Martin Luther King on Our March to Freedom

Postage stamp issued by Ghana two years after Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown in a 1966 military coup
Postage stamp issued by Ghana in 1968

Soon after the desegregation of public transportation in December, 1956 in the city of Montgomery, Alabama, Martin Luther King attended the festivities celebrating the independence of Ghana in West Africa.  Ghana was the first English speaking African nation to achieve independence and Dr. King drew inspiration and strength from this historic milestone.  The Sunday after his return to the U.S. he preached at his Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery on Ghana’s, and our own, march toward freedom and liberation.

The following excerpts from the sermon speak to Congolese and to us all as we seek the “freedom land” God intended for us as human beings.  The dots indicate the end of an excerpt.  To read the sermon in its entirety, go to:

http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/the_birth_of_a_new_nation/

“There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom. There is something deep down within the very soul of man that reaches out for Canaan. Men cannot be satisfied with Egypt. They tried to adjust to it for awhile. Many men have vested interests in Egypt, and they are slow to leave. Egypt makes it profitable to them; some people profit by Egypt. The vast majority, the masses of people never profit by Egypt, and they are never content with it. And eventually they rise up and begin to cry out for Canaan’s land    .……

And this was the struggling that had been going on for years. It was now coming to the point that this little nation was moving

Dr. and Mrs. King met Vice President Nixon for the first time at the Independence Ball
Dr. and Mrs. King met Vice President Nixon at the Independence Ball

toward its independence. Then came the continual agitation, the continual resistance, so that the British Empire saw that it could no longer rule the Gold Coast. And they agreed that on the sixth of March, 1957, they would release this nation. This nation would no longer be a colony of the British Empire, that this nation would be a sovereign nation within the British Commonwealth. All of this was because of the persistent protest, the continual agitation on the part of Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah and the other leaders who worked along with him and the masses of people who were willing to follow. ……….

And when Prime Minister Nkrumah stood up before his people out in the polo ground and said, “We are no longer a British colony. We are a free, sovereign people,” all over that vast throng of people we could see tears. And I stood there thinking about so many things. Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment.

After Nkrumah had made that final speech, it was about twelve-thirty now. And we walked away. And we could hear little children six years old and old people eighty and ninety years old walking the streets of Accra crying, “Freedom! Freedom!” They couldn’t say it in the sense that we’d say it—many of them don’t speak English too well—but they had their accents and it could ring out, “Free-doom!” They were crying it in a sense that they had never heard it before, and I could hear that old Negro spiritual once more crying out:

Free at last! Free at last!

Great God Almighty, I’m free at last!  ..……

And I want to take just a few more minutes as I close to say three or four things that this reminds us of and things that it says to us—things that we must never forget as we ourselves find ourselves breaking loose from an evil Egypt, trying to move through the wilderness toward the promised land of cultural integration. Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. And if Nkrumah and the people of the Gold Coast had not stood up persistently, revolting against the system, it would still be a colony of the British Empire. Freedom is never given to anybody, for the oppressor has you in domination because he plans to keep you there, and he never voluntarily gives it up. And that is where the strong resistance comes. Privil­­eged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance. ……………….

It says to us another thing. It reminds us of the fact that a nation or a people can break loose from oppression without violence. Nkrumah says in the first two pages of his autobiography, which was published on the sixth of March—a great book which you ought to read—he said that he had studied the social systems of social philosophers and he started studying the life

The Duchess of Kent dancing with President Nkrumah symbolized for Dr. King the "beloved community" non violent struggle sought to create
The Duchess of Kent dancing with President Nkrumah foreshadowed for Dr. King the “beloved community” non violent struggle seeks to create

of Gandhi and his techniques. And he said that in the beginning he could not see how they could ever get loose from colonialism without armed revolt, without armies and ammunition, rising up. Then he says after he continued to study Gandhi and continued to study this technique, he came to see that the only way was through nonviolent positive action. And he called his program “positive action.” And it’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? That here is a nation that is now free, and it is free without rising up with arms and with ammunition. It is free through nonviolent means. Because of that the British Empire will not have the bitterness for Ghana that she has for China, so to speak. Because of that, when the British Empire leaves Ghana, she leaves with a different attitude than she would have left with if she had been driven out by armies. We’ve got to revolt in such a way that after revolt is over we can live with people as their brothers and their sisters. Our aim must never be to defeat them or humiliate them.   ………

But finally Ghana tells us that the forces of the universe are on the side of justice. That’s what it tells us, now. You can interpret Ghana any kind of way you want to, but Ghana tells me that the forces of the universe are on the side of justice. That night when I saw that old flag coming down and the new flag coming up, I saw something else. That wasn’t just an Ephemeral, evanescent event appearing on the stage of history, but it was an event with eternal meaning, for it symbolizes something. That thing symbolized to me that an old order is passing away and a new order is coming into being. An old order of colonialism, of segregation, of discrimination is passing away now, and a new order of justice and freedom and goodwill is being born. That’s what it said: that somehow the forces of justice stand on the side of the universe, and that you can’t ultimately trample over God’s children and profit by it.  ……….

And I say to you this morning, my friends, rise up and know that, as you struggle for justice, you do not struggle alone, but God struggles with you. And He is working every day. Somehow I can look out, I can look out across the seas and across the universe, and cry out, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” Then I think about it, because His truth is marching on, and I can sing another chorus: “Hallelujah, glory hallelujah! His truth is marching on.”

