Congo Catholic bishops call for dialogue to ensure Kabila leaves

By Tom Wilson*

Pope Francis with Congolese Bishops
Pope Francis with Congolese Bishops

Catholic bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo called for dialogue on national elections to take place immediately and reiterated their demand that President Joseph Kabila step down when his second term ends.

A political dialogue “is now the only way to avoid chaos,” Abbot Leonard Santedi Kinkupu, secretary-general of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, told reporters Monday in the capital, Kinshasa. Political leaders should “make the needed concessions for a sincere national dialogue to take place,” he said.

Congo is scheduled to hold elections in November, after which Kabila, in power since 2001, is supposed to step down, but the polls may be delayed because preparations aren’t on schedule. The church, a powerful force in the central African nation where more than 40 percent of the population is Catholic, has repeatedly called on Kabila to leave office at the end of his second term.

Kabila last year called for a national dialogue on the organization of the polls, but opposition parties have largely refused to participate, accusing the president of using the talks to delay the vote.

“It is imperative that we respect the fundamentals of our constitution concerning the number and length of presidential terms,” Santedi said.

Under the constitution, Congolese presidents can serve two five-year terms. Kabila won elections in 2006 and 2011 and should step down on Dec. 20, although the Constitutional Court in May ruled that he can remain in office until a new president is elected.

“We cannot allow technical constraints to be used as political excuses,” Santedi said in a separate interview, referring to the government’s argument that financial and organizational issues will necessitate a long delay.

“If a delay of two or three months is agreed by political consensus, then that can be acceptable because we can say that it respects the spirit of the constitution,” he said.

*Chicago Tribune


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