takes an active and engaging role in the largest country in Africa”. In a deal that may be separate from the Mer Security agreement, the Kabila administration has also contracted with Cindy Courville, an Africa analyst for the Bush 2 administration, to “develop branding and public relations strategy” in the U.S. Her consulting firm will be paid $8000 per month under the contract terms.

“Beyond Vietnam 1967 to Congo 2016”

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Denis Mukwege has pioneered surgical treatment of gang rape victims in eastern Congo.  He is the son of pastors in the Pentecostal Church.
Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Denis Mukwege has pioneered surgical treatment of gang rape victims in eastern Congo. He is the son of pastors in the Pentecostal Church.

On April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King spoke out against the U.S. waging war on Vietnam. His “Beyond Vietnam” sermon will undoubtedly stand as a landmark speech in the history of the United States. Among the words of powerful prophecy we read,

“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality [applause], and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.”

Today a peaceful revolution is under way in the Congo. This revolution prevented the regime in power from changing the constitution last year to extend the president’s rule. Despite heightened repression of the opposition, demonstrations throughout the country this year have called on the government to prepare for the constitutionally- mandated presidential election. The response to these demonstrations has been arrests and attempts to silence Congolese citizens’ calls for change and their defense of the right to a free and fair presidential election in 2016.

One of those speaking out for change is the renowned Congolese doctor and founder of the leading clinic treating victims of the violence in eastern Congo. In a March talk at the French cultural center in Kinshasa, Dr. Denis Mukwege declared that in an election year which also brings the end of the President’s second term, “We have spoken too much of rape, of war and destruction; now is the time when we can also talk about development”. In response, the government’s spokesperson chastised the surgeon for “talking politics” and characterized his speech as “gross pandering” stating that he should focus on his medical work.

Within Congo, the government in power is attempting to silence even members of opposing political parties. In Equateur Province, the governor elected in March, M. Tony Patrick Bolamba, identifies himself as an “Independent”, which apparently is cause for suspicion. Since his election, the ruling party has attempted to unseat him to no avail. Their latest accusation challenged the validity of the new governor’s voter i.d. card. Such a trivial charge is another sign that the President’s party has been intent on preserving his rule indefinitely. In a “mini-gathering” of the ruling party held in Mbandaka two years ago its Secretary General declared, “We must enable the party and its founder (President Kabila) to hold on to power”.

What is the United States and other major foreign powers doing to support constitutionally-mandated change in Congo? What are the major powers doing to support the peaceful revolution under way now? Unfortunately, very little. Apart from statements calling for the election to be held, no action has been taken to bolster the people’s calls for change.

The focus of the major powers remains pacifying eastern Congo. On March 30, the UN Security Council voted to maintain the UN’s 20,000 member force for another year “to ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process.” Investing in reducing the mayhem and horror wrought by multiple armed groups plundering eastern Congo does little to nothing to support the holding of elections and the peaceful revolution carried out by the people of the country. The primary obstacle to holding free and fair presidential elections is not the marauding bandits of eastern Congo; the primary obstacle is in Kinshasa where the current government will never have, as the Mobutu regime never had, the popular backing nor the will to pacify the eastern region of the vast country. The latest UN resolution defies the regime’s desire to have the UN force reduced but does nothing to pressure the regime to prepare for the presidential election.

Why no sanctions on economic dealings of Congolese regime leaders as the U.S. has undertaken with respect to Venezuela? Why no withholding of aid to Congo by Belgium, France or the U.S.? Why no embargo imposed on Congolese exports? Maintaining UN troops in the East simply shores up the current regime’s armed forces and their enforcement of the status quo and stands in opposition therefore to the peaceful revolution in embryo throughout the country.

As achieved in South Africa, as well as in all the former Portuguese colonies including Mozambique, free and fair presidential elections will some day be held in Congo. It is the will and the dream of the Congolese people since independence from Belgian rule in 1960. The questions now are how much longer must they wait and at what cost? How the United States responds to the people’s organizing for change in Congo will have much to do with the answers to these questions.