Then I can hear Isaiah again, because it has profound meaning to me, that somehow, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every hill shall be made low; the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

That’s the beauty of this thing: all flesh shall see it together. Not some from the heights of Park Street and others from the dungeons of slum areas. Not some from the pinnacles of the British Empire and some from the dark deserts of Africa. Not some from inordinate, superfluous wealth and others from abject, deadening poverty. Not some white and not some black, not some yellow and not some brown, but all flesh shall see it together. They shall see it from Montgomery. They shall see it from New York. They shall see it from Ghana. They shall see it from China.

For I can look out and see a great number, as John saw, marching into the great eternity, because God is working in this world, and at this hour, and at this moment. And God grants that we will get on board and start marching with God, because we got orders now to break down the bondage and the walls of colonialism, exploitation, and imperialism, to break them down to the point that no man will trample over another man, but that all men will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. And then we will be in Canaan’s freedom land.”

Do We Believe in Congo?

Rev. Jean Bokeleale with Rev. Thomas Roughface of the Cherokee Nation at a World Council of Churches gathering in the early 1970's
Rev. Jean Bokeleale with Rev. Thomas Roughface of the Cherokee Nation at a World Council of Churches gathering in 1969

With the union of the sixty plus missionary-founded church bodies in 1969, the Church of Christ of Congo (Eglise du Christ au Congo – ECC) became the largest French-speaking Protestant Church in the world.  Under the leadership of the Disciple Rev. Jean Bokeleale, elected President of the fledgling united Church in 1968, the Protestants gained equal status in the new nation that had been seen as predominantly Roman Catholic during the colonial era.

Protestant missionaries provided health and education services for decades with no subisdies from the Belgian colonial administration which exclusively supported Catholic services until 1946.  At the time of independence in 1960, Protestants remained a minority religion although counting 25% of the population, about half the number of Congolese Catholics.

Rev. Bokeleale, who eventually took the title of Monsignor, succeeded in elevating the Protestants’ status in the new independent nation through adulation of the increasingly authoritarian rule of Mobutu Sese-Soko. In an excellent article on “Zaire Protestants and the Decline of Mobutu” a Congolese studying in Strasbourg wrote in 1991, “The Church (the E.C.C.) distinguished itself by its unconditional support for the regime and the person of President Mobutu”.[1]  In a 1995 pastoral letter to the E.C.C. titled “The Eternal Marginalisation of the Protestants in Our Country is a Danger Not Only Today but Especially for Future Generations”[2], Mgr. Bokeleale presented his case for siding with Mobutu’s rule.

The majestic Protestant Cathedral erected next to the Congolese parliament building in Kinshasa as well as other ECC properties in the capital stand as testimony to the success of Mgr. Bokeleale’s political strategy.  Among the continuing costs and consequences of this strategy is the seemingly “unconditional support” for the Kabila administration of the current ECC leadership of Mgr. Pierre Marini Bodho.  Prior to marching to the Electoral Commission to declare his candidacy for President in last November’s election, Joseph Kabila and family participated in a service at the Protestant Cathedral led by Mgr. Marini.  In a sermon which could only be construed as a blessing of the Kabila right to rule, Mgr. Marini declared that it is God who “chooses the one to rule and communicates the program to be undertaken”.

But lest we be seen as judging past or present Congolese Church leadership, let us consider U.S. complicity in authoritarian rule in the country.  Let us consider the fact that since 1960 it is the U.S. who has been the principal source of foreign aid and has played the leading role in post independence events in Congo from the assassination of Patrice Lumumba to the elevation of Joseph Kabila to his 2006 position as the youngest head of state in the world.  Let us consider that the U.S. policy emphasis on security in Congo is in part responsible for the warfare in Eastern Congo that has claimed the lives of over five million people in the last fourteen years.

Lest we American Protestant Christians who love Congo continue to content ourselves with thoughts

Kinshasa Electoral Commission Headquarters which a Methodist Clergyman Headed for the 2011 Election
Kinshasa Electoral Commission Headquarters which a Methodist Clergyman Headed for the 2011 Election

that we can do nothing about political change in Congo, let us consider what we are doing now to support the courageous Congolese who declare that the election was a travesty of democracy.  Yes, it is true that our holy scripture and our reading of history tells us that it is the Congolese who will liberate themselves from oppression and foreign control of their resources.  But we who know Congo and Congolese for longer than policy makers in D.C. and who represent church bodies with a longer history in Congo than even the U.S. government, we should have something to say and be able to do something more about the current crisis in Congo than wring and throw up our hands about the continued exploitation and violence in Congo.

We can make clear that we who believe in the God of liberation and justice stand in support of those Congolese who expect and demand political leaders to represent their highest aspirations and be held accountable for what they do with the power entrusted to them.  We can make clear that we believe in the Congolese people’s right to self rule and their capacity to rule in a manner that furthers all the people’s sharing in the country’s wealth.  We can make clear that our faith promises a bright future for Congo, for the Congolese people and for all of Africa.  By doing so, we will have made clear we believe in Congo.


