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Religious Groups

The Roman Catholic Church

Until the inauguration of multipartyism in 1990, the most persistent and most effective opposition to the Mobutu regime came from the Roman Catholic Church. Mobutu's ambitions for state expansion necessarily implied conflict with organized religion, and the main adversary of the expansionist regime was the Roman Catholic Church, which claims 46 to 48 percent of the population as active members. The Catholic network of schools, clinics, and other social services was as large as that of the state, and more efficiently run. The role of the church thus was pervasive, and its moral authority made it an uncomfortable competitor for the comprehensive allegiance that Mobutu sought.

Initially, the church had welcomed the new regime and supported the consolidation of its authority. The founding of the MPR led to the first tensions, and in 1969 a conference of bishops privately noted "dictatorial tendencies" in the regime. The following year, Joseph Cardinal Malula, the head of the church in Zaire, publicly expressed fears regarding the regime's intentions during a mass celebrating the tenth anniversary of independence.

In 1971 the regime struck at the symbol of the Catholic education system, absorbing Lovanium University (along with the Protestants' fledgling university) into the new National University of Zaire. Even more offensive to the church was the announcement that branches of the JMPR (party youth organization) had to be established in the seminaries. After weeks of tension and closure of the seminaries, in April 1972 the bishops accepted JMPR cells on the condition that their party links pass through the church hierarchy.

Another battle took place over the concept of authenticity, which the Catholic hierarchy began to see as a threat to Christianity. The regime's stress on "mental decolonization" and "cultural disalienation" could be read as a veiled attack on Christianity as an import from the West, as could the appeal to the values of traditional African culture as an alternative to indiscriminate Westernization.

Authenticity also included the banning of Christian names, a measure that particularly offended the church. The Zairian bishops briefly resisted the measure, then acquiesced. The church's opposition earned Cardinal Malula attacks as a "renegade of the revolution;" he was evicted from the residence the regime had built for him and forced to leave the country for three months.

Late in 1972, the regime banned all religious publications and dissolved church-sponsored youth movements. Indoctrination of Zairian youth should be an exclusive function of the party, it was argued. The zenith of this campaign came at the end of 1974 when the religious school network was nationalized, public celebration of Christmas was banned, and the display of religious artifacts was limited to the interior of churches.

Soon thereafter, the regime began to concede tacitly that it had gone too far. The school networks eventually were returned to church management when the state proved unable to operate them effectively.

By 1976, the Catholic church had reemerged as the strongest critic of the existing sociopolitical order. Following the abandonment of the education "reforms" and of Zairianization of the economy, and the fiasco of intervention in Angola, a mood of profound demoralization settled over the country, and the church expressed the prevailing mood in a pastoral letter. Outraged, Mobutu summoned the Catholic bishops and demanded that they disavow the letter; they flatly refused.

Since that time, church-state relations have been on a see-saw. Mobutu welcomed the visits of Pope John Paul II, in May 1980 and August 1985, perhaps because they lent a reflected glory to his regime. But at other times, relations have been very bad indeed. In 1982, for example, Le Monde reported that Cardinal Malula and three bishops had been subjected to violent intimidation by the authorities.

The death of Cardinal Malula in 1989 removed the most prominent opponent of Mobutism. But when Mobutu called for a national dialogue, early in 1990, the Catholic bishops produced a memorandum that was sweeping in its condemnation of Mobutu's autocratic system of rule.

Monsignor Etsou, bishop of Mbandaka, was named archbishop of Kinshasa in 1990, then raised to the rank of cardinal, succeeding Malula in both posts. These decisions doubtless were motivated by the needs of the church; however, "Mobutu's bishop" appeared to have been chosen by the church over other potential successors. This impression was strengthened, early in 1991, when Etsou cancelled a proreform march in Kinshasa, and he ordered priests to keep out of politics.

