A Congolese cardinal is resisting calls to run for president

Last month a coalition of Catholic groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) urged Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo of Kinshasa to run for president in December’s elections. The group, known as “Dynamique Chrétienne pour l’Unité et la Démocratie”, said the country had been “on a slippery slope” ever since its 1960 independence from France and argued that the cardinal offered a credible alternative to an opposition “tearing itself apart”.

The idea was quickly ruled out by the influential Catholic Lay Co-ordination Committee, which has been organising protests against the incumbent, President Joseph Kabila. The cardinal had “refused political posts many times”, said Jonas Tshombela, its spokesman.

Tensions ahead of the election are high. It was meant to take place in 2016, but President Kabila postponed it, ignoring a timetable brokered by the Church. In rallies earlier this year at least 17 Catholics were killed. Violence by armed groups has also taken its toll, with the United Nations reporting that 4.5 million (out of a population of 67 million) are currently displaced.

Aged 78, Cardinal Monsengwo represents Africa on the Pope’s Council of Cardinals and is highly respected in the DRC, where he helped direct a democratic transition after the 1965-1997 dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko. But he is also past retirement age, with a successor already appointed, and would be highly vulnerable. In February, his bodyguards dispersed assailants from his Kinshasa residence, while last month he told journalists he was forced to take measures to stay safe (at home he only eats food made by his nieces).

Many are cautious about the petition. Tshombela, of the Catholic Lay Co-ordination Committee, thinks talk of Cardinal Monsengwo’s candidacy has been encouraged by the government to diminish his authority and distract Christians ahead of protests this Sunday. By present indications, the veteran cardinal seems likely to concur.

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