Religious in DRC urged not to take sides in elections campaign

As elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo approach amid widespread polarization and violence, the Conference of Major Superiors urges Congolese religious men and women to remain faithful to the values of consecrated life by not supporting one candidate over another and abstaining from “divisive speech.”

By Stanislas Kambashi, SJ and Lisa Zengarini

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is set to vote in presidential elections on Wednesday, December 20, with incumbent President Félix Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress Party (Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social, UDPS) seeking a second five-year term.

Nearly 40 million eligible Congolese voters are expected to participate in the polls, also electing members of both national and provincial parliaments and local councillors.

The elections take place against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in the Eastern provinces and amid widespread violence, which has raised serious concerns in the international community in light of the political instability that has marred the sub-Saharan African nation for decades.

Both supporters of the ruling UDPS and the opposition have been reportedly involved in serious incidents of electoral violence across the country.

Religious men and women must respect “the values of their state of life”

In this polarized context, the Conference of Major Superiors (COSUMA) issued a statement ahead of the elections urging Congolese men and women religious not to get involved in party propaganda.

While engaging in political debates as citizens, even within their communities, consecrated persons must nevertheless do so respecting “the values of their state of life,” said the statement, signed by the President of COSUMA, Jesuit Father Rigobert Kyungu and the vice-president, Sister Rita Yamba.

One of those values is “communion.”. Recalling that religious communities are generally made up of members from various backgrounds who are called to live together “prophetically,” the major superiors underscored the need to “do everything possible” to make sure no one comes to divide them and break the ties that unite them.

No divisive speech and ideological preaching

The statement therefore urged the Congolese religious to abstain from “divisive speech.”. It also cautioned them about the use of social media, saying any publication risks undermining their community or congregation.

COSUMA further enjoined religious communities not to organize special events supporting one candidate over another “whoever they are” because, as it said, “consecrated communities are not places of political gatherings.”

The message from the Congolese major superiors further warned against propagandist or ideological preaching, recalling the Bishops’ Conference (CENCO) recent message on the elections saying that churches must not be used “under any circumstance”, be it a Eucharistic celebration or any other Church event, for political propaganda.

Concluding, COSUMA called on the Congolese religious “to watch in prayer”, particularly during this Advent season, “so as not to be lead on the path to perdition through attitudes of counter-witness”.

Prayers  for a peaceful election

The statement invited them to be inspired by the Virgin Mary, who “leaves us a beautiful example of citizenship, civility, and faith.”. Always faithful to the Lord, the major superiors noted, she showed faith, hope and charity in all circumstances, and is therefore “the model of the values of consecrated life that we need today, namely: tolerance, prudence, kindness, and mutual respect.”  While trusting in God’s intercession, they also called for prayers that the election may be peaceful.

Electoral campaign marked by violence and polarization 

Some 20 candidates, including President Tshisekedi are currently running for the presidency in the DRC. Opposition parties accuse the government of orchestrating electoral fraud, of restricting freedoms and democratic space, while the effective autonomy of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni) is being questioned. Catholic bishops share these concerns.

On December 8, the European Union warned it would impose targeted sanctions against “any person obstructing a consensual and peaceful solution towards the upcoming elections.”

On December 11, the head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO), Bintou Keita, confirmed that violent clashes between supporters of rival political parties were occurring in many provinces and that the electoral campaign has been marked by fake news and hate speech.

Results expected by 31 December

Tensions have been exasperated by the ongoing conflict in the eastern provinces and the economic and social crisis following the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

According to the electoral calendar, the provisional results are expected on 31 December and the next president will be sworn into office on 20 January 2024.