[1]“Protestantisme Zairois et Declin du Mobutuisme”, Philippe Kabongo-Mbaya, Researcher at University of Strasbourg, Politique Africaine, 1991

[2] “La marginalization eternelle des Protestants dans notre pays est un danger non seulement aujourd’hui mais surtout pour les generations futures”, Lettre pastorale, Bokeleale Itofo Bokambanza, 1995,  Kinshasa publication of the Eglise du Christ au Zaire

Here’s a prize for those who have read this far;  click on the blue type that follows to access the web link for last Sunday’s CBS News 60 Minutes report from Kinshasa: 60 Minutes Presents the Kimbanguiste Symphony Orchestra . Go to the 13 minute video at the bottom of the page for the “Ode to Joy” performed as you have never heard and felt it before.

The Real Results of the Congo Election

There are 80 million hectares of arable land in Congo
There are 80 million hectares of arable land in Congo

We are accustomed to reading about the violence on women and children in the eastern Congo but what about the deaths caused daily by the country’s “highest rates of malnutrition in the world”?   Consider these other facts from the IRIN (UN) News article published on February 17:

–      “90 percent: Proportion of arable land not cultivated, largely due to insecurity preventing access to fields and markets.

–      69 percent: Prevalence of under-nutrition in the DRC; up from 26 percent in 1990-92. Under-nutrition includes being underweight for one’s age, too short for one’s age (stunted), dangerously thin (wasted) and deficient in vitamins and minerals (micronutrient malnutrition).

–      Congo’s per capita daily protein intake is almost half the world’s average daily protein consumption.”

You can eliminate over population, ignorance, or any other factor that would point a finger at the rural majority of people in Congo.  According to the IRIN article, there has been a 544 drop in daily calories consumed per capita comparing 1992 and 2007 (2,195 kcal and 1,651 kcal, respectively).  Acute malnutrition caused by a “sudden, drastic decline in nutrition intake” is now experienced by over 10 per cent of the population in 53 of the Congo’s 87 “territories”.  The decline in food production and food intake since 1992 points to the state administration as impeding Congolese trying to grow their own food.

The primary factor behind children’s deaths and low life expectancy in Congo is the succession of

Civil Society is Weakened and Repressed in Congo; here a priest is arrested last week in Kinshasa
Civil Society is repressed and weakened in Congo; here a priest is arrested last week in Kinshasa

predatory regimes beholden to foreigners intent on exploiting the riches of the country. As the late Cardinal and Archbishop of Kinshasa Frederic Etsou declared just after Joseph Kabila’s first election in 2006, “,  “I say no to this exercise in imposing on the Congolese people a candidate whose sole mandate is to satisfy the gluttonous and predatory appetites of his foreign handlers”.  Until international donor nations withhold support for ruling administrations who directly and indirectly war on their own people, thousands of children in Congo will succumb to malnutrition before reaching the age of five.

In a powerful recent article from the Guardian Global Development Network (London) journalist Chris Bird describes one South Kivu family’s ordeal in a pediatric hospital.  Bird writes, “I quickly felt the child’s feet – icy cold. A careful look at Beatrice showed that all the curves and dimples of a healthy child’s face had shrunk, leaving the forbidding lines of a woodblock print. Beatrice was alert, but silent, which formed an ominous void amid the rheumy eyes that grew dimmer as she seemed to fall into it.

The nursing staff went into action. They gave her glucose to prevent low blood sugar, antibiotics through the drip to fight off infection; they advised her mother to keep her warm, as hypothermia takes the lives of many of these children at night. Careful fluid management and gentle refeeding was started: give too little and the child will succumb to dehydration and shock; too much and the child will die of heart failure.”

But Beatrice’s treatments began too late and Bird describes the parents reaction: “Beatrice’s mother sobbed as we wrapped her daughter in the green cotton cloth in which she was brought. Her father lifted her easily in his arms and left the hospital, his face immobile. Her mother walked, crying, behind him, stopping on the dirt road from time to time as she doubled up in grief. An elderly man going the other way, a Red Cross armband on his left arm, dismounted his bicycle and gave a formal salute to the family as they walked past.”

In an attempt to come to grips with what lies behind the death of Beatrice and countless childen in Congo today, Bird concludes, “Where I am in the east it is green and lush, but after years of war, insecurity and economic collapse, all the children in our tent are malnourished to some degree. It is this underlying weakness that determines how children respond to the infectious diseases that claim their lives with unrelenting regularity.”

While in Mbandaka, Equator Province, far from the fighting in the East, in the summer of 2010,  I asked my cook Papa Jean what happened to his brood of fifty plus chickens.  “They were all taken by the soldiers” he explained.  The Congolese army deployed to protect the citizens of the city of half million plus inhabitants had rioted three times in the years just prior to my Mbandaka stay.  The soldiers had not been paid because their commanders had pocketed the Army’s funding. Is this the kind of security for Congo we want to help provide with our $900 milllion in U.S. aid this year?

To read Chris Bird’s article “The Silent Cost of Child Malnutrition” go to:

http://allafrica.com/stories/201202171371.html

Dear Mr. President: Help End the Violence in Congo Now

29 Year Old Joseph Kabila took power in 2001 with no training or experience in governing
29 Year Old Joseph Kabila took power in 2001 with no training or experience in governing

In support of the Catholic Church in Congo’s call for resistance to the Kabila administration’s control of the election results, and in response to the Presbyterian Church (USA) urgent call for action in support of democratic rule in Congo, I’ve written the letter below to President Obama.  I’ll be mailing copies of the letter to Secretary of State Clinton and all members of the Senate and House Subcommittees on Africa.

