On Dec. 31, 2017, the Catholic Lay Coordination Committee of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) held a protest march, calling on President Joseph Kabila to declare he would not run for another term in office, in accordance with an agreement brokered by the Church in late 2016. The President’s refusal to abide by the terms of the accord have sparked a wave of violence throughout the country.
Government troops cracked down on the march and retaliated against the Church by surrounding 134 parishes, barring faithful from Mass in several instances and attacking some 10 parishes with tear gas, while interrupting services in other instances. Up to a dozen people were killed, and 120 arrests were made.
Father Apollinaire Cibaka Cikongo, a professor at the seminary of Christ the King (Christ Roi) in Malole, Kananga, in the province of Central Kasai in the south of the country, gave us an update.
What actually happened on New Year’s Eve?
The army and the police fired with live ammunition on parishioners during Holy Mass, right when they were about to take part in a peaceful march organized by the Lay Coordination Committee, which is headed by several Catholic university professors. All these Christians were asking for was the implementation of the New Year’s Eve agreement concluded in December 2016, a year earlier, which in particular involved the agreement by the President of the Republic not to stand for a third term, in accordance with the terms of the Constitution.
Is opposition to the government possible without a bloodbath?
Media opposition is non-existent, and the political opposition is hopelessly fragmented on account of the multiplication of political parties—almost 600 of them! Which makes for a veritable cacophony.
Is the Church the sole opposition force?
The Church is certainly the most credible institution in the country and consequently finds herself in the line of fire. But it is necessary, because no one else dares to protest.
How important was the protest March?
This kind of internal pressure against the ruling power is not enough. There also have to be external pressures. Joseph Kabila came to power thanks to the protection of his patrons in the international community, major powers such as India, China; and thanks to the multinationals, which in exchange have been granted control over the mineral resources of the country. As long as these backers of the President do nothing, there will be no way out of the crisis.
Has the international community forgotten your country?
The world knows what is happening here, but since our sufferings serve the material comforts of other peoples, there is a complicit silence.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has given some $4M in 2016 for projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the past year the charity has supported 41 seminaries in the country, thereby helping a total of 1229 seminarians. At the present time, ACN is again helping fund the reconstruction of the major seminary in Malole.