Could it be that the U.S. embrace of political change in Congo will require profound change in the United States? Following the words quoted above from the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, the Baptist preacher declared,

“The words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Nearly fifty years later, we are still a long way in the U.S. from making the shift to that “person-oriented society” Martin Luther King envisioned. Does this mean the people of Congo cannot count on their nation’s leading benefactor, the U.S. government, to support them in their peaceful revolution? The answer to this question at this time has to be yes. Does this mean the Congolese should not count on friends in the U.S. to stand with them in their struggle for freedom? The answer to this question remains to be seen.

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The entire text of “Beyond Vietnam” can be found at the King archives’ site: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/multimediaentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/index.html

The March of the Christians in Congo

The U.S. Jewish World Watch is calling for "targeted sanctions" on the leaders of the Kabila regime to apply pressure for a presidential election  this year
The U.S. Jewish World Watch is calling for “targeted sanctions” on the leaders of the Kabila regime to apply pressure for a presidential election this year

On this day of February 16, in Congo, the “heart of Africa”, the largest demonstration was organized in opposition to the dictator Mobutu Sese Soko in 1992.  It was the first time Congolese Protestants and Catholics had come together on such a grand scale for any cause and it is known still in the country as the “March of the Christians”.   At least thirty persons, lay and clergypersons, were killed by troops and police during the non violent gatherings but it now marks the beginning of Mobutu’s decline and eventual flight from Congo in 1997.

As recently as December it was expected among Congolese leaders of the church and civil society that the Catholic Church would again take the lead in organizing another mass demonstration in the capital Kinshasa on this day.  Instead people are being urged to stay home away from school and work and thereby shut down the city in a call to the current ruler Joseph Kabila to hold the presidential elections as required this year by the nation’s Constitution.  It is being referred to as the “ville morte/dead city” protest and no one seems to know exactly why the Catholic Church continues its silence on this and any future mobilizations in support of the election.

Leading foreign political commentators on Congo agree that the Vatican has counseled Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo and other Church leaders to halt their former pointed and persistent calls for government action in organizing the elections.  There may been have been a clue of a shift in Vatican oversight of Congolese Church leadership with two

Pope Francis opens the Holy Door prior to declaring the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy  at the cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis opens the Holy Door prior to declaring the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy at the cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

developments toward the end of 2015.

The Church’s delegate to a Dakar Conference on elections in sub Saharan Africa in December left the meeting protesting the anti incumbent character of the proceedings and the need for the Church to maintain its position of “neutrality”.  The second development took shape with Pope Francis’ visits in Africa late in the year and the relative lack of attention paid to Congo, the country with more Catholics than any other on the continent.

In contrast with the Pope’s prophetic critiques of economic and political elites while visiting Mexico this week,  Pope Francis’s response to African authoritarian rule and genocide was to declare in a late November visit to Bangui, Central African Republic the year 2016 as the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Cardinal Monsengwo followed suit just before Christmas recapitulating the Pope’s proclamation of Mercy at Kinsahsa’s Cathedral and calling for prayers for the success of the elections in the coming year.

Three weeks ago, the veteran Belgian journalist/political scientist specializing in Congo Colette Braeckman quoted the Congolese Minister of the Interior’s comment that “big marches were ruled out; Christians should limit themselves to praying.”  In Braeckman’s view, there was no doubt of what was behind the Congolese Catholic Church’s shift in position: “while there were “marches of Christians” originally planned for February 26 (sic!), there were directives from Rome instructing the Congolese Conference of Catholic Bishops (CENCO) to stay out of politics”.

Meanwhile, there is little evidence of progress in the monumental task of organizing national elections in a vast country with impenetrable rain forests, abysmally poor roads and a history of chicanery and duplicity on the part of the regime in power.  During a lull in the fighting in Eastern Congo, the Kabila administration has focused on arrest and silencing of the opposition to its rule rather than preparing for a transition in leadership.  And at this time, the major powers historically involved in Congo, with the U.S. and the United Nations at the forefront, seem content to defer any pressure on behalf of the Congolese people’s aspirations for democracy and self rule in exchange for a period of relative calm.

