In the DRC, the situation in the east heightens tensions between the government and the Catholic Church

A year ago, the meeting between Félix Tshisekedi and Emmanuel Macron, in Kinshasa, turned sour, when the French president refused to condemn Rwanda for its role in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC)

In the DRC, the situation in the east heightens tensions between the government and the Catholic Church

A year ago, the meeting between Félix Tshisekedi and Emmanuel Macron, in Kinshasa, turned sour, when the French president refused to condemn Rwanda for its role in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC). Tuesday April 30, in Paris, it was otherwise warm. At the end of his tête-à-tête with his counterpart in France, for two days of his first official visit, Emmanuel Macron clearly called on Kigali to “cease all support” for the March 23 Movement (M23) in the east of the country and “withdraw its forces”. Even if he did not demand sanctions, the words lived up to Kinshasa's expectations.

For two and a half years in the grip of a new offensive by the M23 rebellion, actively supported by Rwanda, the Congolese authorities have made this issue the priority of their policy and the compass of their positions, both internationally and locally. the interior scene.

Even the highest Catholic authority in the country experiences this. Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo was summoned by the Congolese justice system, accused of making seditious remarks “during press briefings, interviews and other sermons, likely to discourage the soldiers of the Congolese armed forces who are fighting at the front, while the country is facing a war in the east.” In a letter dated April 27, Firmin Mvonde, the attorney general at the Court of Cassation, orders his counterpart at the Matete Court of Appeal, the prelate's jurisdiction of residence, to open a judicial investigation against the Archbishop of Kinshasa. This is the first time that a religious authority of his rank has been subject to such a procedure in the country.

Access to the VIP lounge

Calling for "calm" and assuring that the matter is "handled responsibly", the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (Cenco) confirmed having received a summons from the cardinal to appear in court, which the religious was unable to honor due to foreign trip.

These legal proceedings were launched after a homily which greatly displeased the Congolese authorities during Easter mass. Fridolin Ambongo had mentioned the rallying of certain people close to power to the M23, questioning: "We can call them traitors, they took up the cause of the enemy, but the basic question is why did these people act in this way? It’s because here, we continue to take actions that hurt others, that weaken national communion, that exclude others. »

“Extremely serious remarks”, according to Patrick Muyaya, the Minister of Communication, which can be interpreted as “moral support” for the M23.

Fifteen days later, a first sign revealed the government's anger: the cardinal was refused access to the VIP lounge at N'Djili airport in Kinshasa. An offense which scandalized the archdiocese. “With the notoriety that a cardinal has in the DRC, refusing him access to a VIP lounge open to the country's notables is an affront. It is the Congolese power which announces its entry into open war against the Catholic Church,” believes political scientist Christian-Joseph Atale.

“The voice of the voiceless”

The crisis between the two authorities is culminating after their relations have been electric for many months. Cardinal Ambongo had described the general elections, which were held in December 2023, as a “gigantic organized disorder”, after having been in 2021 one of the figures in the contestation of the appointment of the president of the Electoral Commission, Denis Kadima, suspected of being too close to power.

Fridolin Ambongo stands out as one of the most corrosive counter-powers for the government, while the opposition, which left in scattered ranks in the last elections, is struggling to make any impact. In a country where around 45% of the population is Catholic and where the Church fulfills many basic functions (school, health clinics), this close friend of Pope Francis is a moral authority whose words are widely listened to.

“Since the time of Mobutu, all the cardinals that the DRC has known have opposed the regime in place,” recalls Father Alain Nzadi, director of the Center for the Study of Social Action (Cepas), in Kinshasa. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, his predecessor, even had an outspokenness that went beyond the current cardinal” “Fridolin Ambongo is the voice of the voiceless,” he continues. Average citizens who do not have his aura rely on him to express their opinion publicly,” he continues. A moral authority with which successive powers have always had to come to terms, at the risk of alienating a significant part of their population.