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DR Congo’s Electoral Commission Head “not the right choice”: Congolese Cardinal

Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo of DRC's Kinshasa Archdiocese. Credit: Courtesy photo

Denis Kadima who was confirmed as the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) “is not the right choice”, a Cardinal in the Central African nation has said.

On October 22, President Tshisekedi confirmed the appointment of Mr. Kadima as the head of CENI alongside 12 others as members of the electoral body. This was days after Catholic Bishops in DRC had urged him to reject the endorsement that had been made by lawmakers in the country. 

Addressing journalists October 30 after an audience with the President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou N'Guesso, Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo reiterated the Catholic Church leaders’ disapproval of Mr. Kadima as CENI president.

“Our stance on the choice of Denis Kadima, endorsed by the National Assembly and confirmed by the President of the Republic as President of the CENI is clear. We are against it,” Cardinal Ambongo said.

The Archbishop of Kinshasa further told journalists, “The population of Kinshasa being 90% Catholics, we told President Tshisekedi that his designation as head of the CENI was not the right choice.”

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Cardinal Ambongo continued, “We are very concerned about the independence of this institution. It is not good that the president of such an institution is close to the head of state.”

President Félix Tshisekedi, the Cardinal said, "did not listen to us and decided to confirm this one. But we are concerned because it could be a kind of seed of protests for future elections.”

On October 16, DRC’s National Assembly endorsed Mr. Kadima as President of CENI, a candidate who had been rejected by the Catholic and Protestant church representatives as well as opposition parties in the country, according to reports.

DRC’s eight main religious institutions are constitutionally mandated to choose, by consensus, CENI President. There was lack of consensus during the multiple consultative meetings, with representatives of the Catholic Church and those of the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) expressing their concerns about the independence of Mr. Kadima.

While the faith-based leaders recognized Mr. Kadima’s expertise in electoral matters, CENCO and ECC representatives claimed that he is too close to President Tshisekedi, a factor that would compromise the credibility the country’s general elections.

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“We want peaceful, credible elections and we are convinced that with Kadima, we will not obtain them,” CENCO Secretary General who doubles as the spokesperson of the Forum of Religious Denominations in DRC, Fr. Donatien Nshole, told journalists October 16.

Commenting on his audience with President Sassou N'Guesso during the October 30 press conference, Cardinal Ambongo said, “As Archbishop of Kinshasa, I came to exchange with the President of the Republic, Denis Sassou N'Guesso, on socio-political issues concerning our country. I wanted to benefit from his wise advice that could help us consolidate peaceful coexistence in our country.”

“As the Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal of the Holy Catholic Church, it is also an opportunity for me to exchange with the Head of State on the situation of the Church whether it is on the side of Congo Kinshasa and on this side here,” he said.

The Congolese Cardinal added, “It is part of my responsibility, as a Church leader to exchange with a head of state and see how we can collaborate for the interest of our people.”