In the view of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to the Congo, the risk of violence surrounding the elections especially in eastern Congo is simply too great. “In the absence of agreement on the electoral process, political polarization has heightened tensions and contributed to an atmosphere of increased harassment and human rights violations” Maman Sidikou reported to the UN Security Council last month.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo has powerfully advocated for peaceful leadership change in Congo in the past.  The US National Catholic Reporter touted him as a leading candidate to succeed Pope Benedict.
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo has powerfully advocated for peaceful leadership change in Congo in the past. The US National Catholic Reporter touted him as a leading candidate to succeed Pope Benedict.

The weakness, if not fallacy, of this view emerges when one first considers that the eastern Congo has been at war almost continually since Indepdendence of the Congo in 1960. Secondly, the violence associated with “increased harassment and human rights violations” takes place in Kinshasa on the other side of the country and has always been caused by brutal state-sponsored repression of non violent resistance and protest.  To associate or imply association of violence in Eastern Congo as stemming from the call for democratic elections in the country is completely misleading.  The people’s desire for a free and fair presidential election will be reflected in their peaceful participation in the “Dead City” general strike today in Kinshasa.

Whatever the outcome today, it is certain that it won’t be long before the Congolese people’s voice on behalf of their right to democratic self rule will be heard much louder and more clearly.  It is also certain that their struggle for peace – with justice!- will be a non violent one following the example of the Lord of Mercy.  The “March of the Christians” in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues.

 

Celebrating Women in Leadership

150 Congo Disciples women began their gathering this month with a march from the headquarters chapel to the cathedral Mbandaka III church. The meetings’ theme: “A wise woman takes action for development” (Prov 14:1) Photo by Nathan Weteto

Across Africa today, major change is taking place as a result of women in leadership.  While Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election and re-election in Liberia captures the headlines, it is grassroots women leading community development projects in rural and urban settings that signals significant change throughout Africa.  In Liberia, the election of President Sirleaf followed in the footsteps of the hundreds of women who marched for a peaceful resolution to thirty years of civil war in the country.  Elsewhere, it is often the women who lead in organizing the water projects, microcredit groups and agricultural programs that are saving communities from the ravages of climate change across the continent.

It is no different in Congo where the Disciples of Christ Community has made the education of women pastors a priority and recognized the traditions of patriarchy (polygamy among them) as a drag on the country’s development.  There is no more hopeful sign that God is indeed “making all things new” in Congo today than the emerging of women leaders in the Church and in Congolese civil society.  This blog celebrates the work of four Disciples women and the contributions they are making to healthier, more peaceful and more prosperous communities.

But first here’s a little history. A strong women’s movement characterized the newly “autonomous” (African led and governed) Disciples “Communaute” of the 1960’s.  Led by Mama Leale the women of the disciples Mbandaka parishes met regularly to celebrate

1969 Disciples women outside Mbandaka III church including Mama Leale, l. of center woman in blue, and Mama Entombodji to her left.

and support each other’s work in their respective parishes.  Disciples President Rev. Dr. Paul Elonda (later Elonda Ifefe) involved the women in the women in a two year process of theological dialog on polygamy.   As a result, Disciples called for monogamy as a requirement for pastors and church employees and defended the rights of women, and wives in particular, to assume active roles in the economy, civil society and church of the new nation

Revde. Christiane IKETE

Building on the legacy of strong women’s leadership embodied by her predecessors, Revde. Christiane Ikete has in recent years served as Director of the Disciples Office of Women and Family. Mama Christiane has helped organize the micro credit groups among the women of several Mbandaka parishes and most recently in the rural posts of Monieka, Boende, and Boyeka.  In the isolated, impoverished villages around Boyeka, initial distribution among 25 women of $2,159 after six months of loan activity provides a powerful incentive for organizing more micro credit groups.

