A 16-YEAR-OLD girl at a church door was among six people who were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Sunday, during peaceful marches organised by the Roman Catholic Church, calling for the country’s constitution to be upheld.
Priests, members of Evangelical churches, and Muslims were among thousands of protesters who gathered after mass, calling on the President, Joseph Kabila, to step down.
The United Nations reports that 63 people were injured after police deployed live rounds and tear gas. Hundreds of people have been arrested, including at least a dozen priests and nuns. The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has urged Congolese security forces to “exercise restraint”. On Wednesday, Pope Francis said: “I renew my call for everyone to commit to avoiding all forms of violence.”
Protesters are seeking the implementation of the political agreement (the “St Sylvester Agreement”) made in December 2016, facilitated by the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo. This allowed President Kabila — who has exceeded his constitutional mandate — to stay in power beyond the end of his term, but stipulated that peaceful, credible, and inclusive elections should be organised by the end of 2017.
Polls, however, have been pushed back to December this year. This resulted in Christians, led by the RC Church and carrying Bibles and crucifixes, demonstrating on New Year’s Eve. Seven people were killed in a police response which the RC Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, condemned as “nothing more, nothing less than barbarism”.
The bishops announced their withdrawal from the St Sylvester Agreement in March last year, with the President of the conference, the RC Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa, citing “the lack of sincere political will and the inability of political and social actors to find a compromise”. Catholic churches, schools, priests, and nuns have become targets for attacks (News, 13 April).
The UN warned last week of a “dramatic deterioration” in the humanitarian situation in DRC over the past year. The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator for the country, Kim Bolduc, spoke of “one of the world’s largest, most acute, and complex humanitarian crises”. At 4.3 million, DRC has the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Africa. More than 7.7 million people are described as food insecure. It is estimated that 4.7 million women and girls “could be exposed to gender-based violence in crisis-stricken areas”. The UN’s appeal is only half funded.
“If we don’t get that level of funding then there are people who will die,” Jean-Philippe Chauzy, of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration, warned last week. “I have to be clear with this. People will die.”
On Thursday, World Vision DRC’s acting national director, Edouard Ngoy, echoed calls for calm. “We would also like to urge authorities to respect human rights, freedom of worship and rights to demonstrate; and for all those involved to reach a peaceful resolution,” he said.
“World Vision has been supporting disadvantaged communities in the DRC for more than 30 years and continues to provide support in health and nutrition, education, livelihoods, emergency response, child protection, and humanitarian response. . . As a Christian organisation, we aspire to see a DRC in which families, communities and partners improve the well being of children.”