Editor’s Note: On September 13, 2018, Lucie Sarr of La Croix Africa reported that pressure exerted by the Lay Catholic Committee of Coordination, influenced President Joseph Kabila’s decision not to stand for re-election. This is a welcome development and offers the opportunity for the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to make a fresh start.
Below we reproduce Lucie Sarr’s report.
Did Catholics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo force Joseph Kabila to renounce a third term as president?
“President Joseph Kabila’s decision not to stand for a third term was, without doubt, influenced by the church,” said the historian, Isidore Ndaywel.
He is a member of the Lay Catholic Committee of Coordination, a group that organized three significant protest marches against Kabila.
On Aug. 8, the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy revealed the identity of its candidate for the presidential election on Dec. 23.
While people feared that President Kabila would force through a third mandate – which would have been against the country’s constitution – it is the former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary who will represent the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy.
According to Ndaywel, “the insistence of the National Bishops’ Conference of the Congo on the St. Sylvester Agreement and the pressure exerted by the Lay Catholic Committee of Coordination undoubtedly influenced Kabila’s decision not to stand for re-election in the presidential election.
Kabila’s last presidential mandate came to an end two years ago but he has remained in power. In order to force him to hold transparent elections in which he will not be a candidate, Catholics have engaged in significant action: protest marches, media publicity, billboards, and diplomatic visits.
On Dec. 31, 2017 and on Jan. 21 and Feb. 25, photographs of the Catholic protests in the DR Congo, violently suppressed by government armed forces, were flashed around the world.
With crosses and palm branches in their hands, led by priests, nuns, seminarians and sacristans, Catholics began their protest marches after Sunday Mass. According to official statistics, 17 people were killed by government forces during these marches.
The lay Catholics’ commitment and actions were inspired by the DR Congo bishops who, in their many statements, castigated the behavior of Kabila’s regime and demanded that the St. Sylvester Agreement be respected.
This Agreement was signed on Dec. 31, 2016. At the end of Kabila’s last constitutional mandate, civil movements and numerous political parties organized large demonstrations to force him to organize free and transparent presidential elections.
To bring peace to the country, which was beset by daily protests, a national dialogue was organized under the auspices of the Catholic bishops’ conference. These national meetings resulted in an agreement on how to end the crisis — the St. Sylvester Agreement.
In November 2017, in a declaration titled Debout Congolais (Arise Congolese, which is also the title of the national anthem), the bishops appealed to all Catholics to put every measure in place to respect the St. Sylvester Agreement.
After this appeal, the Deans’ College in Kinshasa organized acts of protest in the parishes: the ringing of bells during the day and night.
The college was supported by the protest marches organized by the Lay Catholic Committee of Coordination and, later, by poster campaigns demanding respect for constitutional law.
The campaigns launched since June 2018 were an initiative of the Council of the Apostolate of Lay Catholics of the Congo. They came about in reaction to a poster campaign calling for Kabila to stand in the coming presidential elections.
As for the Lay Catholic Committee of Coordination, after a break of several months from protest marches, they planned to resume and increase these from Aug. 12 if Kabila stood for a third mandate. They even threatened “to no longer acknowledge Kabila as the Congolese head of state.”
In addition to these significant actions, the Catholic bishops’ conference and the Lay Catholic Committee of Coordination also engaged in diplomatic interactions with other countries and international institutions to gain support.
On March 18, the Lay Catholic Committee of Coordination wrote a letter to Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the UN, to solicit the reinforcement of the UN’s role in the country with regard to the organization of the elections.
The bishops for their part, undertook diplomatic visits with its European counterparts as well as with the UN.
Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the UN, has often expressed her support for the National Bishops’ Conference of the Congo. She ensured that the presidential election would be held on Dec. 23, even though the electoral commission planned to postpone it until the second half of 2019.
“We are not going to support a time-line that does not clearly demonstrate that elections will be held in 2018,” she stated on Oct. 27, 2017, after a meeting with the Congolese bishops.
However, in spite of Kabila’s absence from the list of presidential candidates, the Catholic Church is now expressing other concerns, related to the reliability and credibility of the coming elections.
In a letter addressed to the UN Security Council, dated Aug. 27, the National Bishops’ Conference of the Congo expressed its concerns about inadequacies in the electoral process.
Among these: the electoral commission’s decision not to authorize the candidature of certain members of the opposition parties; the inclusion on the electoral roll of 6.7 million voters without registered finger prints; and the controversy about the reliability of electronic voting devices.