Catholic leaders in Democratic Republic of Congo, where the church has often criticised President Joseph Kabila, expect to cancel a march next month, saying it has been hijacked by partisan interests.
Opposition parties and activist groups, hoping to piggyback off the Church’s popularity among the 40 percent of citizens who identify as Catholic, have urged supporters to take to the streets on Feb. 16 to demand that Kabila leave power when his mandate ends this year.
Their protest would coincide with a peaceful march called by National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) “to consolidate democracy” and commemorate dozens of Christian demonstrators killed by former president Mobutu Sese Seko’s security forces in 1992.
Kabila’s ruling party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), has also called on its members to march in support of the president on the same day.
“There has been a great political co-option of this initiative, on the side of the opposition and the majority,” Father Donatien Shole, deputy secretary-general of CENCO, told Reuters.
“We are in the process of thinking how to use this day in another way to memorialise the victims through more spiritual activities,” he added.
The Church has repeatedly called on Kabila to quit power when his second, and final, elected term expires in December.
However, the Church recently withdrew its representative from a meeting of opposition and civil society groups in Senegal on the grounds that there were no representatives from the political majority.
Kabila, in power since 2001, has refused to publicly commit to leaving office and opponents accuse him of trying to cling to power by delaying a presidential vote set for November.
The government has called for a national dialogue to address what it says are budgetary and logistical obstacles to holding the election on time.