NCR by Jonathan Luxmoore | Apr. 22, 2017
Three weeks after the Catholic Church gave up mediating in the conflict-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, the country’s bishops are defending their record and blaming the impasse on politicians. However, attacks on clergy and parish buildings have also raised questions as to whether the church has come too close to politics in what’s widely considered Africa’s most Catholic country.
“The bishops’ conference mission has been interpreted by some as an attempt to distract attention from issues of the hour,” said Msgr. Jean-Marie Bomengola, secretary of the church’s Social Communications Commission.” But one shouldn’t miss the target when analyzing events here. The failure of negotiations should be blamed on the political and social actors who didn’t show a spirit of compromise. It’s to them that demands for an explanation should be addressed, and on whom pressure should now be exerted.”
Catholics in six archdioceses and 41 dioceses make up around two-thirds of the 67.5 million inhabitants of the Democratic Republic of Congo — according to the Vatican’s Annuario Pontificio yearbook, published this month — and runs an extensive network of hospitals, clinics and farms, as well as around half of all schools.
The country, formerly known as Zaire, has known little stability since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, and up to 6 million people died in a series of 1995-2003 wars, fought mainly over Congo’s rich natural resources.
Last summer, the bishops’ conference launched a mediation bid after opposition leaders accused President Joseph Kabila of seeking to cling to power by delaying autumn elections.
An initial settlement in October wasn’t accepted by some opposition groups. So the talks resumed before the Dec. 20 expiry of Kabila’s second and final term, and the outcome, in the final hours of 2016, was an accord witnessed by foreign diplomats.
This allowed the 45-year-old president to stay in power until elections in late 2017 alongside a government headed by an opposition-nominated prime minister, with a National Transition Council monitoring the electoral process under veteran opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi.
In a pastoral letter, the bishops said the accord reflected a “consensual and inclusive political compromise that sets out a realistic route,” and they warned that the whole Democratic Republic of Congo risked “plunging into uncontrollable disorder” if the accord failed.
However, negotiations to implement it have run into trouble.