Muslims and Christians “Together Towards Life”

These days, we in the United States continue to discover new intersections of our personal political positions and our personal theology. In this year’s campaign for President, the issue of immigration policy has taken a new direction with even more obvious theological overtones in the contrasting positions of the two parties on admitting Muslim refugees.

As we approach the presidential election, it is likely that Donald Trump’s opposition to Muslims being admitted into the country will continue to feed the perception that the nation with the most Christians in the world is conducting a war on Islam. Some U.S. Christians counter that perception with action such as helping Syrian

Head of the largest Christian university in the U.S. Jerry Falwell Jr. joined Donald Trump at a January campaign event in Iowa
Head of the largest Christian university in the U.S. Jerry Falwell Jr. joined Donald Trump at a January campaign event in Iowa
refugees resettle in the country (as reported in the last blog on https://erasingborders.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/report-from-kansas-city-un-informe-de-kansas-city/). In our context of xenophobia and fear, such action needs now to be joined by defense of freedom of religion along with declaring trust and respect for adherents of Islam.

It is also important if not urgent for Christians in the U.S. to clarify their views on mission and evangelism in the Muslim world. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, conservative Christian mission boards in the U.S. had considerably stepped up efforts to convert Muslims overseas to the Christian faith. The Southern Baptist Convention began distribution of a prayer guide in the late 90’s to guide their followers in praying for conversion of Muslims at the same time they considerably increased the number of missionaries being sent to majority Muslim countries such as Kyrgyzstan.

Fortunately, U.S. Christians seeking ways to unite with Muslims in movements of reconciliation and healing worldwide can find guidance and encouragement in the beautiful statement written by the Commission on Mission and

Chair of the Commission on Mission and Evangelism Bishop Mor Coorilos (WCC photo)
Chair of the Commission on Mission and Evangelism Bishop Mor Coorilos (WCC photo)
Evangelism of the 349 worldwide churches making up the World Council of Churches. Led by a Bishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Commission unequivocally proclaims that the aim of Christian mission and evangelism today is to join with persons of other faith traditions in affirming human life and the whole of creation.

A summary statement of the Commission’s 2012 document “Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes” declares, “Authentic evangelism is done with respect for freedom of religion and belief, for all human beings as images of God. Proselytism by violent means, economic incentive, or abuse of power is contrary to the message of the gospel. In doing evangelism it is important to build relations of respect and trust between people of different faiths.”

At the beginning of the document, the Commission envisions its task as discerning the implications of the “shift of the centre of gravity of Christianity”. One outcome emphasized is the accompanying “shift in mission concept from ‘mission to the margins’ to ‘mission from the margins’” and the ensuing question of “what then is the distinctive contribution of the people from the margins?”

Living the Christian faith as a minority community on the “margins” leads to some profound reflections on our relationships with persons of other faiths: “Plurality is a challenge to the churches and serious commitment to interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural communication is therefore indispensable. What are the ecumenical convictions regarding common witnessing and practicing life-giving mission in a world of many religions and cultures?”

One conviction that emerged from the Commission’s deliberations is that “mission activity linked with colonization has often denigrated cultures and failed to recognize the wisdom of local people. Local wisdom and culture which are life-affirming are gifts from God’s Spirit.” Christians in mission today who join with “local people”, whatever

Son of a Muslim immigrant bus driver Sadiq Khan is the newly elected Mayor of London (Photo by Jonathan Brady, Press Association)
Son of a Muslim immigrant bus driver Sadiq Khan is the newly elected Mayor of London (Photo by Jonathan Brady, Press Association)
their faith tradition, in life sustaining and life enhancing actions find that “marginalized people are reservoirs of the active hope, collective resistance, and perseverance that are needed to remain faithful to the promised reign of God”.

In this time of deep division within the two political parties of the United States and within the country itself, the World Council of Churches’ overview of Christian mission and evangelism calls us to a new vision of unity. The document “Together Towards Life” challenges us to include the entire human species in our interpretation and celebration of the familiar words of Psalm 133:

“How very good and pleasant it is/ when kindred live together in unity!” (NRSV version)

Pour la traduction du document de la Commission en francais ver https://www.oikoumene.org/fr/resources/documents/commissions/mission-and-evangelism/together-towards-life-mission-and-evangelism-in-changing-landscapes?set_language=fr

Pour la traducción en español du document de la Comisión ver
https://www.oikoumene.org/es/resources/documents/commissions/mission-and-evangelism/together-towards-life-mission-and-evangelism-in-changing-landscapes?set_language=es

“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.