Add your voice to those advocating an end to the cycle of violence in Congo. To assist us, a packet with sample letters and a sample script has been compiled by the Presbyterians. Access the 26  pages of resources by going to this web address:

http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/global/pdf/materials-congo-advocacy-pack.pdf

Included in the packet is the powerful message of the Congo’s Catholic Bishops “to the Catholic faithful and to all the Congolese people”. Let us keep in prayer Archbishop Monsengwo and other clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, who will be calling for an end to the violence in Congo on February 16 and beyond.  Our prayers and expressions of solidarity with them and all those standing up for free and fair elections in the country will strengthen their efforts.

Dear Mr. President:

Next week people in the Democratic Republic of Congo will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of another massacre of fellow citizens in their beleaguered, tragic march toward truly independent self rule.  On February 16, 1992, at least thirty persons were killed during a peaceful demonstration in the streets of their capital city of Kinshasa.  They were holding candles after leaving worship that Sunday, signifying their hope that the Sovereign National Conference would be reconvened.  Once

Voters such as those pictured here in Kisangani waited for hours to vote in the November presidential/legislative election
Voters such as those pictured here in Kisangani waited for hours to vote in the November presidential/legislative election

again, the Congolese hunger for peace and justice to rule in their country had been denied by the forces of the reigning dictator Mobutu.

When the U.S. finally made clear its opposition to Mobutu’s rule in 1996-97, it was too late.  Upwards of eight hundred thousand people had been slain in Rwanda, and the rape and pillaging leading to five million deaths in Congo were to soon begin. Since Congo’s independence in 1960, successive U.S. administrations have backed authoritarian, repressive rule in the country. Our support as the DRC’s foremost international “friend” has helped to deny the highest aspirations and fundamental rights of the Congolese people.

Since the accession to power of 29 year old President Joseph Kabila, two elections have been held in Congo and both have supposedly resulted in the people’s endorsement of this young man’s rule.  The Congolese people don’t buy the fiction of his victory in either election and see both elections as expensive charades which mock and oppose their rights and their will.

At the time of his rise to the presidency as the son of his assassinated father, Joseph Kabila was a virtual unknown.  When the election was held in 2006, he still did not speak Lingala, the language of the capital city where nearly  ten million people live.  Many saw him as an outsider who had spent  most of his adult life in neighboring countries.  He was far from capable of representing the aspirations of the Congolese people with no credentials or background for leading a complex nation with over fifty million people and the greatest wealth in natural resources on the continent of Africa.

On December 14 police round up Tshisekedi's UPDS supporters in Lubumbashi
On December 14 police round up Tshisekedi's UPDS supporters in Lubumbashi

To turn our backs on the Kabila administration’s most recent staging of a sham exercise in democracy would be to condemn this tragic nation to further violent repression of the people’s rights.  It would be to allow once again the hope represented by those thousands of candles lit twenty years ago to be snuffed out.  It would be to condone the continuing cycle of violence caused by dictatorial rule and the support of the U.S. for such rule.

Having followed and studied the background to events in the Congo for more than forty years, I would call your attention to the conclusion of the leading U.S. political scientist on Congo regarding the November presidential polling there.  It is, according to Prof. Nzongola-Ntalaja, “now or never” for the people of Congo.  Should the Kabila administration be allowed to fortify its hold on power with another bogus election there is no stopping Congo’s further descent into chaos and death as the people struggle for self rule.

Mr. President, your hands are not tied and there is another leader ready to take power in Congo.  At present, we are planning to put $900 million in aid into Congo.  Surely we can do more to advance democracy in Congo by withholding such aid until the people’s support for M. Etienne Tshisekedi’s leadership is recognized. M. Tshisekedi may not be the choice of the U.S. to lead the Congo.  But since Mobutu removed him from the position of Prime Minister in 1991, he has embodied the people’s aspirations for an end to military dictatorship. Help turn the hope of the Congolese people into joy by a clear affirmation of his right and the people’s right to a free and fair election of their nation’s President.

Join with the people of Congo in honoring the memory of the martyrs of February 16, 1992 by withholding aid from Congo until a coalition government begins rule in Congo and prepares for the next presidential election in five years. Join in holding aloft the torch of liberty represented by our nation and help bring to an end the cycle of violence in Congo.  Join in stopping the bleeding at the heart of Africa. It’s “now or never” Mr. President.

Sincerely yours,

Rev. Douglas W. Smith

Worldwide protests against the Kabila Administration's rule have recently been organized.  Antwerp's demonstration is pictured here
Worldwide protests against the Kabila Administration's rule have recently been organized. Antwerp's demonstration is pictured here

Catholic Clergy Calling for Mass Civil Disobedience in Congo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widening Rejection of Congo Election Results

Finding Your Name on the Registered Voter List
Finding Your Name on the Registered Voter List

In what could b e a turning point for opposition to the rule of Joseph Kabila’s administratin in Congo, the Catholic Church’s Conference of Bishops in Congo on January 12 harshly criticized the conduct of the national elections.  CENCO’s statement , titled “Courage and Truth”, called on the Electoral Commission appointed by the incumbent President to either “fix the irregularities that have dented the people’s trust in the institution or else resign”.

