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Religious Leaders in DR Congo Yet to “reach a consensus” Over Electoral Commission Head

Logo of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) in DR Congo. Credit: CENI

Religious leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are yet to reach a consensus over the person to head the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), a Catholic Bishop has said.

On October 2, the President of the National Assembly in DRC gave 72 hours to the membership of the Forum of Religious denominations to reach an agreement over the choice of CENI President. 

“I appeal to the eight religious denominations to reach an agreement this time around on the designation of the president of the CENI and a plenary member,” Christophe Mboso said in a letter addressed to the faith-based leaders.

In a letter addressed to the President of the National Assembly, the Vice President of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), Bishop  José Moko Ekanga, says the faith-based leaders “were confronted with a conflict of interpretations of your correspondence, which did not allow for any progress at all.”

“We therefore did not reach a consensus despite our request to the six other denominations to present us with other candidates. We did not vote either,” Bishop Moko says in the October 5 letter shared with ACI Africa.

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The Congolese Catholic Bishop continues, “We proposed to come back on Monday 4/10/2021 in the hope of evolving but the group of six told us that it is not useful, so we might as well wait for the position that the Plenary of the National Assembly will take.” 

“With this in mind, we parted ways. A comprehensive report from the Presidium on the process of appointing INEC facilitators by the Forum of Religious Denominations will reach you shortly,” the Local Ordinary of DRC’s Idiofa Diocese adds.

Faith-based leaders in DR Congo have remained divided over the choice of the Chairperson of CENI, a prerogative accorded them by the country’s constitution.

CENI is made up of 13 members. Civil society is represented by three delegates from religious denominations, women's rights organizations, and civic and electoral education organizations.

In June, religious leaders in DRC failed to announce the head of the electoral commission after several days of concertations.

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The leaders from the country's main religious denominations including the Catholic Church and the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) rejected the choice of Denis Kadima, a recognized electoral expert proposed by six other denominations for the new head of CENI.

For CENCO and ECC members, Kadima is too close to President Tshisekedi.

Addressing journalists at a press conference Monday, October 4, the spokesperson of the Forum of Religious Denominations in DRC, Fr. Donatien Nshole, said some religious leaders have given in to “political pressure.”

“The candidacy of Kadima was accompanied by threats and intimidation. This is palpable proof. You will remember that we all signed a joint statement on July 23, denouncing threats against the work we were doing and it was directed towards Kadima,” Fr. Nshole told journalists in Kinshasa.

Strangely enough, the Catholic Priest further said, “the people who were threatened, who could not even spend the night at home, changed their minds overnight, that is, they gave in to the pressure.”

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Fr. Nshole further said that there are well established proof of how Kadima has bribed some religious leaders for him to be declared CENI President.

He said religious leaders have been offered US$100,000.00 and luxurious cars to change their position.

“The Catholic Church does not object to the technical abilities of Kadima but in addition to the technical criteria, there are established ethical criteria which the religious must take into account,” the Catholic Priest explained.

In his October 5 letter addressed to the President of the National Assembly, Bishop Moko says, “The six other religious denominations claim there is a work they  have already done and whose report have been received at the office of the National Assembly.”

“For them, the 72 hours that you have given are simply an opportunity to strengthen cohesion by obtaining from the Forum of religious denominations the recognition of these minutes,” he adds.

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The 63-year-old Congolese Bishop further says, “A proposal for a new text of the report was submitted by the six in this perspective. This proposal did not meet with the approval of the Forum because it was based on a misinterpretation of your letter and did not enter into the spirit of the convocation of our plenary, which was to start again on a new basis and to find a consensus around a suitable candidate.”

“Moreover, it was established on conditions that do not comply with the statutes of CENI, notably articles 10 and 12, as well as with our Charter, especially articles 8, 16, 17 and 18,” Bishop Moko says in the October 5 letter.

He continues, “We note that the six other religious denominations based their so-called majority on an erroneous interpretation of article 17 of our Charter and that they totally ignored article 10 of the statutes on the organization and functioning of CENI.”

Bishop Moko appeals to the President of the National Assembly to reject any attempts to influence the process leading to the designation of CENI chairperson.

“We pray that the Holy Spirit will accompany you in your efforts to avoid one too many crises that will not benefit anyone,” Bishop Moko implores in the October 5 letter.