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

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.

 

Congo Presidential Election in Question

Mbandaka's Mayor ruled out the organizing of a march and rally in support of President Kabila last November citing "insecurity" as the reason
Mbandaka's Mayor ruled out the organizing of a march and rally in support of President Kabila last November citing "insecurity" as the reason

It appears that once again the people’s hopes for a free and fair presidential election in Congo are about to be dashed. Congolese and international observers along with Congo’s opposition party leaders are increasingly questioning the wisdom of attempting an election in November of this year. Various facts on the ground feed their doubt about the nation’s readiness to undertake the logistical challenges under the auspices of a barely functioning central state with a history of conflict.

Expectations of increased international aid to monitor and organize the polls have been disappointed. And little concrete evidence exists that a coalition of opposition parties will be created to present a serious challenge to the current rule of the Kabila administration. With the change in the constitution ruling out a run off when no candidate gains a majority of the vote, the incumbent president Kabila is virtually guaranteed victory without an opposing coalition candidate.

Initial steps in organizing the election have faltered. The Congolese electoral commission recently reported that only half the eligible voters have been registered in Equateur Province with similar results elsewhere. Some observers fault the lack of international funding for this election. A recent article notes, “While the 2006 election costs of US $500 million were funded almost entirely by international donors, this year the DRC is expected to shoulder 60 percent of the financial burden.”

The article goes on to quote a Kinshasa reporter’s questioning of the U.K Ambassador to Congo, “What is the explanation for the fact that five years ago there was an enthusiasm from the west surrounding the 2006 elections while today we sense a lack of attentiveness for those of 2011?”

According to the article, Ambassador Wigan of the U.K. responded by saying that “90 percent of the 2006 elections were financed by the west because they were the first to be held post-conflict, and the DRC needed hand-holding. This time, everyone wants to see the Congolese carry out elections with less outside support. “It’s not a lack of enthusiasm, but rather the evolution of democracy,” Wigan said.

The presence of 20,000 U.N. sponsored international troops in Congo may not be enough to enable further evolution of a fragile democracy in Congo. The head of the UN Mission in Congo (MONUSCO), Roger Meece, has said other organizations are in a better position to monitor the elections and he now seems to value good relations with the Kabila administration above the holding of a fair presidential election any time soon.

New Book on Congo’s Conflicts

A new book on the causes and evolution of the conflicts in eastern Congo has received favorable reviews in leading U.S. publications.  Jason Stearns, a young American who began serving as a relief worker in the area in 2001, has just

Excitement and hopes were high at the 10th Independence Anniversary Parade in Mbandaka on June 30, 1970. What a contrast to the sombre, reflective mood across the nation on the 50th Anniversary last June 30.

published Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa

Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost,  wrote in his April 1 review in The New York Times  : “The task facing anyone who tries to tell this whole story is formidable, but Stearns by and large rises to it. He has lived in the country, and has done a raft of interviews with people who witnessed what happened before he got there. Occasionally the chain of names of people and places temporarily swamps the reader, but on the whole his picture is clear, made painfully real by a series of close-up portraits.”

The American Congo-based political scientist who writes the blog “Texas in Africa” also has commented favorably on Stearns’ book:  “As someone who has read the bulk of what’s been published on the conflict over the course of the last fifteen years, I can unequivocally say that this is the most accessible introduction to the country’s multi-layered local conflict, civil war, and international wars out there. In short, if you want to understand the DRC wars, you need to read this book.”

We will have to wait it seems for the book which covers the conflicts of eastern Congo’s effects on the nation as a whole

"Servir: Oui!; Se Servir: Non!" emblazoned the official "pagne" of the Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution during the 10th Anniversary Year

or the book which assesses the post Mobutu state’s attempts to control exploitation of Congo’s resources other than the minerals.  Since the promulgation of the new Law of the Forest early in the current Kabila administration, cutting of the Congo rainforest in Equateur Province has stepped up considerably.  Environmental groups such as Greenpeace International are monitoring the signing of contracts with European timber companies and recently protested the World Bank’s approval of the state’s opening up the rainforest to increased harvesting.

