Congo’s Bishops Renew Calls to Free Katumbi and Advance Democracy

As the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s democracy continues to be strangled by the clutch of President Joseph Kabila, the country’s Roman Catholic bishops continue to press for change on behalf of the tens of millions of people who seek justice, free and fair elections and peace.

Under the country’s Constitution, Kabila was to have exited the scene following elections that were to be held last fall but did not take place. A peace and power sharing deal brokered by the conference of the DRC’s Roman Catholic bishops (CENCO) just before the beginning of the New Year, has gone largely ignored. Last month, Kabila nominated his own Prime Minister to serve as an interim leader, breaking the terms of the agreement. In addition, Kabila continues to pervert the country’s justice system to sideline opposition candidate Moise Katumbi, a businessman and former Katanga province governor.

Last spring Katumbi was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in jail. When the conviction was handed down, Katumbi was abroad receiving treatment for a serious injury inflicted during a pro-democracy demonstration that was violently broken up by government forces. He was unable to defend himself against the charges.

This week CENCO called on Kabila to allow Katumbi to return to the country, terming the conviction “a farce.” In support of this view is an affidavit from a Congolese judge named Chantal Ramazini Wazuri in which she courageously detailed how Kabila’s operatives strong-armed her into convicting Katumbi despite a complete lack of evidence and with total disregard for judicial procedures. She has fled to France for fear of her life. CENCO’s request came as the conclusion of a larger investigation into the terms of the convictions of Moise Katumbi and Jean Claude Muyambo.

CENCO called on Kabila to ascent to the following stipulations:

  • The immediate release of Jean-Claude Muyambo
  • The immediate withdrawal of the arrest warrant against Moïse Katumbi, and his release so he can exercise his civil and political rights
  • The dismissal of the proceedings against Moïse Katumbi for recruiting American mercenaries and for infringing the external and internal security of the country
  • The release of the people imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of the Congo subsequent to the so-called mercenary case
  • The justice system to be freed of any outside control
  • The need to organize a trial that is truly fair, respects the guaranteed rights of defense, without political harassment or interference, and without pressures from the intelligence agency, in order to reestablish the truth

These proposals would allow individual citizens to pursue justice under the law and exercise their political rights but these small steps would represent larger strides by all Congolese people toward the democracy that is their birthright.

Katumbi expressed similar sentiments in a letter to this week to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seeking an honest review of this situation and U.S. support for his right to seek justice. Katumbi wrote, “The diplomatic support you would grant me would be a precious contribution for the support of democracy in the DRC. The Congolese people would be very grateful to you and would remember this very precious contribution at a decisive point in the birth of its democracy. All political opposition candidates, not just me, must be able to run in free and fair elections. The Congolese people and its Constitution demand nothing less.”

Kabila might seem like a durable strongman but as he continues to put himself in opposition to the moral integrity of the country’s spiritual leaders, the fact-based administration of justice and the aspirations of his people, his weaknesses are fully exposed. He will eventually have to yield to his stalwart citizens and the international community.