DRC: Churches enter fray in tense DRC political atmosphere
from JEAN PIERRE KASSONGO in Kinshasa, DRC
KINSHASA, (CAJ News) – CHURCHES, who have been drawn to the political fray by the worsening political tensions in the crisis-torn country, are divided over plans by Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph
Kabila to postpone elections scheduled for next year.
Last weekend, Kabila, in power since the assassination of his father Laurent in 2001, called for dialogue on the back of arguments the vast central African was not ready to hold the general poll.
Although a regional peace agreement was signed in 2013, conflict continues in Eastern DRC.
Kabila, who has been accused of tempering with the Constitution to extend his stay in power, announced on state television day he had decided to organise an inclusive national political dialogue and to put in place a
preparatory committee to manage all aspects of the organisation of elections.
He added a “responsible consensus” had to be put in place before the elections, whose holding next year is in doubt, could be held.
However, this is seen as a ploy by Kabila to cling onto power beyond Constitutional mandates and hold elections in 2018, two years later than scheduled.
The former military man who won extended his rein by winning dubious elections in 2006 and 2011, is barred by the Constitution from standing for a third term but critics maintain he is determined to stay on by delaying a vote.
The powerful Catholic Church is opposed to such plans and has called on the citizens on to “defy” such attempts.
Some 40 percent of Congolese are said to be Catholic.
“We ask the Congolese people to prove their vigilance in the spirit of Article 64 of the Constitution.
“This stipulates that ‘All Congolese have the duty to thwart any individual or group of individuals that takes power by force or exercises it in violation of the provisions of the present Constitution,” said the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), through the leader of the Congo’s Catholics, Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya.
The Catholic Church has been among the fiercest critics on plans to extend his stay in power and spoke against the heavy-handedness in dealing with protests against plans to delay the election.
However, some religious leaders have been diplomatic on the issue.
At a recent meeting in the United States, some church leaders pledged their commitment to work with other stakeholders, including government, to end an imminent crisis.
Among these leaders include the Bishop David Kekumba Yemba, head of the United Methodist Church in the DRC and Vice President of the DRC’s Commission of Integrity and Electoral Mediation as well as Rev. Andre
Milenge, the second Vice President of the Église du Christ au Congo.
The conference, organised by the World Council of Churches, was a follow-up of the May conference in Geneva on Peace and Security in the DRC.
“It is encouraging that partners are supporting our efforts to accompany churches in Congo for a peaceful electoral process.
“The country’s leading religious leaders, through the Commission for Integrity and Electoral Mediation, have an important role to play in the process, in collaboration with all stakeholders,” said Semegnish Asfaw,
WCC Programme Executive for International Affairs.
The sentiments by the faith-based organisations come on the back of escalating problems in DRC and the region.
The Central African Republic and Burundi are engulfed in deadly civil strife emanating from the extension of Presidential limits.
Human rights organisations suggest DRC is teetering on the brink of similar catastrophe.
According to Amnesty international, activists and political leaders who speak out against attempts by Kabila to stand for a third term in office are being subjected to arbitrary arrest and, in some cases, prolonged detention.
The group, in a report focusing on the cases of eight individuals who were reportedly jailed after exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, one of whom spent 145 days in incommunicado
detention, said the justice system was being used to silence critics of a third term by Kabila.
“The justice system has been compromised for political purposes to crush dissent. People peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression are being arrested and detained incommunicado (not allowed to communicate
with other people) for months on end,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes.
If the situation was not addressed, she said, consequences would be dire.
“Lessons should be learnt from Burkina Faso and Burundi where mass protests were sparked by incumbents attempting to extend constitutional term-limits creating longer-term crises,” said Jackson.
– CAJ News
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