Mbandaka’s Water Crisis

With average rainfall of 85 inches annually, one would think water would not be a problem in Mbandaka, capital of Equateur Province in the Congo.  But rainwater catchment systems are rare in the city of 700,000 plus persons and Regideso, the public water utility has been unable to upgrade its infrastructure since the original installations of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Only 5 per cent of Mbandaka households are served by Regideso.  In the country as a whole, only one third of the urban population now enjoys running water; that figure has declined from 68 per cent of urban Congolese with tap water in 1990.  Outside Mbandaka, the only other city in Equateur Province with running water is Gemena and from 1990 to 2009 the system there did not function.

Bralima brewery, the lone industry in Mbandaka

 

This past summer in Mbandaka, my bathroom water barrel was kept full thanks to a large cistern on scaffolding just outside the window.  Regideso supplied the water for the cistern but only every other day for a few hours.  Were it not for the payments from the Bralima brewery (owned by Heineken) in Mbandaka, Regideso managers say they would be out of business.  Drinking water in plastic bottles was purchased for my household, a leading item in the budget.

Warfare in Equateur and in the eastern Congo has contributed to the decline in water delivery systems.  With only ten per cent of the estimated 5.4 million deaths in eastern Congo from 1998 to 2006 due to the violence, one wonders how many of the deaths stemmed from typhus, cholera, dysentery and diarrhea transmitted by contaminated water.

“Water, Water Everywhere ………”

While much of Africa suffers from a decades long drought, the Democratic Republic of Congo has no shortage of water. Half the African continent’s water can be found in the Congo. But much of the country’s water is not fit to drink.
 
 
 

 

women collecting water
Disciples President Rev. Bonanga visits the UNICEF funded water station at Bolenge. Several Disciple strong communities have benefited from the Church's collaboration with UNICEF on rural water projects

Fifty one million Congolese or three fourths of the country’s population do not have access to safe drinking water according to a report released this week by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

The head of UNEP’s Congo office Mr. Hassan Partow noted, “the stark reality is that the DRC has one of the fastest urbanization growth rates in the world and this is not being matched with adequate water and sanitation service delivery”. The study calls for an investment of $169 million over a five year period to upgrade the water delivery infrastructure, especially in urban areas.

Rural Congo is just as threatened by unsafe water as UNICEF’s Congo Director pointed out on World Water Day March 22. Ms. Pierrette Vu Thi stated, “A child living in a Congolese village is four times more likely to drink contaminated water than someone in town.” Current statistics hold that 2 million children under the age of 5 regularly suffer from diarrhea, usually caused by contaminated water in Congo. This makes unsafe water a leading cause of death among Congo’s infants, whose mortality rate is over 20 per cent in

Ikalenganya village well. Probably safe as Disciples trained village health worker reported low incidence of diarrhea and infant mortality

many areas of the country.

Strongly recommended by the U.N. study are undertaking low cost solutions such as communal taps and rainwater catchment systems.

To read the UNEP report Water Issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Challenges and Opportunities go to the following web address: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/UNEP_DRC_water.pdf

The 90 page report includes an in depth assessment of Regideso, the water supplier for urban Mbandaka and other cities of Equateur Province.

U.S. Congress Updated on Congo

Actor Ben Affleck and Cindy McCain, wife of US.. Sen. John McCain, arrive before testifying on Congo before the House Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

Last week the U.S. Congress turned some of its attention to the situation in Congo.  Not surprisingly, Hollywood actor Ben Affleck’s testimony became the focus of the media attention.  The House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee hearing heard testimony from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and human rights groups, including the Eastern Congo Initiative that Affleck founded in 2010. 

The new Chair of the Africa Subcommittee, Chris Smith, R-NJ, noted that Congo is one of the five poorest countries in the world, with 80 per cent of its people living on income of less than $2 per day.  With the regular outbreak of armed conflict and mass rape, many lives have been lost in eastern Congo by the failure to respond to the challenges to health posed by malnutrition, malaria, pneumonia and diarrahea.  Most affected are children under 5, the majority of the estimated 5.4 million (International Rescue Committee figure) who have died in the war torn areas of eastern Congo since 1998.