Dedication festivities last year for the new Restaurant Entombodji

The sale of purses with cap made by Congolese Disciples women at the 2010 Women’s Quadrennial helped fund the initial phase of the Restaurant Entombodji next to the Disciple headquarters in Mbandaka.  Revde. Ikete envisions the Restaurant as providing training in food service and business management as well as tasty food for Mbandaka visitors and residents.  Several small shops behind the headquarters  have been leased to women entrepreneurs for years.

Revde. Janette Bafalanga

One of the first Mbandaka micro credit groups was organized at the dynamic Nouvelle Cite parish where Revde. Janette Bafalanga provided crucial leadership as Assistant Pastor in the parish. Women of the parish have also led in the parish’s aid programs for orphans, in organizing a highly successful preschool and in participation in the literacy classes at Nouvelle Cite.  (See  https://lokoleyacongo.wordpress.com/?s=nouvelle+cite                                             blog for more detail on the parish outreach programs)

In addition to her work at Nouvelle Cite, Mama Janette has also headed the Disciple headquarters’ Outreach and Service Department (“Diakonie”). That Department’s corn and manioc field on the outskirts of Mbandaka models for other parishes a profitable income generating project.  Mama Janette in 2010 hoped to fund new fields and service projects through purchase of a mill to process others’ produce as well as that of the Department’s field.  In 2011 Revde. Bafalanga became Senior Minister at Nouvelle Cite so the current status of the Diakonie projects is not known.

Revde. Madeline Bomboko

The first woman ordained by the Disciples in Congo, Revde. Bomboko, dared to reach out to women fleeing the catastrophic violence and mayhem in eastern Congo.  Meeting one woman who had walked one thousand kms. to what she hoped was safety in Mbandaka was the genesis of her Woman to Woman Listening Ministry that served over 50 refugee women.

Although most of the women had returned home when I met Revde. Bomboko in 2010, she introduced me to a woman whose entire family had been killed in the warfare and who considers Mbandaka her only home now.

(For more of the story see https://lokoleyacongo.wordpress.com/2010/10/)  The pain and suffering of Marie Sauve Vie and other refugee women had deeply touched Mama Madeline and the courageous openness and compassion of Mama Madeline’s response recalls W.H. Auden’s definition of Christian faith:

To choose what is difficult to do all one’s days and make it seem to be easy that is faith.”  (from For the Time Being )

We can celebrate that Revde. Bomboko now serves the Disciples parish next to the Mbandaka headquarters.  And she remains a good friend to Marie Sauve Vie.

Revde. Antoinette Bailu

With an outstanding academic record behind her, 2010 graduate of the Theology Department of the Protestant University of Congo, Revde. Bailu follows a large vision in her call to ministry.  Not only does she fill the traditional roles of pastor as Assistant Phe astor of Mbandaka I.  Revde. Antho has started agricultural projects in both the parishes she has served.  She reported in a recent email, “the pineapple field has begun producing but we need to hire a sentry and enclose the field as our produce continues to be stolen”.

In another recent email, she wrote, “In Equateur Province, our leading natural resource is the rainforest and we must take more advantage of it.”  She sees herself as a spokesperson for the importance of agriculture in the region’s economy and continues “to exhort my friends and fellow pastors to place more importance on developing projects in their parishes”.  She summed up her vision with these words, “I will hold to my mission of struggle against poverty through agricultural development and I know that in spite of difficulties I will achieve this goal”.

NOTE TO READER: This is the final lokoleyacongo post for the time being as Doug Smith and Kate Moyer complete preparations to begin a two year mission assignment with the Disciples and Congregational churches in Mexico.  To follow their work and commentaries on Mexican culture and society and  Mexican Protestant churches’ witness   go to their blog http://erasingborders.wordpress.com/ .  

