In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Christians flock to churches, pray for peaceful polls

Kabila CongoBUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo –On a recent Sunday morning in this central Africa nation, worshippers at the United Methodist Church in Bukavu where among thousands of Christians flocked to church to pray for peace ahead of this month’s elections.

Congregants donning white and red attire feared that violence was possible when voters go to the polls on December 23.

“We don’t want this nation to shed blood of innocent people because of elections,” said parishioner Laurent Kabengele, after Sunday service. “We have no choice but to pray for peace. The tension is everywhere and we must pray and fast for God’s protection.”

Violent protests have erupted here periodically since December 2016, when President Joseph Kabila refused to give up power in accordance with a deal brokered by the Catholic Church. Technically, his second and final five-year term was supposed to end under the country’s constitution.

“We want elections to be free and fair so that our people can live in harmony,” said Rev. Clement Kingombe of the United Methodist Church. “We are going to have several other prayer events so that our members can have time to speak to God so that He intervenes and save our country.”

Election officials suspended the vote because, they said, insurrectionist violence in the central Kasai region was impeding voter registration. Catholic clergy organized protests against their decision, resulting in the deaths of dozens in Kinshasa when security forces clashed with protesting youths and priests.

Then, surprisingly, Kabila, who has ruled the country since his father's assassination in 2001, agreed in August to step down and allow the country to have the first democratic transfer of power.

Tensions have calmed in the Central African nation since then. But Kabila’s move to name his former interior minister, Emmanuel Shadary, as his successor and his alleged moves to block other potential opposition presidential candidates from participate in the vote has raised eyebrows on his intensions in the elections.

In August, election officials former Vice President Jeane- Pierre Bemba from running because he faces war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court. The country’s top court approved the move. Moses Katumbi, another top opposition leader was blocked from entering the country to register as a candidate.

Opposition leaders are also worried about the credibility of electronic voting machines which are being used for the first time in the country. They say the government will manipulate the system in favor of their candidate, Shadary. Argentina has used the same South Korean-made technology but stopped because of security issues that made them vulnerable to hackers.

“Our objective is to achieve credible elections,” said Martin Fayulu, a leading opposition candidate. “For now, we doubt the new voting machine because it’s more vulnerable to vote-rigging than paper and ink.”
Government officials have dismissed those concerns.

“We are sure we will win, by what margin is up to the people. It is enough to look at our adversaries to understand we will win for sure,” government spokesman Lambert Mende told reporters in Kinchasa on November 23.

The Catholic Church has also continued to demand for a free and fair vote, and a peaceful transition of power, too. Its flock comprises around 40 percent of the country’s population of 81 million, according to the World Bank.

Recently, hundreds of parishioners flocked to an early morning mass in the Our Lady of the Congo cathedral in Kinshasa to pray for a valid election and commemorate those who died during protests against Kabila.

“We are not tired in our demands for free and fair elections,” Isidor Ndaywel said after the mass. “We’ll continue to push the government to conduct a democratic election so that our country remains peaceful.”

In September, Jonas Tshiombela, a spokesman for the Catholic Lay Committee, a group ofactivists, told local media that the country was not ready for the elections until the government assures citizens of a free and fair vote. Tshiombela vowed to continue pushing the government to provide a safer environment for the elections.

“This the main point of our fight,” he said. “The contest is filled with uncertainties and irregularities and under such conditions a credible and fair election can’t be held.”

But parishioner Kabengelesaid that he believed that prayers can change the situation.
“Let us ask for God’s favor ahead of the elections,” he said. “We have nowhere else to go. This is our country.”

Photo: The President of the Republic H.E. Joseph Kabila Kabange presiding over Friday, November 16, 2018 in Kisangani the ceremony marking the end of the training of 3600 new police officers (Joseph Kabila Promotion) from the Lokusa and Kapalata Centres (Tshopo Province)
Credit: Courtesy of the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Official Twitter page 11/16/2018

Story/photo publish date: 12/20/18

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