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Congolese church leaders seek election help, reject ‘double standard’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Catholic and Protestant leaders from Congo recently traveled to the European Union and the U.S. to seek continued support for democracy, but they also said they noticed a bit of a double standard in the West.

The Catholic Church, working with the Protestant churches to represent 80 percent of Congolese, wants to expand the electoral education program and observer missions launched for the 2018 election.

Already, “People have lost confidence in the electoral process” for 2023, said Father Donatien Nshole Babula, secretary-general and spokesman for the Congolese bishops’ conference.

“If people lose confidence in the electoral process, we fear that violent methods of changing the government” will increase, Nshole told Catholic News Service in mid-November. He was part of a four-person delegation that met with U.S. Catholic and government leaders — including Molly Phee, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs — during a visit to Washington.

In Congo, like in the United States, every vote counts, so “renewed accompaniment would be crucial,” the priest said.

Another member of the delegation was the Rev. Maurice Mondengo, deputy chief of staff and director of the department of communication and the media for the Church of Christ in Congo, the umbrella organization for more than 60 Congolese Protestant denominations. Mondengo told Catholic News Service that in visits to the European Union and U.S. government officials, the delegation had noticed a perception of “African democracy.”

“We hear the expression … ‘democracy the African way,’” he said, noting the understanding is that “it’s just a lower quality” of democracy, with values that are not the same.

“We were horrified to see the events of Jan. 6 here in the United States,” he said. But “what we noticed, very clearly, was the behavior of the Capitol Police. They did not fire on all those demonstrators.”

In Africa, he said, even though the international community sees the results of an election are fraudulent, if the people do not go out and demonstrate, the international community does not have to do anything.

“What we are facing here is an issue of double standards,” he said. “The standard is being imposed: Votes don’t count, but how many people are demonstrating.”

If Africans followed that standard, the church would have to stop preaching about peace, he said.

“We have to allow them to go out in the streets … and then bury the dead … because our policemen will fire on the demonstrators.”

“We are really, seriously against this double standard,” he said.

“We don’t fear having to die. But the truth is the Protestant church leaders and the Catholic Church leaders — our lives are in danger already,” he said.

In early August, Catholic bishops in Congo called for an end to attacks on the church and its leaders, acts they believe are linked to the church’s persistent call for democracy and national cohesion.

The bishops said the Archdiocese of Kinshasa has been targeted as well as places of worship — including parishes, Marian grottoes, altars and sanctuaries — in the Diocese of Mbujimayi.

On July 31, Augustin Kabuya, general secretary of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, accused Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo and Nshole of politicizing the church, among other allegations. The following day, a group of young people vandalized the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa and the residence of the cardinal. They also yelled insults at the cardinal.

More recently, while the country’s religious groups were supposed to appoint the head of Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission, instead, President Felix Tshisekedi appointed Denis Kadima as head of the commission. Media reported Ambongo contacted Tshisekedi to express disappointment with the decision.

“The recurrent crisis that we’ve had in our country really boils down to a total lack of legitimacy,” said Bishop José Moko Ekanga, vice president of the Congolese bishops’ conference and a member that the delegation that visited Washington.

“When the official (2018) electoral results were announced, the international community honored and applauded the work that the church did,” the bishop said, adding that now they churches need continued help, including to ensure the government allows independent election monitors.

“I hope we have not gone to the wrong address,” he added.

Contributing to this story was Francis Njuguna in Nairobi.

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