Posted on Tuesday, 12 January 2016 15:04

DRC bishops tone down Kabila criticism

Democratic Republic of Congo's clergy has toned down its opposition to changes in the country's electoral calendar, which critics say is meant to help extend President Joseph Kabila to extend his tenure beyond constitutional limits.

Barely half way through the first month of the new year, National Episcopal Conference of Congo (Cenco) which was vehemently opposed to any "changes" to the calendar has already become less vociferous in its bold decision to take on DRC's cantankerous, but pressing, political issue of constitutional electoral calendars.

Late last year, when questions about the country's political future and demands for compliance with its constitutional order became the order of the day, the bishops held consultations with civil society where one of the bishops said they had called for the meeting "by virtue of (their) pastoral duty".

In November 2015, CENCO asked the "Congolese people to prove their vigilance in the spirit of article 64 (of the constitution)" which "stipulates that 'All Congolese have the duty to thwart any individual or group of individuals that takes power by force or exercises it in violation of the provisions of the present constitution.'"

 Also read: DRC in 2016 - The Kabila enigma continues

On New Year's eve, the bishops were invited to meet with the president behind closed doors. And while not a single word about what took place has filtered out since that meeting, there has been one marked change: Cenco's tune has changed.

The ecclesiastical order is now calling for a national dialogue without making its trademark demand that calls on the authorities to faithfully abide by the law and respect the constitutional electoral calendar.

Early this year, a source at Cenco said a "follow up committee", meant to "bring the [opposing political] leaders together and create a climate built on mutual trust", had been set up.

The source said the move was a "premeditated act before initiating the dialogue" while the "bishops examine whether (a planned) demonstration by Christians, forecast for 16 February, should be maintained, for fear of political exploitation".

The ecclesiastical order's back pedaling is absolute manna from heaven for the government DRC, where more than 40 percent of the population identitifies as Catholic. Cenco's decision to reexamine whether or not the demonstration should take place casts serious doubts on whether it will take place at all.

Kabila's government's fear of an anti-Kabila backlash if the demonstration in the majority christian country were to take place have for now seemingly dissipated. 

According to one of Kabila's advisors, "the bishops have come back to their senses after the Pope called on all the Congolese people to dialogue".

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