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
, 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
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.