CENCO’s position follows its December 4 expressions of doubt concerning the proclamation of Joseph Kabila as victor in the November 28 election.  Based on the reports of 30,000 observers deployed by the Catholic Church to polling places throughout Congo, Cardinal Monsengwo declared that the results do not “conform to truth or justice”.  The Catholic church is merely one of many institutions of Congolese civil society now openly calling into question the results of both the presidential election and the subsequent vote count to make up the national legislature.   Congolese NGO The Voice of the Voiceless (La Voix des Sans Voix) has called for new elections following a process agreed on by the administration and the opposition represented by M. Etienne Tshisekedi.

The adminstration’s response to date has been to maintain a climate of fear sown during the months leading up to the election.  The CSAC government agency created two months before the election to oversee the nation’s media  banned the opposition networks in the Kinshasa on the day of the vote and this past week took a leading radio/television station in Katanga province, a Kabila stronghold, off the air.  The Congolese NGO Journalists in Danger has called for the abolition of the CSAC “after numerous cases of interference by politicians and security services in the affairs of the media”.

Most foreign governments have adopted a “wait and see” policy towards what is evolving as a full fledged political crisis

Riot police disrupt Tshisekedi rally in Kinshasa
Riot police disrupt Tshisekedi rally in Kinshasa

in Congo.  One exception is Belgium whose newly elected prime minister wrote Kabila a letter of congratulations.  Given the real possibility that the Congolese people will reject Kabila’s rule, the prime minister’s letter seems premature and inept.  Stability of the country, long the foremost aim of western nations’ Congo policies, will not be achieved by such a flagrant abuse of democratic process as the people have witnessed with this recent election.

Disciples Communication Director M. Nathan Weteto’s  commentary on the Catholic bishops’ latest statement confirms the depth and breadth of the people’s rejection of the election results.  M. Weteto wrote on January 14, “They (the Bishops, ed.) have concluded that the Congolese people have been deceived but they couild have said without fear of being contradicted that the people are furious with this deprivation of their civil rights”.

As the U.S. based Friends of the Congo blog wrote this month, “The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is at a critical juncture in its tenuous march towards peace and stability. The Kabila regime suffers from a severe crisis of legitimacy and the future of the democratic project is in the balance. Stability will be fleeting without legitimacy. What is at stake in the Congo is not merely an election but respect for the will of a people and the future of democracy in the heart of Africa.”

Exercising the right to vote in Kindu
Exercising the right to vote in Kindu

Should the people’s will continue to be scorned, there will be violence writes M. Weteto,  “We all know that the Congolese people do not want war and violence but a solution to this crisis without foreign intervention will not be possible.”  And what has been the response of Congo’s leading donor nation, the U.S. to the election??  While characterizing the elections as “seriously flawed”, Secretary of State Clinton did not intimate withholding of $900 million in U.S. aid nor did she express reservations about the legitimacy of Kabila’s continued rule of Congo.  This toothless response to the crisis hardly is consistent with President Obama’s call in his Accra, Ghana speech for “strong institutions” and not “strong men” in Africa.

Now is the time, M. Weteto implores, for “those who love Congo” to speak out for democratic rule in Congo.

Each of us reading this blog can surely find something we are comfortable doing in this list below of suggestions from the www.friendsofthecongo.org web site.  Help support the right of Congolese to a vote that really counts and makes a difference.

Take Action:
1. Contact world leaders to demanding that they refrain from recognize Joseph Kabila as President of the DRC.
2. Demand that the technical team from the United States and England assess both the legislative and presidential results.
3. Demand a cessation of aid until the truth of both the Presidential and Legislative elections are determined.
4. Join Congolese in their demonstrations around the globe.
5. Demand that President Obama enforces PL 109-456 that calls for the US to support democracy in the Congo.
6. Demand that your government support the recommendations of the UN Mapping Exercise Report that calls for accountability, justice and an end to the impunity in the Congo and Great Lakes Region of Africa.
7. Participate in teach-ins to learn about what is at stake in the Congo and the nature of Congo’s democratic movement.
8. Support organizing and mobilizing efforts on the ground
9. Lend your talents, skills and expertise in translation (French to English) Public Relations, Marketing and Fundraising)
10. Make a contribution to the organizing efforts inside and outside of the Congo.

The Two Congos

Politics in Congo Remain as Chaotic as this Polling Place
Politics in Congo Remain as Chaotic as this Polling Place After the Election

It’s a somber beginning to the new year in Congo.  The hope for political change brought on by the nationwide election has been met by the repression and chicanery of the current administration.  Cries of protest against the conduct of the election and the vote count have been muffled if not silenced by brute force.  The leading opposition candidate for the presidency in the 2006 election (Jean Pierre Bemba) remains on trial in the International Criminal Court and the current opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi languishes under virtual arrest in his home in Kinshasa.

Congolese in Washington, D.C. and Other World Capitals Organized Demonstrations Against the Conduct and Results of the Election
Congolese in Washington, D.C. and Other World Capitals Organized Demonstrations Against the Conduct and Results of the Election

What will come out of the vote count, assisted by British and U.S. delegations, to seat the national legislature would seem to promise little for the economic prospects or the civil rights of the Congolese people over the next five years.  Two widely circulated recent studies rank the Congo dead last on important scales of well being.  The U.N. Human Development Index ranks the Congo 183rd among 183 of the world’s nations.  And a grim article in The New York Times of January 2 reports on the International Food Policy Research Institute finding that hunger is widespread in Kinshasa and the country as a whole.

