Political unrest and uncertainty about the future have grown in the Democratic Republic of Congo, following the Catholic bishops’ withdrawal from mediation talks aimed to resolve national political tensions.
“We think that there’s no longer anything to do,” Msgr. Donatien Nshole, secretary general of the Congolese bishops’ conference, told Reuters on Tuesday. “We have given all our time and all our energy.”
The bishops’ conference helped negotiate a Dec. 31 agreement that aimed to avoid political crisis through securing a 2017 election that would choose the successor of Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila.
The agreement brought the country back from the brink of renewed civil war.
After the bishops’ latest announcement, the president’s opposition announced a nationwide protest for April 10. The largest party in the opposition coalition, UDPS, called on its supporters to hold “a big, peaceful march” and to “resist the dictatorship taking root.”
President Kabila’s office announced on television that talks would continue, saying “the current impasse must in no way signify a definitive rupture of the dialogue.”
Sporadic unrest and protests also broke out after the bishops’ announcement. Police fired shots and tear gas to dissuade some protesters.
Political unrest in Congo under President Kabila has been increasing since January 2015, after a bill proposed that the president could remain in power while a national census was conducted, potentially delaying presidential and parliamentary elections.
Protesters who saw the bill as a power grab by President Kabila took to the streets in what sometimes turned into deadly clashes with the country’s security forces.
In January 2017, the bishops had warned that the Dec. 31 agreement was at risk of unraveling unless political leaders worked quickly to compromise and implement it.
In February, Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, the country’s capital, reported an arson attack on a seminary and a gang attack on a church that overturned a tabernacle, ransacked the altar, smashed some pews, and tried to set fire to the church. The cardinal told the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need he thought the Church was being targeted deliberately “in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”