Advertisement

Catholic Church Wants “inclusive, credible, peaceful elections in 2023”: DR Congo Nuncio

Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, Apostolic Nuncio in DR Congo addressing journalists during a press conference in Kinshasa on 6 October 2021. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) seeks to support democracy by ensuring an inclusive, credible and peaceful general elections in 2023, the Apostolic Nuncio in the Central African nation has said.

Speaking to journalists Wednesday, October 6 after an audience with the President of the National Assembly, Christophe Mboso, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero highlighted his deliberations with the leadership of DRC’s parliament.

“We talked about the electoral process with the president of the National Assembly. I told him that the only objective for which the Catholic Church is participating in the electoral process is to give its contribution to democracy in the DRC through inclusive, credible and peaceful elections in 2023,” Archbishop Balestrero.

The Catholic Church, the Apostolic Nuncio added, “wants to safeguard the well-being of the Congolese people.”

Religious leaders in DRC have remained divided, over the person to head the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), a prerogative accorded them by the country’s constitution.

Advertisement

On October 4, the members of the Forum of Religious Denominations failed to reach a consensus on the head of the electoral commission even after the 72-hour deadline given by the National Assembly President passed.

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, said the faith-based leaders “did not reach a consensus despite our request to the six other denominations to present us with other candidates. We did not vote either.”

He added, “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 said.

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.

More in Africa

Addressing journalists during the October 6 press conference, Archbishop Balestrero called on religious leaders to give priority to dialogue in order to reach a consensus.

“It is important to continue with the dialogue between the churches in this consultation. I would like it to be possible to continue to have a consensus that is the victory of independence, of democracy,” Archbishop Balestrero who will turn 55 in December said.

“This is also the reason for the religious denominations to be on the platform.” the Papal Representative who has been at the helm of the Vatican Diplomatic Service in DRC since 2019 further said, and added in reference to faith-based leaders, “They must have a consensus on issues that are important for the well-being of the population. Dialogue and consensus are always winning.”

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

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, an electoral expert proposed by six other denominations for the new head of CENI.

Advertisement

Addressing journalists at a press conference 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.”

There is well established proof of how Kadima has bribed some religious leaders for him to be declared CENI President, Fr. Nshole went on to say, adding that some 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 further said.

(Story continues below)

Meanwhile, the Holy See has expressed concern about attacks against the Church and its institutions in the DRC.

Addressing participants in the 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council Tuesday, October 5, the Chargé d’Affaires at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations described the attacks against the Catholic Church in DRC as “serious”.

“The Holy See is particularly concerned about the attacks against the Catholic Church and ecclesiastical institutions that have taken place throughout the country during the process of appointing the president of CENI,” Msgr. John Putzer said.

These attacks constitute, Msgr. Putzer said, “a serious attack on the freedom of religion and expression, but also a violation of democracy".

He added, “The Holy See notes that it is essential that this process be conducted in a transparent, democratic, and independent manner, so that an effective consensus can be reached among the eight denominations that make up the platform of religious denominations responsible for the appointment of the CENI president.”

Msgr. Putzar went on to appeal for “coordinated and constant efforts” at all levels to “effectively protect the rights and dignity of the Congolese people.”

The Vatican Diplomat also called on all stakeholders involved in organizing elections to ensure that “the 2023 electoral process takes place in a free, transparent, inclusive and democratic manner, on the basis of an effective consensus.”

He strongly condemned “all acts of violence, especially those involving the loss of human life, and all forms of sexual violence that are perpetrated on Congolese territory.”

The consequences of this “political instability and insecurity”, Msgr. Putzar said, are “devastating for the protection of human rights in the country.”