The Institute found that the Congo is the only country where the food situation worsened from “alarming” to “extremely alarming” in the last year.  Half the people in the country are under nourished.  In reading The Times article focusing on hunger in Kinshasa, I kept thinking about Mbandaka Disciples pastor Frederic Lombe (featured in the last blog) telling me his one meal of the day comes in the evening.

Agricultural development is neglected by the Congo’s government concluded the Institute. Its report noted that only one percent of the national budget is devoted to agriculture and the country now imports beans and other food that could be grown in Congo. The government’s priority has long been development of the nation’s minerals’ extraction operations.

The current food shortages throughout Congo, read the entire Times article at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/03/world/africa/in-congolese-capital-power-cut-applies-to-food.html?_r=2&emc=eta1,

present a stark background to the Disciples and other church bodies’ agricultural development projects.  Projects like the Disciples Ikengo project, started in 1970, the palm oil plantation near Bokungu and the communal fields sponsored

30 Women in Rural Boyeka Brought $117.50 to their First Microcredit Group Meeting with Hopes of Distributing $2100 in Six Months
30 Women in Rural Boyeka Brought $117.50 to their First Microcredit Group Meeting with Hopes of Distributing $2100 in Six Months

by many Disciples parishes are critical sources of food for the population in the surrounding area.  For the parishes, sale of food grown is a leading source of funds for the education and health services of the parish.

In the context of government neglect, the Church’s role in micro-economic development is also highlighted by the contributions of Church microcredit organizing to household budgets.  A recent posting by Disciples Communication Director Nathan Weteto reported that many Church organized microcredit groups distributed earnings in November and December which enabled members’ households to celebrate the new year.  A sum of $18,437 was shared at year’s end by the thirty plus members of the Mbandaka Disciples pastors’ wives group.  This brought joy “in spite of the tumultuous situation in the country” in M. Weteto’s words.

M. Weteto’s report last month of a new microcredit group in rural Boyeka projecting earnings of $2100 in six months and recent postings on building projects in two Mbandaka parishes remind us that there are in fact two Congos.  There is a Congo struggling with despair and a Congo charged by hope and faith. There is a Congo riven by greed and conflict and a Congo united by a vision of sharing the abundance of a lavishly blessed land.  There is a Congo weighted with doubt and a Congo celebrating the seeding of a new day.

We also are reminded of the importance of our prayers and solidarity with Congo by the Christmas and New Year’s greetings written by Disciples President Rev. Eliki Bonanga.  Rev. Bonanga writes on M. Weteto’s blog:

“We remember with appreciation those of our friends who follow our news reported on the blog www.natana.tumblr.com and are moved by their prayers for our Church and for the nation as a whole.  We cannot forget those who have responded every time we have needed help. Our prayer then is that God who reigns over all might continue to bless them through their compassion.”

Text messaging may be banned today in Congo but there are some important messages that cannot and will not be silenced even in Congo.

A Different Kind of Congo Election

A Kinshasa Voter Holds Official Voter''s I.D. Card
A Kinshasa Voter Holds Official Voter''s I.D. Card

This Congo election has a different feel to it. Yes, there is widespread chicanery at the polling places. Yes, the current administration has done its best to rig the polling in its favor.  Yes, the foreign governments with major economic interests in Congo have trained the security forces to keep a lid on dissent.  But you can’t look at the pictures in the gallery displayed here and turn away thinking this is just another sham election in Congo. 

Certainly the uprisings worldwide of people demanding a say in how they are ruled have also made a difference.  The

Recent Demonstration in Washington Calling for Free and Fair Congo Elections
Recent Demonstration in Washington Calling for Free and Fair Congo Elections

Congolese are starved for news of world politics and even lack reporting on developments in Congo with great impact on their lives.  But what has happened this year in Libya, in Tunisia and Egypt and most recently in Russia demonstrates the power of the people when they demand to have a say and the Congolese have never been known for their silence.  Members of the Congolese diaspora have angrily protested rigging of this election in favor of the incumbent and his foreign backers in Toronto, Johannesburg, Washington, London and Brussels. This is a milestone election no matter the outcome.  If not this time, then the next election (and there will be another election in five years or greater mayhem will surely ensue) the result will be a government elected by the majority of the people.

But there is another reason this election feels different.  There seems to be greater awareness this time of what is at stake for the world with an election in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This time, several commentators have noted the

Police club UDPS Tshisekedi supporters the day before election
Police club UDPS Tshisekedi supporters the day before election

grotesque injustice of the “richest nation on earth” having the lowest ranking in the Human Development Index ranking of the nations of the world.  More international observers seem to be asking how long do we humans who champion democracy and self rule allow such a shameful oppression of a people to continue?   Not much longer if the Congolese people have anything to say about it has to be the response and they will have a say in the aftermath of this election and in the results of the next election.

