An international conference on peace and security in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has issued an invitation for churches and partners to establish “a suitable structure or process for the purpose of sharing and consolidation of existing initiatives by the churches and related organizations or networks, and in order to consider new ecumenical initiatives” in the DRC.
The conference, convened in Geneva by the World Council of Churches (WCC) through its Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), concluded on 29 May.
Work groups of the conference concentrated on identifying problems and recommending solutions in the categories of sexual and gender-based violence and responses to HIV/AIDS, natural resources and their exploitation, and human rights and humanitarian concerns. The conference gave special attention to the electoral process as a means of securing committed political leadership on these and other issues confronting the DRC, and acknowledged the need for ecumenical preparation for and monitoring of local and regional elections this year as well as the scheduled presidential election in 2016.
The proposed new ecumenical structure, tentatively described as an ecumenical forum or round table, is meant to coordinate existing and future activities of churches and their partners in the lead-up to nation-wide elections as well as in addressing continuing issues within the DRC.
Peter Prove, director of the CCIA, observed that this new structure for collaboration, a vehicle responding to challenges confronting the Congolese people, will be implemented “subject to agreement on appropriate terms of reference.” Through this ecumenical instrument, he said, “engagement will be sought with all the church families in the DRC, so as to promote a common voice and joint action by the churches in addressing these challenges.”
Semegnish Asfaw Grosjean, a WCC programme executive in international affairs, saw the invitation issued from the conference as a starting point for a range of new activities in the DRC. The action is expected to be, she said, “the beginning of a more intensive and effective collaboration among the churches of the DRC and renewed international ecumenical accompaniment of and collaboration with the country’s churches in their peace-building efforts.”
The conference, held at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva from 27 through 29 May, brought together 75 registered participants, 19 of whom were Congolese. According to a communiqué published at the end of the meeting, “20 others had been expected, but were denied or did not obtain visas in time to enable them to participate. We greatly regret that the participation of Congolese young people was especially impeded by the denial of visas.”
Many of those who were unable to be in Geneva gathered at the offices of the United Methodist Church in Kinshasa to follow the conference by video live-streaming.
The final communiqué voiced particular concern for youth, children, women and other vulnerable persons, committing especially to “focussing on the concerns of young people in the DRC, including education and employment, training in nonviolence and peace-building, and preventing gender-based violence and harassment”.
Among the speakers at the conference were Methodist bishop David Yemba who serves as vice president of the DRC’s Commission of Integrity and Electoral Mediation; Monique Sokhan of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees; André Karamaga, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches; Gillian Davidson, director for mining and metals of the World Economic Forum; and Eulalie Kitenga of the Communauté Presbytérienne de Kinshasa women’s group.