Kinshasa, DR Congo | AFP | Catholics in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday called for a fresh rally against “the dictatorship” as they step up pressure on President Joseph Kabila.
The call for a demonstration on January 21 came less than two weeks after New Year’s Eve protests against Kabila’s rule saw six deaths in a crackdown by authorities, according to church and UN sources.
Rally coordinators urged believers to march “hand in hand as ever, peacefully with our peace branches, our bibles, our rosary beads and our crucifixes to save the Congo, our common heritage, in sacred respect of persons and property” and to offer “no respite for the dictatorship”.
“Far from intimidating us, the authorities have reinforced our determination … to avail ourselves of our constitutional right to demonstrate publicly,” organisers said.
On Friday, Catholic leaders in DR Congo hammered home a message of anger toward Kabila at a mass mourning for victims of the December 31 crackdown.
Police fired a couple of warning shots to disperse worshippers outside Kinshasa cathedral after the highly-charged mass, led by prominent government critic Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo.
Police said they fired only teargas, and two people were slightly injured.
Friday’s mass, attended by several western ambassadors and EU, UN and US representatives, saw the congregation applaud and cheer Catholic leaders as they called on Kabila to uphold a 2016 church-brokered deal to hold elections.
Kabila, 46, has been in power since 2001, at the helm of a regime widely criticised for corruption, repression and incompetence.
His constitutional term in office expired in December 2016, but he stayed on — a move that stoked a bloody spiral of violence.
Under an agreement brokered by the church, he was allowed to stay in office provided new elections were held in 2017.
After months of silence, the authorities said organisational problems meant that the vote would be held on December 23 2018 — a postponement that has angered Western nations, but one that they have reluctantly accepted.
The spokesman of the episcopate, Father Donatien Nshole, on Friday urged Catholics to “peacefully block all attempts to confiscate or seize power by non-democratic or anti-constitutional ways.”
Roughly half of DRC’s 80 million people are Catholics and the church helps to provide education and healthcare to millions of people in the absence of state services, reinforcing its broad credibility across the nation.