Congo cardinal says he will not run for president to lead the country

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo, blesses worshippers after celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Congo

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya has declared he is not a candidate for the presidency of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, saying he “has other things to do.”

The country is preparing for general elections on December 23, and a newly-formed group calling itself the Christian Dynamic for Unity and Democracy (DCUD) has launched a petition calling on Monsengwo, the Archbishop of Kinshasa and member of Pope Francis’s powerful C9 Council of Cardinals, to challenge President Joseph Kabila at the poll.

The organization – bringing together several lay Christian groups – has said the cardinal as the only person with the “credibility” to stand against the incumbent.

A recent public opinion poll named Monsengwo as the most respected person in the country, and the one most people wanted to lead the nation through any transitional post-Kabila era.

The spokesperson for the DCUD, Serge Gontcho said Monsengwo constituted “a sure and credible alternative to ensure a peaceful alternation of power at the presidency in the DRC”.

“The current government hasn’t succeeded, and the opposition isn’t proposing an alternative. They are more concerned with destroying each other. To build a Congo for our children, all those who have not succeeded should be kept aside and replaced with a new force. That is why we thought about Cardinal Monsengwa who is very much accepted by the people,” Gontcho said.

A major stumbling block – in addition to the cardinal’s declaration he is not a candidate – are Church prohibitions against clerics holding political office.

Gontcho said nothing should keep a prelate from seeking office, adding “Cardinal Monsengwo unites everyone around him – both those in power and those in the opposition.”

Catholic lay organizations – often with clerical support – have been leading protests against the government since a 2016 Church-organized accord between the government and opposition collapsed in 2017.

Kabila has been in office for over 15 years. In 2006, an election confirmed him in his post. He was re-elected for a second mandate in 2011. After Kabila’s failure to step down after the end of his second term in December 2016, as mandated by the constitution, protests left dozens of people dead.

In the absence of any credible opposition and a free press, the Catholic Church is emerging as the only credible voice that can speak up for the people of the Congo in the face of Kabila’s regime. Catholics make up nearly half of Congo’s 80 million people, and the nation’s bishops are held in high esteem.

Despite the growing effort to draft Monsengwo to run for the presidency, the move is opposed by the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC) of the Catholic Church. The spokesperson for the committee, Jonas Tshomba, said the move was engineered by those in power with the intension of distracting the population.

He said the bishops have been clear that Kabila should not run for office, a position confirmed by Father Donatien Nshole, the secretary general of the bishops’ conference.“The country needs a new leadership, and with some will, it is still possible to organize a good election in the country,” the priest said.

This isn’t the first time Monsengwo has been asked to take up a civil role in the country.