Congo-Kinshasa: Cardinal Ambongo - 'The Situation in and Around Goma Is Deteriorating Day By Day'

Kinshasa — "The situation in and around Goma is deteriorating day by day," says Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Metropolitan Archbishop of Kinshasa, to Fides. He refers to the capital of North Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the M23 guerrillas have taken up arms again since 2021 and have captured several towns.

"The M23 continues to conquer territory while the Congolese army is in complete chaos," said the Cardinal. "What we fear most is the risk of general insecurity, especially in Goma and generally throughout the east of the country."

"This is because the government has distributed additional weapons to various armed groups, such as the Wazalendo and also to some members of the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), (which was founded in the early 2000s by the survivors of the old Rwandan Hutu- regimes, editor's note), in the expectation that these groups would support the army against the advance of the M23.

All of these groups are now well armed, and the population is paying the price of the risk of general insecurity," emphasizes Cardinal Ambongo. The term "Wazalendo" ("patriots" in Swahili) refers to a coalition of groups that took up arms to defend the population against the M23. However, its leader Éphraïm Bisimwa, leader of a local messianic sect, was condemned to death last October for the serious incidents of August 30, 2023 against the blue helmets of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in Goma, in which more than 50 people died.

"The arrest and death sentence of the leader of 'Wazalendo' has shown that this group is not homogeneous; some of its followers have even joined the ranks of the M23. It is difficult to control these armed groups, which refer to many leaders", says Cardinal Ambongo, who attributed great responsibility to the Congolese government in dealing with the crisis in the east of the country. "Instead of strengthening the regular army with selected and well-trained soldiers," he says, "the government has made what we believe is a dangerous decision to arm these groups, which end up becoming a danger to the population by harming citizens plunder, commit robberies and murders, and engage in the illegal trade in minerals mined in the region's artisanal mines."

"The bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Bukavu have presented a very clear analysis of the reality in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo," continued the Cardinal, referring to the pastoral letter published in mid-April (see Fides, 17/4/2024). "The church itself is in a dangerous situation in this area," he emphasizes.

"That is why the bishops of Bukavu Province, like all of us at the national level of the Congolese Episcopal Conference, have taken the decision to accompany the population even in this difficult time. The meaning of pastoral care for a suffering people is to ask, "how we can show a little of God's love and mercy to these suffering people." "That's what the Church is trying to do, but it's not always easy," he concludes.

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