AFRICA/DR CONGO – The President of the Bishops’ Conference: “The so-called ‘energy transition’ is causing enormous environmental damage in my Country”

Kinshasa (Agenzia Fides) – Wars for the mineral resources of the energy transition, exploitation of Congolese resources for a supposed global ecologism that in reality causes enormous damage to the environment and people of Congo: this is the worrying scenario that the Archbishop of Kisangani and President of the Congolese Bishops’ Conference, Marcel Utembi Tapa, describes in an interview with Fides.

The “forgotten” wars include the wars in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. What is the current situation?

UTEMBI TAPA: Various local and foreign armed groups are active in North Kivu. These include the Ugandan-led and Islamist-inspired ADF and the M23, which is supported by neighboring countries, particularly Rwanda. This is no secret, everyone knows this, also thanks to the work of international UN investigative groups, which have established in black and white that the M23 is supported by neighboring countries, in particular by the Rwandan army. Local groups were originally formed as self-defense units to ward off outside attacks. There are the so-called Mai-Mai and others that now bear the name “Wazelendo” and are present in North and South Kivu. The “Wazelendo” recently demonstrated in Goma (capital of North Kivu) against the presence of the armed forces of the East African Comunity (EAC) and the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), because these international forces do little to stop the massacres of the Congolese population. The Congolese National Guard shot at demonstrators. There were many deaths. This has led to great tensions in the region, which we regret. The death of just one person is already too much. Counting dozens of victims evokes despair. We as a Church are deeply saddened and pray fervently that peace may return not only in North and South Kivu, but also in Ituri, another province in the East. The actions of the armed groups there, such as Codeco, FPIC and the self-defense groups called Zaïre, which are capable of causing damage, should not be minimized. We pray that people realize that this situation cannot continue and that the Congolese government assumes its state responsibility to ensure the safety of the people in the region.

But there is also a crisis in the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo….

UTEMBI TAPA: There is another crisis in the ecclesiastical province of Kinshasa, which includes the civil province of Kinshasa, central Congo and Bandundu. More specifically in the areas of Kwamouth, Kwilu and Kwango where there have been displacements and massacres of innocent civilians. And now this crisis is approaching Kinshasa. The surrounding villages are under attack and this is a cause for great concern. These are local armed groups that have begun fighting over the ownership and allocation of land. Through manipulation by some politicians, the initial land rights conflict has turned into a larger-scale crisis that has so far resulted in 2,000 to 3,000 deaths. The massacres have led to a massive wave of displacement in the ecclesiastical province of Kinshasa. We condemned this situation and called on the government to intervene to end the violence and restore peace

It is often claimed that one of the causes of Congolese conflicts is control over the country’s vast natural resources…

UTEMBI TAPA: We thank the Lord for giving us this potentially very rich land, especially in terms of mineral resources. The Democratic Republic of Congo has all kinds of minerals, especially strategic minerals. Coltan, used to make cell phones and strategic devices like satellites; Cobalt, which is used to build batteries for electric vehicles. The Democratic Republic of Congo has 60-70% of the world’s cobalt reserves. And there are undiscovered reserves of other strategic minerals. Unfortunately, all this wealth stimulates the greed of many people on a national, international and global level. However, the extraction of these minerals is often not carried out legally and in accordance with bilateral and multilateral rules; Multinational corporations and their accomplices are doing everything they can to exploit our country at the lowest cost. The Congolese population does not benefit from the exploitation of these resources by foreign multinational corporations with the complicity of local rulers. We therefore live in a very rich country in which a large part of the population lives in poverty. Those who are doing well in the Democratic Republic of Congo are a minority: political and military leaders. In view of this situation, we as pastors cannot remain silent and must call on those in power to take action in the misery of their people. During his apostolic visit to our country, Pope Francis denounced in his addresses the fact that we are experiencing a type of economic neo-colonialism in our region, and especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and called for our country to take advantage of the riches that the Lord has given. This is a strong appeal that we greatly appreciate.

What environmental damage does unregulated mining cause?

UTEMBI TAPA: The environmental impact of the exploitation of Congo’s natural resources is enormous and serious, as it occurs without respecting acceptable standards. For example, if you fly over the Kolwezi region, where cobalt is mined on a large scale, you will notice that the country is riddled with large wounds. Everywhere you can see huge holes created by the indiscriminate mining of minerals. In the province of Ituri, Tshopo Province, Bas-Uélé Province and the two Kivus Provinces, there are several illegal mines in the forests that discharge their waste into watercourses. These are completely dirty: you can see how the water has changed color. The water has turned into mud. That’s why people in the neighboring villages no longer have clean water sources. Let me give you another example: the Kasai River is polluted at its source by the activities of mining companies operating in Angola – I believe they are Chinese. The river is completely polluted, which leads to fish deaths. Severe skin rashes have occurred among people using the water.

What would you say then to environmentalists living in the West?

UTEMBI TAPA: I would say to advocates of human rights and environmental protection: Come to Africa. We live in a large global village. Industrial development in the advanced world has implications for Africa. But at the same time, the damage being done to our rainforests has consequences that are felt across the rest of the planet. Presidential and parliamentary elections will take place on December 20th. Some candidates appear to reference a religious identity.

What can you tell us about that?

UTEMBI TAPA: The candidates belong to different categories and affiliations, but in the vast majority of cases they can be assigned to a specific political party or group. So they present themselves not according to their religious identity, but as leaders or leaders of a political party. The Catholic Church does not have its own political party or candidates, nor does it make electoral recommendations for the various elections (presidential, parliamentary and provincial) on December 20th. Rather, the Catholic Church strives for the civic education of all citizens, not just Catholics, so that everyone can vote conscientiously and according to their own conscience and has the common good in mind. At the same time, we are working together with the “Eglise de Christ en Congo”, an association of Protestant religious associations, to ensure that the election runs smoothly with our election observers. The Catholic Church has a strong presence in the area; By merging with the “Eglise de Christ en Congo” we can ensure good control of the vote at national level. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 10/11/2023)

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