A delegation of church leaders from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo has set out to meet the presidents of the latter two countries in order to convey them a strong message in favour of peace.
The 5-strong ecumenical delegation was gathering yesterday at the Congolese capital Kinshasa, where they expect to meet with President Joseph Kabila before traveling in the coming weeks to the capital city of Kigali in order to meet the Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
"The aim is to transmit them a message of peace," says the Rev Dr André Karamaga, the World Council of Churches (WCC) programme executive for Africa and general secretary-elect of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).
The initiative was taken at a meeting of church leaders from the Great Lakes region convened by the AACC in Nairobi, Kenya on 22-23 October 2008. On that occasion, some 12 church leaders from Burundi, Rwanda and D.R. Congo decided that the heads of state and the rebel leader should hear a clear message: "People are tired and want an end to the war," and "dialogue costs much less than armed confrontation".
Some 250,000 people have fled their homes in the eastern part of the D.R. Congo escaping the fight that broke out between the army and rebels in August. Rebels are led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda, who says they fight to protect the Congolese Tutsi community from being attacked by Rwandan Hutu fighters, who fled to D.R. Congo, some of them perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The Congolese government seems to have failed to deliver on its promise to stop the Hutu forces from using its territory.
The D.R. Congo, a country the size of Western Europe and located in the heart of Africa, is striving to recover from a long civil war that reportedly killed some three million people, mostly through starvation and disease. As the newly internally displaced people join about one million already displaced in the region, fears of a humanitarian disaster are on the rise.
The group of church leaders is led by the Anglican Archbishop of Burundi Bernard Ntahoturi,. Ntahoturi chairs the Council of Churches of Burundi and the Great Lakes Ecumenical Forum and is a member of the WCC Central Committee. Also a member of the group is the Anglican Bishop of Rwanda Onesphore Rwaje, who is the president of the Protestant Council of Rwanda. Mbari Kioni, AACC director of Advocacy, Research and Communication is accompanying the team.
The Congolese members of the delegation are: Bishop Dieudonné Mbaya Tshiakany, moderator of the National Synod of the Church of Christ in Congo and president of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches of Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA); Bishop Jean-Luc Kuye-Ndondo wa Mulemera, president of the Church of Christ in Congo in South Kivu and a member of the senate; and the Rev Dr Kakule Molo, president of the Baptist Community in Central Africa, based ineastern Congo, and a member of parliament.
Churches in D.R. Congo are working to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. While many aid groups work to assist those in camps for displaced people, local members of Action by Churches Together (ACT) International are striving to help the largely "invisible" displaced families – those who are not in camps but sheltered in family homes – and the increasingly vulnerable communities who are hosting them. Initial plans for assistance include support for an estimated 60,000 people, as well as access to water and sanitation for significantly more families.
Action by Churches Together (ACT) International: http://act-intl.org/alerts/Alerts_2008/Al44-08_DRCViol.html