To follow news of the Disciples of Christ Community in Congo, subscribe to the Community’s blog authored by Director of Communications, and micro credit trainer!,  M. Nathan Weteto at  http://natana.tumblr.com/

The Once and Future Lumumba

In a recent painting by a Congolese artist, the figures of Lumumba and his primary rival Kasavubu loom large
In a recent painting by a Congolese artist, the figures of Lumumba and his primary rival Kasavubu, in white, loom large

Following my last blog I have been reminded that there are people I respect and love who lived in Congo at the time of independence and hold a vastly different view of Patrice Lumumba.  When I read a former Congolese missionary’s recollection of Lumumba’s  “frantic and emotional ravings on the radio” I feel I owe him and you a direct response.

It would take a novel to reconstruct the atmosphere of fear and panic among nearly all whites in Congo in 1960 especially after Lumumba’s speech at the independence celebration on June 30.  That the Belgians present were so offended by the “truth telling” of Lumumba’s critique of Belgian colonialism indicates how unprepared the former rulers were for Congolese self rule.  The depth of Belgian loathing of Patrice Lumumba emerges clearly from the numbingly detailed and thorough account of The Assassination of Lumumba by Ludo De Witte.

Published in 2001, this book leaves no doubt that the Belgian government called for the elected Prime Minister’s torture and death at the hands of security officers and government officials of Belgium and the secessionist provinces of Katanga and South Kasai.  More telling though is the book’s evidence of the utter disdain and fear of the nationalist Lumumba among the Belgians.  Following his death, a leftist Belgian newspaper commented, “The press probably did not treat Hitler with as much rage and virulence as they did Patrice Lumumba”.

The De Witte book also notes the U.S.  backing, support and even plotting of the definitive elimination of the Congolese nationalist.

Head of the C.I.A. Allen Dulles wrote the Kinshasa station chief Devlin on August 26, 1960, “We concluded that his (Lumumba’s) removal must be an urgent and prime objective and that under existing conditions this should be a high priority of our covert action”. These efforts to remove Lumumba from power took place with the recognition that no other Congolese politician had a

Patrice Emery Lumumba July 2, 1925 - January 17, 1961
Patrice Emery Lumumba July 2, 1925 – January 17, 1961

comparable following or power to move the people. U.S. Ambassador Clare Timberlake in a 1960 memo to the State Department declared that Lumumba could enter a room of Congolese politicians as a waiter and emerge by the end of the meeting as the gathering’s elected leader. “Kasavubu will be a political zero as long as Lumumba is active” Timberlake wrote in another message.

This brings me to call attention to Lumumba’s naïve and touching trust of the U.S.  In the tape made by a reporter who visited him while in prison shortly before his death, he advanced the U.S. example as a template for the task his people faced:

“I remind you here of the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Congress of the United States in 1766 (sic), which proclaimed the overthrow of the colonial regime, the united colonies’ liberation from the British yoke, and thir transformation into a free and independent state.  The Congolese nationalists have thus merely followed in the footsteps of the French, Belgian, American, Russian and other nationalists. We have chosen only one weapon for our struggle: nonviolence.  The only weapon that would bring victory in dignity and honor.  Our watchword during the liberation campaign was always the immediate and total independence of the Congo.”

Those who would attribute the Congolese post- independence violence and mayhem to Lumumba’s words and not to the machinations of the West, must, in my view, account for the fifty plus years of war, dictatorial rule and increasing misery of the people of Congo after his death.  It is that deplorable record of Congolese rule in the context of neocolonial foreign control of the country’s resources that leads me to state that Congo has lost its way. The words of their first and only democratically elected leader have been suppressed and subsequent leaders have honored him without in any substantive way attempting to realize his vision.

Avenue Patrice Lumumba in Beira
“Avenue Patrice Lumumba in Beira” photo by South African artist in an exhibit documenting Lumumba hommages across Africa

Over the last 50 years, Lumumba’s stature as a spokesperson for the aspirations of oppressed peoples and as the prophet of the African liberation struggle in particular has grown.  As the African journalist Cameron Doudo wrote on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Lumumba’s death, “Patrice Lumumba is, next to Nelson Mandela, the iconic figure who most readily comes to mind when Africa is discussed in relation to its struggle against imperialism and racism”.

