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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONGO WEEK Begins Sunday October 16

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


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.