United Methodist churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo condemned this week’s deadly attack on anti-government protestors and asked for prayers for peace.
Six people died Jan. 21 in Kinshasa after Congolese security forces used violence to disperse protestors who were demanding President Joseph Kabila step down and hold new elections, according to news reports. Ahead of the protests, the government also cut internet and SMS services across the country.
Security forces killed at least seven people during anti-Kabila demonstrations late last year after Kabila refused to give up power in accordance with a deal brokered by the Catholic Church in 2016. The accord would have ensured a peaceful transition of power with elections by the end of 2017. However, Congo’s election commission postponed the elections until December of 2018.
The Rev. Milenge Basilwango, pastor at Kadutu United Methodist Church in Bukavu in the South Kivu province, said fears of violence kept many away from church on Jan. 21. Only 20 percent of the congregation showed up for worship, he said.
The Rev. Litalema Bogega, district superintendent in Kisangani, made the same observation. He urged all stakeholders to open a dialogue that would lead to peaceful elections.
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries also hopes for a peaceful election process and is ready to support election monitoring. “We hope and pray that President Kabila will be an enabler and not a stumbling block of this process," said Thomas Kemper, the board’s top executive.
With more than 7.7 million people in dire need of food and 4.3 million who are internally displaced from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo — according to the United Nations — the political situation is adding to an existing crisis, Kemper added.
Bishop Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga episcopal area organized a prayer and peace convention in Kamina earlier this month, and several other prayer events are planned in the coming weeks. The Rev. Clement Kingombe, district superintendent in Goma and evangelist for the Kivu Annual Conference, said the church will organize a day of prayer in Goma on Jan. 29 and another three days of prayer in Bukavu, Feb. 26-28.
Kingombe asked all United Methodists to pray for fair elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo so that peace reigns in the country.
Freddy Manala, layperson in the Uvira District, also pleaded for prayers for the nation. He said the government’s 72-hour internet blackout created hardships for people around the church. He missed his trip abroad because he was unable to access travel documents.
The U.S. State Department condemned the violence in a Jan. 23 statement.
“The use of lethal force against Congolese citizens, and the cutting of internet and SMS service, undermine the democratic process, obstruct implementation of the St. Sylvestre Accord and contravene international human rights norms.
“We call on President Kabila to hold accountable security force members who fired on civilians or ordered the use of lethal force and urge him and his government to ensure a peaceful and open electoral process so that credible elections are held as scheduled in December 2018.”
Kituka Lolonga is communicator for the Kivu Annual Conference. UMNS staffer Linda Bloom contributed to this story.