Photo: Demonstrators at the Echangeur de Limete, Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September 2016. Photo: Habibou Bangre/IRIN - Photo: 2018

In the Shadow of Lumumba, Congolese Defy Protest Ban

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) – Amid reports that pro-democracy activism in the Democratic Republic of Congo is feeling the lash from the unpopular government of Joseph Kabila who is under pressure to hand over power as the Constitution requires, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged Congolese security forces “to exercise restraint and to uphold the Congolese people’s right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.”

Also the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Moussa Faki Mahamat, has strongly condemned the violence following demonstrations organized on January 21 in Kinshasa, and deplored the reported loss of life.

According to Georges Kapiamba of the local Congolese Association for Justice, 10 priests have been detained, including Father Dieudonne Mukinayi, alongside his parishioners. Two nuns are missing, 257 demonstrators have been arrested and are being held in various cells in Kinshasa, he told Radio Okapi.

Since the beginning of the year, heavily armed security agents have surrounded, raided or disrupted service at 134 parishes. In Bukavu, police armed with grenade-launchers took up position at the Cathedral.

In Lumbumbashi, soldiers harassed church-goers at the Basilica and shot live ammunition. In Beni, an amateur video showed 20 police officers beating a half dozen unarmed activists from the youth movement Lucha.

A statement issued on January 22 by UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said, the Secretary-General had called upon “all concerned to ensure full respect for places of worship.”

The Catholic Church makes up half the 67.5 million inhabitants of the Democratic Republic of Congo and has pressed Kabila to step down since his second and final term expired more than a year ago.

Jean-Moberg Senga with Amnesty International sent out a tweet: “Mobile Internet, SMS, phone calls still blocked. Difficult to search for people killed, injured, arrested. UN monitors, Red Cross helpers, journalists, priests, nuns: no one was spared from police/army brutality during Sunday’s [January 21] anti-Kabila protests.”

UN spokesman Dujarric said in view of the killing on January 21 “of at least six people during protests calling for the full implementation” of the political agreement reached on December 31, 2016 and reports that “63 people were injured,” the Secretary-General has called on the Congolese authorities “to conduct credible investigations into these incidents and to hold those responsible accountable.”

The statement added: “The Secretary-General, once again, calls on Congolese political actors to work towards the full implementation of the 31 December political agreement, which remains the only viable path to the holding of elections, the peaceful transfer of power and the consolidation of stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The agreement at the heart of the protests – facilitated by Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO) mediators – allowed President Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of his term and stipulated that peaceful, credible and inclusive elections would be organized in Congo by the end of December 2017.

The polls were reportedly pushed back to December 2018, sparking violent protests late last month.

Also the Chairperson of the AUC Mahamat encouraged the Congolese “stakeholders” to fully honour the commitments entered into, on the December 31, 2016, in order to consolidate the gains made and deepen democracy in the country.

He further stressed the importance of confidence-building measures and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms as guaranteed by the Constitution. He reiterated the call for the proportionate use of force in the maintenance of law and order.

Mahamat called on all political actors to create a conducive environment for the conduct of free, transparent and fair elections in December 2018 and urged all concerned to ensure that the electoral calendar is strictly complied with.

By sad coincidence, the latest round of street marches amid tear gas and rubber bullets comes on the anniversary of the murder of Patrice Lumumba, an independence leader who served as the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from June until his assassination on January 17, 1961.

“This heinous crime was a culmination of two inter-related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed,” recalled Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja in the UK Guardian newspaper.

Meanwhile, Corneille Nangaa, head of the Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission has retained two U.S. lobbying firms, Reset Public Affairs, LLC, and the Madison Group, LLC, to represent him in Washington, DC. Total for the two is $100,000, according to foreign policy analyst Mvemba Phezo Dizolele at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 January 2018]

Photo: Demonstrators at the Echangeur de Limete, Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September 2016. Photo: Habibou Bangre/IRIN

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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