Mennonites to play mediating role in Congolese election
Congolese Mennonites are becoming engaged in the political process as their country prepares to hold democratic elections in July, reports Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) ñ the North American aid and development organisation which acts on behalf of a number of the historic peace churches.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, was devastated by decades of corrupt dictatorship and a civil war from 1998 to 2003. Fighting continues in Congo's northeastern region and extreme poverty is widespread. Mennonites are encouraging their church members and fellow citizens to participate in this year's elections as a way to revitalize their country.
Congo has three Mennonite denominations with a combined membership of about 194,000, according to Mennonite World Conference. They are Community of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Congo, Evangelical Mennonite Community and Mennonite Community in Congo.
MCC is supporting a joint effort by these denominations to prepare their churches for elections. Together, the denominations are training several thousand Congolese Mennonites to serve as conflict mediators and election observers in their communities. They are also sending civic educators to teach churches and community groups about voting in a democracy.
"The Mennonite vision is to rebuild the country with non-violent methods," says Pascal Kulungu, a Mennonite Brethren lay leader who is serving as chair of the interdenominational effort.
MCC is providing 94,000 Canadian dollars (84,000 US dollars) to train conflict mediators, election observers and civic educators and to host a group of about 20 international election observers.
MCC purchased posters that civic educators are using to teach democratic concepts to voters who may not know how to read. The posters depict the process of voting, warn against corrupt leaders and illustrate ideas such as equal rights and economic development.
Congo has not had a democratic election since 1960, and Cold War politics divided its first democratically elected leaders. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, a nationalist who sought support from the Soviet Union, was kidnapped and executed by forces loyal to President Joseph Kasa Vubu, who received military support from the United States and Belgium.
In 1965, Joseph Mobutu, an army commander who helped to kidnap Lumumba, ousted President Kasa Vubu and installed himself as a dictator until his death in 1997.
While Congolese Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren did not hold government positions under Mobutu, Kulungu reports that some church members are now running for high offices.
"There will be Mennonites who will be senators, who will be deputies, and there is one who wants to be president," Kulungu says.
Muyima Hosea, a Congolese Mennonite professor who lives in South Africa, is one of 33 registered presidential candidates. Kulungu says that Hosea does not have a significant chance of winning, but he may be appointed to a government position.
Congo's upcoming elections were originally scheduled for 2005, but logistical problems have caused numerous delays. The electoral commission recently announced that elections will be held on July 30.
Eric Mukambu is a Mennonite pastor who is teaching civic educators and conflict mediators in Kinshasa, Congo's capital. He says he hopes that the elections will begin the difficult process of rebuilding the country and alleviating poverty.
"My hope is that after the election we will have a credible government," Pastor Mukambu says. "The election will do something, but the election will not be a magic way to say 'OK, now we have a good Congo.' It's a first step."
Mennonites, who originate from the radical end of the Reformation in Europe, are known world-wide for their active involvement in peacemaking and justice, as well as their opposition to the idea of a state church.
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