The massive turnout for this year’s election and the protests already registered over lack of polling places, “stuffed” ballot boxes, and attempts to disenfranchise supporters of the opposition UDPS Tshisekedi party all point to a new day in Congo politics if not now then soon.  The people of Congo with their unrest over the handling of the election and the likely results of this election are demonstrating a vision of their part in bringing to reality the day when as the Psalmist says,

“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet,

Righteousness and peace shall kiss each other.”  Ps 85:10  NRSV translation

CENI headquarters of Electoral Commission led by Methodist Minster Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, said to be Kabila's Pastor
CENI headquarters of Electoral Commission led by Methodist Minster Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, said to be Kabila's Pastor

                       

Counting of Huge Ballots Cast at Some 64,000 Polling Places
Counting of Huge Ballots Cast at Some 64,000 Polling Places

Congo Election Day November 28

Election Banners on a Kinshasa Street 2011
UN Photo of Election Banners on a Kinshasa Street 2011

In addition to the following prayer on the day of what we hope will be a milestone election in Congo’s modern history, two very different commentaries are included in this posting:

First is a commentary by Wendy Bernhard, American Baptist missionary to Congo  based in Kimpese not far from the capital Kinshasa.  Second is the commentary by Prof. Nzongola-Ntalaja, head of the African Studies Department at University of North Carolina in Charlotte and the leading Congo political scientist in the U.S.  Prof. Nzongola-Ntalaja is himself a former Congo politican who was a leader in the political reform movement in Congo in the early 90’s that was quashed  by Mobutu and his cohorts.  His commentary appeared in the editorial pages of Al Jazeera.

My Prayer for Congo Election 2011

Loving God, may the elections in the Congo held today move that new nation closer to the day when its people share the wealth and enjoy the peace that is their due as Your children.  May leaders elected today be led by a vision of a reign of peace and justice in their land. Through the holding of this election ,take away the despair and cynicism ruling in the hearts and minds of the people and replace it with a passion for truth and democratic rule. 

Strengthen and guide leaders of church and civil society that they might hold those elected today accountable to the Congolese people.  May this election bring closer that day when the Congo’s politicans do not answer first and foremost to corporate and government leaders outside the country. And God, through your grace and by the  strength that only comes from you as our Creator, help us who are connected to Congo by historic ties of faith be truly brothers and sisters to those in Congo who long for peace with justice and have the courage to stand with those who have suffered and will suffer from misrule and corruption in their land.  We pray in the name of our Lord and brother Jesus, Amen

On Congo Election by Wendy Bernhard, American Baptist missionary to Congo, 11/11/11

Kabila’s first 5-year term is up this month, and the country is now facing its third democratic election with a dozen candidates vying for the top spot.  There will be no run-off; the candidate that gets the most votes becomes president,

Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the opposition UPDS party
Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the opposition UPDS party

even if it’s less than 50% of the votes cast.  There has already been some violence associated with political campaigns in Kinshasa.  Our prayer now is that the elections will take place peacefully throughout the country, and those who do not win will agree to work for the advancement of the country.  (If only that could happen in other countries as well!)

Here’s the timetable for the elections, with prayer requested specifically on these dates:

Monday November 28:  Presidential and legislative elections throughout the country

Tuesday December 6:  First announcement of tentative election results

Saturday December 17:  Announcement of final election results

Tuesday December 20:  Inauguration of the newly elected president

 In addition to the presidential election, there are heated campaigns going on to elect members of the national congress.  The congressional district where I live has one seat in congress, with 47 candidates.  But that’s nothing compared to one Kinshasa district which has 15 seats in congress, with over 1700 candidates representing over 500 political parties!  Campaign posters in the city proclaim, for example:

VOTE FOR OUR CANDIDATE!  NUMBER 1367, PAGE 67!

 The ballots have been printed in South Africa, and contain a picture of each candidate.  Can you imagine going through to page 67 on your ballot to find the picture of the one you want to vote for: #1367!  Especially in a country where many people don’t know how to read!  This might be called true democracy gone wild!

 I plan to remain in Kimpese during the campaign and election season.  Schools will be closed for a day or two, as the buildings will become polling stations.  Our student pastors may return to their home villages to vote, where they registered.  Please pray with us, that the elections will be free and fair and that the results will be accepted by all candidates!

The following is not only commentary on this election; it is an excellent summary of Congo’s modern political history. Highly recommended for anyone with interest in Congo.

Now or Never for Congo by Prof. Nzongola-Ntalaja in Al Jazeera, 11/26/11

The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has no autonomy, as it works closely with the government of President Joseph Kabila, who is seeking re-election. Pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, the Methodist minister who heads the commission, is a relative of the president and a founding member of the ruling party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD). His performance so far has not shown any signs of impartiality.

The electoral commission has refused to allow for an independent audit of the voters’ roll, which is known to include minors, Rwandan citizens and ghost voters, while real voters have in many instances found their names deleted from it. The commission did belatedly release a map of polling stations, but many of these have been found to be non-existent.

Unfair advantages

In areas favourable to the opposition, polling stations have been reduced in number so as to compel voters to go further away from their homes to a polling place, which is likely to discourage some of them from voting. Laws requiring that managers of state enterprises and other public officials running for the national and provincial assemblies must

Ngiri Ngiri Kinshasa street bulletin board
Ngiri Ngiri Kinshasa street bulletin board

 

resign before being recognised as candidates have not been enforced, thus allowing President Kabila’s allies to use state resources for campaign purposes. This is not only illegal, but an unfair advantage for the president’s camp over the opposition.

In this regard, and given the huge crowds that have greeted opposition presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi all over the country, there is no doubt that he would win a free, fair, transparent and non-fraudulent election. Of the ten candidates running against Kabila for the presidency, Tshisekedi is the only one capable of beating him decisively, even in a single-round election, because of his standing as the foremost leader of the Congolese democracy movement since 1980.