The major difference between Lumumba and Mandela’s political careers is that Mandela saw the strengthening of his African National Congress from inside the walls of his prison.   Despite Lumumba’s overwhelming grass roots support in 1960, his assassination cut woefully short his and his followers’ opportunity to organize for nation’s control of the country’s resources.  That is the great tragedy of Lumumba’s life and legacy.  In the midst of the multiple political parties organized on a tribal base of support, the creation of the MNC (National Congolese Movement) as a nation wide political party prior to the 1960 elections demonstrated that Lumumba’s powerful communication skills were matched by political organizing acumen.

Among the unrealized aspects of his legacy was Lumumba’s championing of the role of women in the new nation. In an early 1960 talk in Brussels he encouraged Belgian women in the audience to assist in the education of Congolese women for leadership.

“We want many Belgian girls to come to the Congo to teach and instruct our girls, and tomorrow the young ladies who are here will come to our country as welfare workers to educate our Congolese girls.  Our efforts tomorrow must  bring about a harmonious evolution of our peoples, and we want this evolution, the most fundamental one of all, especially that of our women, which has been somewhat neglected under the colonial regime – we want our women to have the same level of education that we men have, because when a man is educated, it is only the individual who is educated, but when a woman is educated, an entire family, an entire generation is educated.  We want many Congolese girls to come to Belgium tomorrow to get an education, and we want many Belgian girls to come to the Congo to teach and instruct our girls.  And it is so as to ensure equality between men and women that the Congolese movement demands the same political rights for women as for men.  We have proposed that both men and women eighteen or over be allowed to participate in the coming elections.  But certain reactionary circles, those that still insist on regarding women as servants are opposed to this plan and have a hand in the scheme to prevent this from happening.  I am certain that when I go back to the Congo, I shall conduct a noisy campaign on behalf of Congolese women.”

In concluding this overview of the Lumumba legacy, let’s consider what U.S. based Congolese political scientist Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja wrote on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the assassination,

“In Congo, Lumumba’s assassination is rightly viewed as the country’s original sin. Coming less than seven months after independence (on 30 June, 1960), it was a stumbling block to the ideals of national unity, economic independence and pan-African solidarity that Lumumba had championed, as well as a shattering blow to the hopes of millions of Congolese for freedom and material prosperity.”

One way to summarize the current state of the legacy would be that Lumumba’s ideal of national unity has been preserved at the cost of the nation’s economic independence and pan-African solidarity.

NOTE:  To read the entire Nzongola-Ntalaja article go to:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jan/17/patrice-lumumba-50th-anniversary-assassination

The Congo’s Vision Loss

  Patrice Lumumba, the Congo's first-elected Prime Minister is remembered around the world as an icon of African independence, but his legacy is more complicated at home

Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s first-elected Prime Minister is remembered around the world as an icon of African independence, but his legacy is more complicated at home

“But this is a people robbed and plundered, all of them are trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with no one to rescue, a spoil with no one to say, ‘Restore!”  Is 42:22

Like the people of Israel before their return from exile in Babylon, Congo today appears to be a land adrift, a nation state which has lost its bearings and its vision of what this newly independent nation in Africa might become.  It is therefore to be lamented that Patrice Lumumba’s comprehensive and compelling vision for the nation is largely neglected if not contradicted by the current regime and not known by the Congolese people, few of whom were alive in 1960.

Following the dedication of the Lumumba monument and statue in Kinshasa, the 2002 placement of Laurent Desire Kabila’s ostentatious mausoleum across from the Palais de la Nationsignaled where the current regime’s roots lie. In contrast to the international recognition and respect accorded the

Laurent Kabila statue and mausoleum with Palais de la Nation in the background
Laurent Kabila statue and mausoleum with Palais de la Nation in the background

legacy of Patrice Lumumba, the father of the current president has the reputation of a cowering opportunist whose rise to power in Congo resulted from Rwanda’s desire to unseat Mobutu and exploit the resources of eastern Congo.  The closest Laurent Kabila comes to resembling Lumumba is in his also having been assassinated.

