On 16 February 1992, the Catholic Church in Kinshasa sponsored a peaceful march against then dictator Mobuto Sese Seko. The Christian March or March d’Espoir (Marche of Hope) ended when clashes with security forces turned violent, leading to 46 deaths. Today, Catholic churches across Kinshasa plan to commemorate this event with a peaceful march through the Gombe Commune.
This morning, the US Department of State issued an emergency message for residents in Kinshasa in light of the planned march. Here’s the text of the warning:
The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens of a march on Thursday, February 16, 2012 in Kinshasa. The protest is scheduled to begin with Mass at local churches at 7:00 am. After Mass, supporters are likely to walk from their churches to Saint Joseph’s in the Kalamu neighborhood (Rond Point Victoire). The two starting points in the Gombe district are Saint Ann (near USAID’s offices in the Mobile office building), and Sacre Coeur Church (near MFA). From Saint Joseph’s, the marchers may receive instruction on subsequent steps. Marchers have been instructed to respond peacefully when confronting police and military personnel. It is not clear if march organizers have request a permit to hold a demonstration as required under Congolese law or whether such a request will receive official authorization from the government.
The embassy advises you to avoid any large groups or protests. We also recommend you exercise caution when traveling and carry your cell phone with you at all times. Keep your car windows closed and doors locked.
The embassy will continue to monitor the situation and to disseminate relevant information to the U.S. citizen community. Please continue to monitor your cell phone and email for further updates. You should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
While the march planners claim the event is meant solely as a commemoration of the events that occurred in 1992, the government in Kinshasa was reluctant to issue permits for the march. Following the 2011 election, the Catholic Church was outspoken against President Kabila’s victory and the election process. Many are concerned that the church is disguising a protest rally as a peaceful commemoration march.
Regardless of whether the church plans to use the march for political means, the opposition parties which have still refused to acknowledge the November vote could use the event to their advantage.
At present, it is raining in Kinshasa. The weather could derail the march before the security forces can. A Crowing Hen will continue to monitor the situation and post updates as they are available.