OTTAWA (CCN) — Bishops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo toured Canada in mid-March to ask that external pressure be put on the Kabila government to respect the constitution and hold elections.
The Bishops Conference of the Congo, known as CENCO, is mobilizing the people of Congo to put internal pressure on the government, CENCO president Archbishop Marcel Utembi of Kisangani told a gathering of more than 100 people in Ottawa March 19. We are here asking the government and the people of Canada to apply external pressure, he said in French.
The people of Congo have lost confidence in the political class, whether the ruling party or the opposition, he said, but the electoral and civic education Development and Peace-Caritas Canada is providing with help from Canadian government funding has energized the people and given them a new confidence, Utembi said.
The Congolese population is not the same as it was 10 years ago that was abused and afraid, he said. Thanks to the education they are receiving, they are now standing up to government oppression and have hope.
Development and Peace and KAIROS Canada organized the Ottawa event, and similar ones in Montreal and Toronto, to raise awareness of the political crisis in Congo that began in 2016 when the government of Joseph Kabila violently suppressed demonstrations calling for him to respect the country’s constitution and hold elections.
The vice-president of CENCO, Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo of Mdandaka-Bikoro and Coadjutor Bishop of Kinshasa, told the gathering CENCO helped broker a deal with the government in early 2017 to hold elections that the government then ignored.
To apply internal pressure, the bishops have led people of all faiths in Congo to participate in three marches. The government responded with violence, using firearms on people who were walking peacefully holding bibles and attacking priests who were merely accompanying their people, said Ambongo. People were killed by those who were supposed to protect their security.
But the internal pressure has shown signs of working to push the government toward holding elections.
Through pressure from the Americans, the government agreed to hold elections at the end of this year, though CENCO remains concerned about unreliable voting machines, and a proliferation of opposition parties, and the suppression of free expression, the bishop said.
The protracted political crisis has greatly hurt the Congo economy.
“We believe the interest of Canada to help the Congo is also helping Canada,” said Ambongo, who pointed out many Canadian mining companies operate in his country.
Helping the Congo create a “transparent legal framework” for the extraction of resources similar to that in Canada would “guarantee” Canadian investments, instead of the companies having to deal with a “dangerous” situation where the government cannot protect their interests, the archbishop said. It would also ensure the people of Congo get a fair share of the profits of extractive industries.
Utembi urged the Congolese diaspora in Canada to help, especially by showing their unity rather than allowing partisan interests from home to divide them here. You live in a country where democratic values are not just something on TV, he said. People who live here have freedom of expression. Show your solidarity with the Congolese.
Ambongo urged continued support of Development and Peace’s civic education program, as well its help for women to become more autonomous. It is the moment of the Canadian government to come to the rescue of these women, he said, to help them take charge of their lives.