 In a 2008 article by investigative journalist Christian Parenti titled “In Search of Lumumba: Congo’s Landscape of Forgetting” investigative journalist Christian Parenti found no traces of Lumumba’s political thought in the country’s politics or daily life today.  Parenti found that even those with access to the mass media outlets of Kinshasa have only a rudimentary understanding of Lumumba’s rise to power and what he stood for.  “He was our first President” a handyman at a Catholic mission told Parenti, and “he became a Communist” responded a university student.  An English teacher at a Jesuit high school told Parenti that in the Mobutu era, Congo history lessons focused on the President, “his family, his life”.  Parenti sums up his findings with “ Once dead, the memory of Lumumba is erased, then revived to prop up a dictator, then to legitimize the rebel who overthrew that dictator”.

So what of the Lumumba legacy can be recovered and applied to the restoration of the Congolese nation today?  Above all, there is the writing and speeches of a gifted and passionate defender of the rights of the Congolese people.  Within the pages of Lumumba Speaks, edited by Jean Van Lierde, there can be uncovered the outline of a plan of action for the rise of a free Congo as well as a free Africa.  There are excerpts which reveal Lumumba as a political pragmatist seeking to encourage the understanding if not the support of his opposition,

Europeans must recognize and come to accept the idea that the liberation movement that we are engaged in throughout Africa is not directed against them, nor against their possessions, nor against their persons, but purely and simply against the regime of exploitation and enslavement that we are no longer willing to tolerate. If they agree to put an immediate end to this regime instituted by their predecessors, we will live in friendship and brotherhood with them.” (from his speech at the University of Ibadan, March 22, 1959, sponsored by the Congress for the Freedom of Culture)

And there are excerpts so prescriptive and truthful regarding the history of his nation and the entire continent of Africa over the past fifty years as to rank him among the major prophets of the last century. The words that follow were tape recorded during Lumumba’s last days in prison shortly before his death,

The powers that are fighting us or fighting my government, under the false pretense that they are fighting communism, are in fact concealing their real intentions.  These European powers favor only those African leaders who are tied to their apron strings and deceive their people.  Certain of these powers conceive of their presence in the Congo or in Africa only as a chance to exploit their rich resources to the maximum by conniving with certain corrupted leaders.

This policy of corruption whereby every incorruptible leader is called procommunist and every leader who is a traitor to his country pro-Western must be fought.

We don’t want to tag along with any bloc.  If we aren’t careful, we will risk falling into a neocolonialism that would be as dangerous as the colonialism that we buried last June 30.  The imperialists’ strategy is to maintain the colonial system in the Congo and simply change the cast, as in a stage play, that is to say, replace the Belgian colonialists with neocolonialists who can be easily manipulated.

Among his speeches and writings, I have found no words associating the U.S. with the “European powers” determined to enforce a neocolonial status on Africa.  In the next blog, we will look at Lumumba’s trust of the U.S. as an inspiring former colony of the British Empire.  We will also lift up his emphasis on the rights of women and the priority he envisaged in the new Congo of educating women.

On Lumumba:

Copies of Lumumba Speaks are unfortunately hard to come by.  There is one copy in the County of Los Angeles Public Library system.  Congo, My Country by Lumumba is an extended essay on the country’s march to self rule written in early 1958; the first book is essential for reading his mature political thought.

More accessible today are the film by Raoul Peck Lumumba, available on Netflix for instant view, and the biography by Leo Zeilig Lumumba: Africa’s Lost Leader (Life and Times) 

The Christian Parenti article cited above is from the January 30, 2008 edition of In These Times magazine and though there are errors (Lumumba did NOT study abroad as stated) it is worth reading at:

http://inthesetimes.com/article/continued/3500/in_search_of_lumumba/

Is the World Ready for a Democratic Republic of Congo?

