Church leader challenges armed groups to leave Congo

By Ecumenical News International
July 23, 2009

Foreign armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo must leave if the country is to lift itself from its current quagmire, a church leader in the mineral-rich central African nation has said - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

"We would like to make sure that all armed groups return to their countries," said Bishop Pierre Marini, national president of the Church of Christ in Congo (Eglise du Christ au Congo).

Marini's view on foreign interference in what some commentators call Africa's most troubled country is supported by a report from an advocacy group called Global Witness. The document says, "The militarisation of mining in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is prolonging the armed conflict, which has been tearing the country apart for more than 12 years."

On its website, Global Witness says it, "exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems". It is funded by grants from trusts, foundations, development organizations and governments, as well as by Trocaire, the official development agency of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.

Marini, the Church of Christ leader, was speaking at a women's meeting in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, that took place under the theme, "Transformative leadership for peace, healing and reconciliation".

At the same gathering, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, told participants, "The churches still seem to relegate violence to the private sphere, and still understand violence as only physical."

He added, "The first and most obvious [effort] is to acknowledge that the violence actually exists. This means taking it out of the private arena and placing it squarely at the altars of our churches, in the seats of our parliament, and in the halls of our academies."

Kobia and the bishop spoke as reports were coming in of continuing clashes in North and South Kivu, or the Kivus, as the two provinces on the eastern border of the DRC are called. Church leaders in the provinces say armed groups often rape and kill women and children, and force from their homes those civilians they do not kill.

The All Africa Conference of Churches organized the Kinshasa women's conference, and a visiting group from the World Council of Church attended. The WCC group was part of a project known as "Living Letters", which seeks to support people in areas of conflict. The WCC visitors were in the DRC from 8-15 July.

Marini told the Kinshasa meeting, "The transformation of the lives of the people in DRC is one of the biggest visions of the Church of Christ in the Congo."

The church leader singled out the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) as being particularly responsible for the current level of violence in the DRC. The FDLR is a Hutu rebel group widely accused of carrying out atrocities in South and North Kivu. Marini also blamed others for the violence, including Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army, the Interahamwe, a militia formed by Hutu refugees in the DRC, and the Mbororo nomads from Chad and south Sudan.

"We will continue the rehabilitation of the victims of war," said Marini. "We want to spearhead the assistance of displaced people in South and North Kivu."

Church officials have reported that more than five million people have died in direct fighting or through conflict-related symptoms in the DRC, and hundreds of thousands more have been left homeless during the conflict that has evolved in phases since 1996. In 2003, a peace deal led to the formation of a transitional government in the DRC but attacks still continue in the eastern part of the country, which borders Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

Many observers suggest that the DRC is at war because of its mineral wealth. The country with a population of around 69 million has substantial deposits of diamonds, copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, uranium, niobium and tantalum. Tantalum is a hard, corrosive-resistant mineral. It is also known as coltan, and is now much sought after due to the global growth in the use of mobile telephones.

The Church of Christ in Congo says it wants to help reconstruct the country through rehabilitating its old and dilapidated infrastructure. The church also wants to provide basic services such as electricity to the people, establish a bank, and repatriate some of the country's illegally earned wealth said to be held in foreign accounts.

"We hear there is some of our wealth being kept in Switzerland. We should find how that wealth can be brought back," said Marini. He explained that church leaders were pleading for an international conference for Congo in Geneva as a follow up to the visit of the WCC delegation to his country.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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