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Catholic Bishops in DR Congo Want President to Reject “endorsed” Electoral Chairman

Denis Kadima, endorsed as President of CENI in the DRC by the National assembly. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Catholic Bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are calling on President Félix Tshisekedi to reject the candidate that members of the National Assembly have endorsed to head the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

On October 16, DRC’s lawmakers endorsed Denis Kadima to oversee CENI, a decision that is being contested by the Catholic Church and opposition parties, according to reports.

Speaking to journalists October 16, the Secretary general of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) said that Catholic Bishops in the Central African nation are calling on the President to “assume his responsibilities for the future of the DRC.”

“The Catholic Church calls on the Head of State to be wise, as was the case with Ronsard Malonda in 2020,” Fr. Donatien Nshole said.

In 2020, religious leaders in the DRC asked President Tshisekedi not to accept the National Assembly’s “endorsement” of Ronsard Malonda as the head of CENI, terming the decision by the members of parliament “controversial.”

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Religious leaders in DRC have been divided over the appointment of the person to be at the helm of CENI, a prerogative accorded them by the country’s constitution.

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 Mr. Kadima, a recognized electoral expert proposed by six other denominations, as new head of CENI.

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

According to the Constitution of DRC, the head of State is required to ratify the appointment of Mr. Kadima as head of the CENI.

Addressing journalists October 16, CENCO Secretary General who doubles as the spokesperson of the Forum of Religious Denominations in DRC said, in reference to Mr. Kadima’s endorsement by lawmakers, “It’s a dramatic turn of events. This is the very first time that the challenge of a candidate for the president of CENI has reached the proportions as the case of Denis Kadima.”

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“These are signs that never fail. We want peaceful, credible elections and we are convinced that with Kadima, we will not obtain them,” Fr. Nshole further said, and urged the Congolese people to “remain vigilant and not to let the electoral process be compromised.”

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

On October 4, the members of the Forum of Religious Denominations were not able to reach a consensus, even after the 72-hour deadline given by the National Assembly President elapsed. 

In a letter addressed to the President of the National Assembly, the Vice President of 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.”

Bishop Ekanga 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.”

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On October 6, the Apostolic Nuncio in DRC said the role of the Catholic Church is to support democracy by ensuring an inclusive, credible and peaceful general elections in 2023.

Addressing journalists 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 said.

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