Yet other currents in the church clearly still oppose Mobutu and have been in the forefront of democratization efforts. Monsignor Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kisangani, was elected president of the CNS in April 1992 and, as head of the HCR, has continued to lead negotiations aimed at political reform. Moreover, in December 1993, Zaire's Catholic bishops once again issued a public condemnation of the Mobutu regime, accusing Mobutu of using state terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and economic sabotage to destabilize the country and maintain control of the state apparatus.

The Protestants

Zaire's Protestant leaders were less resistant than the Catholics to the excesses of Mobutu's Second Republic. The Protestant churches, claiming about 24 to 28 percent of the population as communicants, acquiesced to the 1971 government- imposed merger of the various Protestant groups (analogous to the unification of the trade union movement, discussed above). The result was the Church of Christ in Zaire (╔glise du Christ au Za´re--ECZ), an umbrella organization. Some Protestants welcomed this action because it gave them equal standing with the Catholics. Conservative Protestant churches and missions refused to join, only to be faced by a government law recognizing the ECZ as the only legal framework for Protestant activity in the country. Sixty-two Protestant denominations were recognized as "communities" within the ECZ. Numerically, the most important were the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Methodists, and the Presbyterians.

Leaders of the ECZ seem to have decided that the Mobutu regime's authenticity campaign offered them an historic opportunity. Unlike the Catholics, they embraced authenticity and its leader, Mobutu. The clash between Cardinal Malula and President Mobutu, culminating in the nationalization of Lovanium University and the exile of the cardinal, seemed to compensate for the advantages Catholicism had enjoyed under Belgian colonialism. Even though they lost their own newly established university, the Free University of the Congo (UniversitÚ Libre du Congo--ULC), the Protestants apparently considered that what was bad news for the Catholics necessarily was good news for them.

The Protestants remained committed to the regime until after Mobutu's announcement of a process of popular consultation. Then, in February 1990, the ECZ's Executive committee for Kasai-Oriental Region submitted a memorandum in which it criticized the constitutional structure of the Second Republic, denounced the failures or abuses of the functioning of the various institutions, and proposed a series of changes. The memorandum was particularly direct in criticizing the "excessiveness of the powers held in the hands of only one man," i.e., the president. What is interesting in light of subsequent events, however, is that this memorandum did not demand the replacement of the regime and made no mention of multipartyism.

A month later, the head of the ECZ submitted a memorandum to Mobutu, on behalf of the entire ECZ. The memorandum recommended that the president assume the role of "guarantor of national unity and sovereignty, making the government responsible before the people (the parliament) for the acts it commits." The ECZ called for a multiparty system with a minimum of two and a maximum of three parties, affirmed that only Mobutu could guide the country through the transition to multipartyism, and promised its prayers for the success of the president's efforts.

The proposals of the Protestants were curiously similar to those made by Mobutu in his speech of April 24, notably the limitation of three parties and the placing of the president above the parties. Some observers concluded that the ECZ had been influential in shaping Mobutu's ideas, but of course it is equally possible that leaders of the ECZ were well enough informed as to what the president planned to say, three weeks later, that they were able to tailor their document to correspond to the president's plans.

Following the massacre of students on the campus of the University of Lubumbashi in May 1990, the national executive committee of the ECZ met at Goma in Nord-Kivu, where Mobutu himself was passing a considerable period of time. The committee reportedly recommended that the ECZ abstain from commenting on the Lubumbashi affair. This position was opposed by the regional leaders from Kasai-Oriental and especially by those from Shaba (of which Lubumbashi is the capital). Under the pressure of these delegations in particular, the ECZ issued a pastoral letter that went farther than any of its earlier statements in condemning the chaotic state of affairs. As to what should be done, the ECZ called for "a general amnesty" that would make it possible for all political tendencies to participate in a national conference.

Other Religions

The points of view of the Kimbanguist Church and of the much smaller Muslim community are similar to that of the Protestants, i.e., recognition by the Second Republic was welcome in that it gave the organizations far more status than they had previously enjoyed. As the political scene opened up in 1990, the Kimbanguists and Muslims were even slower than the Protestants to oppose the regime to which they owed so much.

Data as of December 1993

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