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Bishops in Congo Brazzaville Express “serious reservations” about March Elections

Members of the Episcopal Conference of Congo Brazzaville

Catholic Bishops in the Republic of the Congo (Congo Brazzaville) have, in a collective statement, expressed “serious reservations” about the presidential election slated for March 21.

In their Tuesday, February 2 statement, the members of the Episcopal Conference of Congo-Brazzaville (CEC) say that COVID-19 restrictions and a poor electoral system are likely to undermine the credibility of the poll.

“We have serious reservations that a peaceful, participatory, transparent, free and credible presidential election can be held under the current conditions, aware of the key role that credible elections can play in nation building,” CEC members say in their statement obtained by ACI Africa.

On January 14, officials of Congo Brazzaville’s electoral commission announced that the presidential election would take place on March 21. The incumbent, President Denis Sassou Nguesso, is expected to vie for a fourth term in view of extending his 36-year rule of the Central African nation.

His main challengers include Mathias Dzon, who was the former Minister of Finance between 1997-2002 and Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, who came second in the highly contested 2016 presidential election that Sassou Nguesso won, Africanews reported.

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In their February 2 collective statement issued after their January 26-28 extraordinary assembly, the Catholic Bishops say that it will be difficult to organize credible elections with COVID-19 preventive measures still in force.

“The electoral law requires that the counting of the ballots be public. How can this transparency requirement be met with an 8 p.m. curfew?” the members of CEC pose.

They further pose, “How can we keep up all infection control measures and hold mass rallies necessary for a free election campaign?” 

“The Congolese public has less and less faith in the existing electoral system,” CEC members say, adding that “some dead people were listed on the electoral roll and the electoral supervisory bodies have yet to demonstrate their independence.”

They continue to express their reservations about the poll saying, “We fear that the results of these elections will once again be contested and that these contests will serve as a pretext for troublemakers.”

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As a result of the failure to establish a consensual framework for the organization of the last elections, the Bishops say, “More populated areas are now under-represented in the National Assembly while less populated areas are over-represented. And many of the problems arising from these elections have not been resolved to date, and this is about to be repeated.”

“Our people are tired of these elections, which weaken social cohesion and tarnish our country's image abroad,” the members of CEC further say.

They add, “If we fail to realize the evils that have been undermining electoral governance in our country for the past few decades, we risk the same causes producing the same effects.”

In the 11-page statement signed by the 10 Bishops representing nine Dioceses in the Central African nation, the Catholic Bishops express their regrets over changes to the National Council for Dialogue and recall their previous collective statements.

“The Madingou Concertation has replaced the National Council for Dialogue, but we continue to believe that the broadest possible political dialogue is the most appropriate way to rebuild our Nation on consensual institutional and moral bases, as we have already expressed in our messages of 2016 and 2018,” they say.

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They direct that “the conclusions resulting from this dialogue … ensure that the Judiciary is finally independent of the Executive, as decided by the Sovereign National Conference.”

For them, “only an independent judiciary, in fact, is capable of defending the rights of everyone and fighting corruption effectively.”

As a way forward, the members of CEC appeal to the people of God in the country to “form a chain of prayer for peace, social welfare, the opening of a true dialogue, the release of all political prisoners in our country.” 

They urge the people of God not to be afraid but instead “open wide your doors to Christ the Redeemer, enter into great hope, as St. Pope John Paul II invited us at the beginning of his pontificate.”

The Bishops further exhort the citizen of Congo Brazzaville to commit themselves “to building a free and prosperous democratic nation.” 

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The Church leaders go on to call on the international community and development partners “to make all forms of cooperation conditional on the demand for democracy, respect for human rights and the existence of a favorable civic space guaranteeing citizen participation.”

“May the Lord preserve our country from all evil; may He flood the hearts of the Congolese people with his peace and may the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Peace and Saint Joseph, Father Protector of the Lord, intercede for our country with Jesus Christ, the Savior of humanity,” the Bishops implore in their February 2 collective message.