Threat of rebel attacks leaves Congolese Anglicans stranded following synod meeting
A recent uprising of rebel activity in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo has caused Bishop Henri Isingoma and 150 delegates of the Province de L’Eglise Anglicane du Congo to be stranded in Boga following their September 30-October 5 diocesan synod.
Fears of a fresh wave of violence have forced thousands of people in the eastern region of Africa’s third largest country “to run for their dear lives in various directions,” Frederick Ngadjole, liaison officer for the province, said in an October 5 email to the Africa desk of Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD). “Some have gone towards Bunia town, others towards [the] Ugandan border and others are still wandering in the bush trying to find their way out to a safe zone.”
Writing on behalf of Isingoma, Ngadjole said that “an unidentified rebel group with no clear leadership” had risen up in Gety -- an area between Bunia and Boga -- to oppose the central government and reportedly uproot Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony.
Several news reports have since identified the rebels as being allied to Major General Laurent Nkunda’s Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP).
The civil war and ethnic strife in the Congo has claimed four million lives since 1994 and is widely recognized as the bloodiest conflict since World War II.
Janette O’Neill, director of Africa programs for ERD, received news of the rebel activities as she was en route to Boga to visit with Isingoma and the local communities to hear about the progress made with ERD-supported micro credit, small business, malaria control and HIV/AIDS programs.
O’Neill is now traveling to Kampala, Uganda, where she will work with the Congo church liaison office to assess the immediate humanitarian needs and respond to the crisis. “I urge Episcopalians to pray for peace in Congo and for the safety of Bishop Isingoma, his wife Mugisa, and those in their care,” said O’Neill.
Isingoma and the synod delegates “have no way out as all roads are cut off,” Ngadjole said, noting that their only option is to take a diverted route to reach Bunia, a distance of about 124 miles, at their own risk. “Those coming from the invaded area have not yet heard from their families.”
Ngadjole said that the priority is to ensure that those stranded in Boga are able to find safety, food and shelter in Bunia. “Another immediate concern will be to reunite people with their families [and] to attend to thousands of people who are taking refuge in Bunia town and other gathering points in and around Bunia,” he said.
The rebel group, according to Ngadjole, is reportedly planning to uproot Kony, “who has camped in the Garamba park for the last two years ... and is committing atrocities in and around the area.”
The Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, led by Kony, have terrorized the region for more than two decades through widespread massacres and child abductions.
“Over the past many years, we have witnessed the devastating effects the conflict in Northern Uganda has had, not just on the people of that country, but also on many others in the region,” said Alexander Baumgarten, international policy analyst for the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations. “The violence unleashed by rebel leader Joseph Kony and his so-called Lord’s Resistance Army has bled from Uganda into the Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Congo. The tragic news this week from the northern Congo reminds us of the urgency of ending the LRA’s long campaign of violence in the region.”
On October 6, chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo of the International Criminal Court called for Kony’s arrest “after the latest attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army on civilians of the Democratic Republic of Congo which prompted tens of thousands of people to flee,” according to reports.
“At the present moment, final negotiations toward a peace agreement between the Ugandan government and the LRA appear ground to a halt, and international attention toward the crisis has waned,” said Baumgarten. “It’s vital that Americans urge our government to use its influence with urgency to bring the conflict to an end and see that leaders of the LRA are held accountable for their actions.”
Meanwhile, United Nations’ special envoy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alan Doss, asked the U.N. Security Council on October 3 “for extra troops to help halt the spread of violence in the country’s eastern provinces,” according to Reuters news agency.
The Anglican presence in the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, was established by Ugandan evangelist Apolo Kivebulaya in 1896. Following independence in 1960, the church expanded and formed dioceses as part of the Province of Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and Boa-Zaire. The new Province was inaugurated in 1992 and changed its name in 1997.
Today, a lack of resources in the Congo prevents the Anglican province from being financially independent and self-supporting, and many of the church’s clergy and bishops survive without a salary.
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