 

 

As the leader of the oldest opposition party in postcolonial DRC, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), which was established in 1982, Tshisekedi is popularly referred to as Ya Tshitshi [“Big Brother Tshitshi”] and “the people’s candidate”. He is the one candidate who incarnates the deepest aspirations of the Congolese people for freedom and material prosperity, and epitomises their determination to get rid of the current regime, which has kept the Mobutu legacy of corruption and repression alive.

Since coming to power following his father’s assassination in January 2001, Joseph Kabila has little to show for his nearly 11 years of rule. He won the 2006 election partly on the claim of having ended the Second Congo War, which ravaged much of the eastern part of the country between 1998 and 2003.

However, northeastern Congo remains a zone of turbulence, in which a succession of armies and militia groups, both foreign and national, have plundered the land, subjected women and girls to horrific acts of sexual violence, and used forced and child labour to amass wealth through the illegal exploitation of minerals and other resources. According to reports by the United Nations Group of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of the Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC, prominent members of President Kabila’s entourage are among the beneficiaries of this plunder.

Plundering Congo

The regime has participated in the plunder either actively, as through mining contracts overwhelmingly favourable to

A child in South Kivu holds a photo of Pres. Kabila
A child in South Kivu holds a photo of Pres. Kabila

foreign interests, or by acts of omission, for example in doing nothing about the plunder of Congolese resources by Angola, Rwanda and Uganda. Estimates of money lost by the DRC in mineral concessions by self-serving Congolese officials, including the president, are as high as $5.5bn. 

In addition to Rwanda and Uganda, which have been plundering the Congo either directly or through proxies since 1996, Angola has occupied land rich in diamonds in the Bandundu province of the DRC and exploits petroleum in Congolese territorial waters. These challenges to national security do not seem to provoke the kind of patriotic response that one would expect from a government whose first priority is to defend the national interest. The president, his cabinet, senior army and police officers as well other high-ranking state officials have done nothing but enrich themselves to the detriment of the mass of the people.

Consequently, the DRC has earned the distinction of being the poorest country on the earth when it is probably the first in terms of its wealth in natural resources. In the 2011 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the DRC is the last of 187 nations surveyed in terms of its Human Development Index (HDI), a measure of wellbeing based on life expectancy, personal income, health and education. It is therefore beyond comprehension why Joseph Kabila should pretend to be “100 per cent” sure that the Congolese people will give him another five-year term in office. 

This is both a manifestation of utter contempt for the electorate and an expression of confidence in the electoral fraud machine being organised and managed by Pastor Ngoy Mulunda. For there is widespread belief among African leaders that it is stupid to lose an election that you organise. Thus, even when so-called independent electoral commissions are established, incumbents will use all the means at their disposal, both legal and illegal, to cling to power.

Now or never

In the DRC, the genuine political opposition and civil society are determined to do all that is necessary to defeat this machine of electoral fraud so that the final results would be consistent with the wishes of the people. This will not be easy, not only for the support that the Kabila regime enjoys from neighboring states such as Angola, Rwanda and Uganda, but also in the face of the hostility of the international community toward the veteran democracy leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

The major powers, in particular, do not like to be faced with a leader like him who enjoys a popular base of support in a strategically important country like the DRC. They prefer leaders with no strong national constituency, who can therefore be counted upon to execute orders from the major world capitals. As ongoing developments in the Arab Spring do clearly show, the Western powers’ supposed support for democracy is a sham, given the hypocrisy and double standards shown in their actions. For if democracy is good for Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans, it also ought to be good for the peoples of Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Palestine.

For the Congolese people, this is the third time that our country faces a critical choice concerning its destiny. The first was in 1960, when Patrice Lumumba, the hero of the independence struggle and the first democratically elected prime minister, was wrongfully removed from power and eventually assassinated on orders from the US and Belgian governments. This crime was so profoundly felt by our people that it gave rise to a popular social movement for a “second independence”.

The second time occurred during the African Spring of the early 1990s, as country after country rose up against one-party rule in favour of multiparty democracy. In the DRC, Tshisekedi was democratically elected as prime minister in 1992 by the sovereign national conference with a mandate to bring about radical change in the way in which the country and its resources were managed.

Unfortunately, the international community gave him lukewarm support and did nothing to prevent the restoration of the Mobutu regime after a few months. After losing 20 precious years and after 50 years of seeing their country fall to the bottom because of corrupt leaders, the Congolese people are determined to put in power a person whose vision of the future reflects their own aspirations. For them, it is now or never.

 Note:  To see this article in its original format go to:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/11/2011112610948222355.html

Uncovering the Truth in Congo

For the six million people who have died due to the wars in Congo since 1997.  For the future of the youth and children of Congo.  For a peaceful and just Congo, spend twenty six minutes of your time and watch the newly released film “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth” by going to this web site:

www.congojustice.org

If you would like a copy of this first, abridged version of the film – perhaps for use during Congo Week October 16 -21 this year – go to this section of the same web site:

http://congojustice.org/download-video/

For suggestions on other ways to honor the people of Congo and educate and raise awareness in the U.S. of how we can support social change in Congo, go to the Friends of the Congo web site at:

www.friendsofthecongo.org

For the children of Congo, see the film "Crisis in Congo"
For the children of Congo, see the film "Crisis in Congo"