The Lumumba statue stands on Boulevard Lumumba, the thoroughfare leading from the Kinshasa airport to downtown
The Lumumba statue stands at a busy roundabout on Boulevard Lumumba, the thoroughfare leading from the Kinshasa airport to downtown

Given the response of the Obama administration and other western governments to the incumbent regime’s manipulation of the Congo’s electoral process, it seems clear that the West still does not support democratic rule in the most resource-endowed nation of Africa.  In a mid-February commentary for the “African Futures” blog,  Joshua Marks reports that the West’s position on the flawed election remains “dangerously in favor of the status quo of the last five years”. Marks concludes that the failure of current aid for Congo is thereby assured: “these signs of policy inertia could prove disastrous, since Western policies have so far done little to strengthen Congo’s governance, a key goal of many bilateral programs”.

Official acceptance of yet another rigged election in Congo by the U.S., Belgium and the other western powers raises the question of whether the West is yet ready to accept democracy (“rule of the people”) in Congo.  After fifty plus years of independent nation status, the reverse question of whether the Congolese people are ready for democratic rule still determines the West’s policies toward Congo. With the dismal record of Belgian colonial authorities in the field of higher education as the background, that question was repeated again and again in western media in the days leading up to the first election of 1960.

Although the question with all its racist overtones may still underlie the anti-democratic postures

In a cynical gesture to nationalism, worthy of Mobutu, Joseph Kabila had the statue and monument to Patrice Lumumba erected
In a cynical gesture to nationalism, worthy of Mobutu, Joseph Kabila had the statue and monument to Patrice Lumumba erected in 2002

and policies vis a vis Congo of the western powers, the 1960 voting results should provide decisive evidence that yes Congo was then and remains ready for self rule. In spite of the West’s attempts to silence and vilify him, Patrice Lumumba was the clear choice of the people in the Congo’s first national election.  Lumumba’s eloquently expressed vision of a free and independent Congo remains the charter for social and political progress in the nation today.

Contrary to the charges that Lumumba’s brand of militant nationalism excluded whites from Congo, the public record of his speeches (see Lumumba Speaks  , Jean Van Lierde editor) indicates that again and again the powerful orator envisioned cooperation of progressive whites in the development of Congo.  The public record is also clear that the attempts to shove aside Lumumba after his election as Prime Minister were met again and again by mass support in nearly every corner of the nation.  He was without question the leading spokesperson for the unity of a Congo free of foreign control.  And it is important to note that Congolese politicians of every ideology and stripe extol his legacy today.

One aspect of this legacy comes to the fore in the aftermath of the conflicts in eastern Congo now widely referred to as “Africa’s world war”.  Patrice Lumumba’s vision of an independent Congo free of foreign control was often related to his vision of a united Africa.   True independence for the formerly colonized nation states of Africa depended,  in Lumumba’s view, on the creation of a continent wide body strong enough to protect and advance the interests of the diverse peoples of the continent.  With the hindsight of more than fifty years of seemingly fruitless effort to establish a nation free of foreign control in the former Belgian colony, Lumumba’s prescient vision may represent the only way to ensure that the Congolese people truly benefit from the vast resources of their homeland.

Participation in the plunder of Congo’s resources by Uganda, Rwanda and other African nations betrays Lumumba’s vision, but it may well be that the day will come when Africa sees that its peace and progress depends on a strong, united and peaceful nation at the continent’s heart.  While the words Lumumba wrote to his wife just before his death may now seem more ironically tragic than prophetic, there can be little doubt that they will be extolled and recited by those who finally take part in Congo’s liberation,

“We are not alone.  Africa, Asia, and the free and liberated people in every corner of the globe will ever remain at the side of the millions of Congolese who will not abandon the struggle until the day when there will be no more colonizers and no more of their mercenaries in the country.  I want my children to be told that the future of the Congo is beautiful and that their country expects them, as it expects every Congolese, to fulfill the sacred task of rebuilding our independence, our sovereignty; for without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men.”