Affleck’s testimony emphasized the importance of the national elections scheduled for this year. “The path to stability in today’s Congo requires fostering stable elections and preventing another disaster that would easily require hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance. Come November we must be able to look ourselves in the eye and say that we did what our principles demanded [and] we helped democracy emerge in a place where tragedy is the alternative.” 

Having traveled three times in the last year to the eastern Congo, among the actor’s policy recommendations were the appointment of a U.S. envoy to Congo and increased funding of the Congo electoral process.  Interesting to note that Mr. Affleck did not call for that funding to be channeled through the U.N. whose peacekeeping and civil society support efforts are woefully underfunded.

Last month the head of the U.N. Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) warned that lack of funding of  their election related activities would be dire.  Former U.S. Ambassador to Congo and Indianapolis native Roger Meece declared, “it is not yet clear we will have needed funds in the 2011/2012 budget cycle to ensure the necessary logistical support we are uniquely positioned to provide.”  He did not mention that at this time the UN presence in Congo is scheduled to end on June 30.

Congo Elections Update

 

Leaders of Opposition Parties Committed to a United Front in the Presidential Election. Jean-Claude Vuemba, second from right, and Vital Kamerhe, not pictured but President of the National Assembly, are spokespersons for the unity movement.

Since independence in 1960, only two democratically elected heads of state have governed in Congo.  As leading Congolese political scientist Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja points out, both Patrice Lumumba in 1960 and Etienne Tshisekedi in 1992 held office for only a brief time before a military coup led by Mobutu.

While the massive undertaking of holding an election in Congo would be a challenge for any government, one key procedural issue has been settled.  On the urging of the Kabila administration, the Assembly has ruled that there will not be a second run off election if no candidate for President is backed by a majority of the voters.  Should the opposition remain divided, and there a few dozen political parties running candidates for the Assembly, the reelection of President Kabila would be virtually assured.

It would be a major achievement for Congo to complete the electoral process without an upsurge of violence in the East and elsewhere in the country.  It would be an even greater achievement, deserving of our most fervent prayers, for Congo to experience a free and fair election resulting in a change in administration.

Africa’s Largest Rainforest (Jungle!) Preserve

Rev. MPUTU Clement, Vice President of the Disciples’ Community, recently sent the following message (translated here from the French):

“I am writing from the heart of the equatorial rain forest in the Salonga National Park near Monkoto.  By the grace of God and the miracle of today’s technology I am sending you this message.  We are meeting here for the training of pastors and laypersons of the area.  The schedule for our departure by air remains uncertain and  security in this region is threatened.  Please pray for us.  May God be with you.”

The Salonga National Park in the south of Equateur Province and stretching into two other provinces of the Congo, is the largest rain forest preserve in the world.

A river flows through the Salonga National Park which covers an area of the Congo larger then Belgium.

It is also one of the most isolated and challenging places to get to in the Congo. Although many bonobo, now a celebrity among the primates, roam widely in the Salonga only a few researchers and virtually no tourists have observed this celebrity among the primates in this habitat.

Several parishes of the Disciples Community of the Church of Christ of Congo border the Salonga National Park.  The airport most often used by researchers is at the former mission “post” of Monkoto and the park entrance nearby is on the edge of Ifumo, another Disciples “post”.

Funded by UNESCO which named Salonga a World Heritage Site in Danger in 1999, a French conservation and environmental non profit oversees protection and preservation of the Salonga’s resources.  The non profit’s on site operations director is ENGELEMBA Celestin, former Director of the Disciples’ Ikengo farm project.

On my left is ENGELEMBA Celestin, Former Ikengo Director, with BOSALA Rio, current Director on the right

Shortly before my departure in mid August from Mbandaka, Radio Okakpi reported that Congolese troops had been deployed to the Salonga National Park to curb illegal poaching – of elephants especially.  Rev. MPUTU’s message implies security remains dicey in the area.  In addition to praying for the people in the Park and in villages bordering the Salonga, there is need for prayer and action to preserve the forest habitat throughout the Congo.  More on that in the next post.