Halfway through his homily, Father Victor Ntambwe brandished his voter card in front of the congregation in Saint Charles Lwanga church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DR Congo) capital.
With presidential elections just months away, he had an earthly message to deliver alongside the psalms and the sermon. He told the worshipers to follow his lead, hold up their cards and show they had registered.
“If we do not register to vote, we will have the authorities we deserve, but if we enlist and vote, we can hold them to account,” he told Reuters after Sunday’s service.
DR Congo’s Catholic Church has a long history of promoting democracy in the vast African country where organizing elections has been complicated by financial and logistical problems, and where disputes over vote tampering have frequently caused widespread unrest.
Once again, the church is gearing up to monitor elections scheduled for December, in which Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi is to seek a second term in office.
Preparations are under way just as DR Congo, home to 45 million Catholics — the most of any African country — prepares for the arrival next week of Pope Francis, the first papal visit since 1985.
In the decades since, DR Congo, whose vast mineral wealth has attracted investment from some of the world’s largest companies, has been swept up in a myriad of simmering conflicts that have cost the lives of millions of people.
Amid the chaos, the Catholic Church deployed thousands of observers across the country before and during voting. Sometimes, as was the case in the 2018 polls, its tallies — trusted by millions — have clashed with official results, raising concerns of fraud.
“The church has a duty to denounce what is wrong with society,” Ntambwe said.
Across DR Congo, the Catholic Church is already in election mode. Abbots in Kinshasa are encouraging congregants to participate. The church has erected street banners urging people to enrol.
This year, for the first time, the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) has partnered up with the Church of Christ of Congo, a union of 64 Protestant and Evangelical denominations.
In a classroom of the Commercial Technical Institute in Kinshasa’s Ngaliema district, dozens of people filled out voter registration forms last week, the first area of the country to do so.
It was a long wait and some had to come back a second day to be registered.
“The machines regularly have problems,” said one man who had been waiting all day.
Equipped with a book and a cap with the CENCO logo, Nancy Makola took notes. She is one of 600 accredited observers overseeing the registration process, a number that would likely swell into the tens of thousands when voting gets under way in December.
“I am the eyes to observe and the mouth to make remarks,” said Makola, a journalist by training.
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