30 April 2024, The Tablet

Congolese prosecutor orders investigation of Cardinal Ambongo

Firmin Mvonde Manbu accused Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of making “seditious remarks” that discouraged DRC soldiers.

Congolese prosecutor orders investigation of Cardinal Ambongo

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo has been a vocal critic of President Félix Tshisekedi’s government.
EWTN Noticias / CNA

A state prosecutor in the Democratic Republic of Congo has ordered an investigation into the country’s senior prelate, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo.

In a letter dated 27 April, the attorney general of the DR Congo’s court of cassation, Firmin Mvonde Manbu, told the attorney general of Kinshasa’s Matete district court that Ambongo’s “seditious remarks” had served to “discourage the soldiers of the republic’s armed forces” and encouraged “the mistreatment of local populations by rebels and other invaders”.

Ambongo, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, heads the Congolese hierarchy and is also president of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). 

He has been a vocal critic of President Félix Tshisekedi’s government, focusing in recent months on its operations against rebels from the March 23 Movement (M23) in the east of the country. The cardinal said the DR Congo was “seriously ill” in his Easter sermon.

Recent reverses for the government have seen rebels encircle the city of Goma in the North Kivu region. Tshisekedi has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, while Ambongo has blamed government corruption as well as international interests for the crisis.

A statement on 14 April from the bishops of the DR Congo’s eastern ecclesiastical province of Bukavu said there were “parallel administrations in areas under the control of armed groups” and condemned the corruption they said encouraged the violence.

“Politics is the highest form of charity, because its purpose is not to serve oneself but to serve others and society – the people first,” they said.

While Ambongo has become more prominent in the global Church, recently as a leading critic of Fiducia Supplicans on behalf of conservative SECAM members, he has remained active in Congolese politics. He condemned the December 2023 election which returned Tshisekedi with more than 70 per cent of the vote as a “gigantic, organised mess”.

His criticisms of the response to rebels provoked controversy last month when the Fides news agency reported that he had accused the government of arming other groups and militias to fight the M23. The agency later said this had been a “misinterpretation”.

Relations between the Congolese Church and state worsened last month when the chancery of Ambongo’s archdiocese accused officials at N’djili International Airport of “degrading treatment” of the cardinal.

Ambongo was denied access to the airport’s VIP lounge, which the chancery said compromised his security. This was a response to his “prophetic pronouncements”, it said.

Mvonde Mambu said the cardinal had declined an invitation to his office on 25 April. Ambongo’s behaviour, he said, was “against the country, its people and their leaders and offended the laws of the republic”, and he “seems to take pleasure in these false noises and other incitations of the population to revolt against official institutions and to attacks against human life”.

The letter also warned the Matete attorney that any failure to investigate the cardinal would be considered “an act of complicity with the reprehensible deeds mentioned”.

Opposition figures in the DR Congo denounced the threatened investigation. Moïse Katumbi, who came second in the December election, wrote on social media that Ambongo “does nothing but speak out on behalf of the Congolese”.

“This political intimidation of the Church, whose very role is to speak out on behalf of the oppressed, is totally unacceptable,” he said, comparing it to previous regimes’ attacks on Ambongo’s predecessors.

The Nobel laureate Denis Mukwege, who also ran for president in December, said that the measures “demonstrate the political instrumentalisation of judicial power and a dictatorial drift by a regime incapable of governing the country and restoring security”.

“We call on the Congolese authorities to put an end to the judicial harassment of the most important figure in the Catholic Church in Africa and of all critical voices,” he said.

Mukwege is a gynaecologist who was a joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his work treating survivors of sexual violence during the country’s decades of instability. He has treated more than 80,000 survivors at his hospital in Bukavu since he founded it in 1999 and has reported an increase in sexual violence amid the current fighting in North Kivu.

“The situation of women and young girls in Goma is a stain on our humanity,” he told The Guardian this week, adding that the Congolese suffer “a feeling of abandonment”, with international attention focused elsewhere or more concerned with the country’s resources.

“It’s amazing that economic interests can take precedence over humanity,” he said. “I find it sad to say but it’s as if, in the DRC, the illegal exploitation of minerals for green energy in fact spills blood.”

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