Catholics in DR Congo continue to press for credible elections

Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Credit: MONUSCO Photos (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Credit: MONUSCO Photos (CC BY-SA 2.0).

.- As the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to hold a general election in December, after a two-year delay, Catholics in the capital continue to be activists to encourage a peaceful transition of power.

Last month president Joseph Kabila announced he would step down after 17 years in power. The announcement follows years of protests, supported by Catholics bishops, against the delaying of elections.

Kabila has been ruling in defiance of term limits, remaining president two years after he was required to leave office in 2016.

General elections have been scheduled for Dec. 23.

A Mass was held in Kinshasa's Our Lady of the Congo Cathedral Sept. 19 to commemorate those who died in protests against Kabila in 2016.

The Catholic Lay Committee, a group of lay Catholic activists, organized three protests calling for Kabila to step down after an earlier cancellation of general elections.

Isidor Ndaywel, a member of the group, told La Croix earlier this month that “Kabila’s decision not to stand for a third term was, without doubt, influenced by the church.”

Hesitations about the legitimacy of the scheduled elections remain. The Congolese bishops wrote to the UN Security Council last month with concerns, including the electoral commission's decision not to allow some opposition parties' candidates to stand; irregularities of electoral rolls; and the reliability of electronic voting machines.

In early August, security forces fired on opposition protesters with live ammunition and teargas during candidate registration.

The bishops have also appealed to the South African Development Community to help ensure free elections.

Jonas Tshiombela, a spokesman for the Catholic Lay Committee, said that “we want the pre-electoral environment to be safe enough before going to the December vote,” Voice of America reported Sept. 23.

“For now, it is not the case. The contest is filled with uncertainties and irregularities and under such conditions a credible and fair election can’t be held. This the main point of our fight

The Congolese government has accused both the bishops and western governments for interfering in domestic politics.

Both the bishops and lay people alike have been very outspoken critics of Congolese political corruption. The Catholic leadership previously negotiated agreements between Kabila and the opposition, and then actively supported the protests against Kabila when he broke the agreement’s terms.

The Catholic Church is well-respected in the DRC and Catholics make up about 40 percent of the country’s population. Catholic clergy in the Congo are known for courageously standing up to corrupt leaders, such as Mobutu Sese Seko, the DRC’s military dictator from 1965 to 1997.

An estimated five million people were killed between 1997 and 2003 in ethnic violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo under Joseph Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila, who violently overthrew Mobutu. Joseph Kabila took power in 2001 at age of 29 after the assassination of his father.

Tags: DRC, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila