A FEW weeks ago, I considered the church, in particular the Catholic Church, as the best arbiter of political disputes in Africa.
But after the fiasco in the Democratic Republic of Congo elections two weeks ago and the recent confusion in our national dialogue involving the church, I think Africa should seriously look at the role that the church has played in African politics over the centuries.
Politics in Africa
The church has been involved in politics in Africa from the time that the first colonialists set foot on the continent. The churches were busy evangelising while the black people were exploited and abused by the colonialists and the silence of the clergy over the atrocities was astounding.
In the Belgian Congo, known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over 10 million people were killed by King Leopold II and the church never said anything about it. A report about that dark era of Congolese history says the following:
“The church’s penetration of the country at large is a product of the colonial era. The Belgian colonial state authorised and subsidised the predominantly Belgian Catholic missions to establish schools and hospitals throughout the colony.
“The church’s function from the perspective of the state was to accomplish Belgium’s “civilising mission” by creating a healthy, literate, and disciplined work force, one that was obedient to the governing authorities.”
The kings of Belgium became Catholics in 1831
The kings of Belgium became Catholics in 1831. Leopold I was a Lutheran but he was made a king on two conditions: to marry the Catholic daughter of the king of France and that his children must go under Catholic education. Therefore the man who pillaged and exploited the Congo, King Leopold II of Belgium was raised a Catholic.
He reigned as king of Belgium from 1865 to December 1909 and was responsible for the founding and exploitation of the Congo Free State as a private venture. King Leopold II used well known explorer Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 and which led to the partition of Africa in what is now referred to as the Scramble for Africa. He ruled the Congo as a personal property using the mercenary Force Publique.
Fortune from the Congo
The king amassed a fortune from the Congo initially by the collection of ivory and when the demand for rubber led to a rise in the price for the raw material, he used forced labour of the Africans to harvest and process rubber. A report of his rule of the Congo says:
“Leopold’s regime was characterised by notorious systematic brutality; men, women and children had hands amputated for failing to deliver their quota of rubber; thousands were sold into slavery.
“These and other facts were established at the time by eyewitness testimony to and on-site inspection by an international Commission of Inquiry (1904).
Millions of the Congolese people died
“Millions of the Congolese people died: modern estimates range from one million to fifteen million deaths, with a consensus growing around 10 million.”
These reports of abuse and deaths led the Belgian government to develop a civil administration free from the king’s oversight for the Congo in 1908. In the meantime, the Catholic Church remained mute for three decades; the church did not express any concern or protest over the atrocities.
It is surprising how the church has taken centre stage in modern Congolese politics despite its dark past in that country. Their conduct in the just ended elections has been divisive. Their stance of declaring a different winner from that announced by the Electoral Commission could lead to civil strife in the Congo.
Already, the church itself is divided. Six Bishops from the Kasai region have broken ranks and recognised Felix Tshisekedi, who is a Kasai, as duly elected President of the DRC.
For a long time, the other tribes in the Congo have never wanted a Kasai to rule that country. Interesting question; are the other Catholic Bishops hiding their tribal hegemony in the church?
Congo could erupt because of differences created by the church! Enter Rwanda. We all know what happened in that country. Catholic priests took part in the genocide that cost the lives of 800, 000 people mostly Tutsis.
The Catholic Church was accused of being very close to the Hutu-led government at the time the genocide took place.
Pope Francis apologised to Rwandan President Paul Kagame “
In 2017, Pope Francis apologised to Rwandan President Paul Kagame “for the sins and failings of the Church and its members” when the two met at the Vatican.
The Pope implored “God’s forgiveness for the sins and failing of the Church and its members, among whom priests and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission.”
We therefore must be very careful when we involve the church in our politics.
Who for example among our clergy has succumbed to hatred and wants to use the church to exact revenge on his political enemies? We should not allow the Church or let me say some individuals who have either chosen to be useful idiots of thieves and plunderers running political parties or have personal ambitions and vendettas; to derail the peace we enjoy in our country. I know that we are a Christian nation and I am a Catholic myself, but the church cannot be the agenda driver, the church must be an arbiter.
I have for a long time lost trust in the church and its crusade for human rights.
I presented a very detailed brief on the theft of pension benefits and the subsequent suffering that the victims were going through to all the three church mother bodies and my colleagues and I never even received an acknowledgment.
Whose interest and whose rights does the church worry about? King Leopold IV of Zambia?
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