In the middle of his preaching, Father Victor Ntambwe showed his voting card in front of the congregation of St Charles Lwanga Church in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Just a few months before the presidential election, he had a worldly message to deliver along with his psalms and sermon. He told the worshipers to follow his instructions, pick up their cards and show that they have registered.
“If we don’t register to vote, we will have officials who deserve it, but if we register and vote, we can answer them,” he told Reuters after Sunday’s meeting.
The Catholic Church has already started to promote democracy in this large African country, where the organization of elections has been difficult due to economic and administrative problems, and disputes about tampering with votes have caused riots.
Again, the church is preparing to oversee the elections due in December, when President Felix Tshisekedi will call for a second term.
Preparations are underway as the DRC – home to 45 million Catholics, the most of any African country – prepares for the arrival of Pope Francis next week, his first papal visit since 1985.
In the decades since then, the DRC, whose rich economy has brought in money from the world’s biggest companies, has seen a series of conflicts that have killed millions of people.
During the unrest, the Catholic Church sent thousands of people across the country before and during the voting. In some cases, as was the case in the 2018 elections, its figures – believed to be in the millions – differ from the government’s results, which raises concerns of fraud.
“The church has a responsibility to criticize the evils that people face,” said Ntambwe.
Across the country, the Catholic Church is already at the polls. Abbots in Kinshasa are encouraging churches to participate. The church has placed signs on the streets encouraging people to register.
This year, for the first time, the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) has joined the Church of Christ of Congo (ECC), a union of 64 Protestant and evangelical churches.
In a classroom at the Commercial Technical Institute in Kinshasa’s Ngaliema district, many people filled out voter registration forms last week. It was a long wait and some had to come back a second day to register.
“Machines always have problems,” said a man who had been waiting all day.
Holding a book and a mug with the CENCO logo, Nancy Makola took notes. He’s one of 600 people officially registered, a number that will rise into the thousands when voting begins in December.
“I am the eyes to see and the mouth to speak,” said Makola, a journalist by training.
Makola visited 15 registration centers last month. He is worried. Police turned him down when he returned to another location, he said.
Machine breakdowns have occurred everywhere, said Makola, who told CENCO at its headquarters.
Based on this and more than 1,500 other reports, CENCO and ECC on Thursday urged the electoral commission to extend the registration period.
The agency has admitted that some registration sites are not working well, without elaborating. It extended the deadline to Sunday by 25 days to February 17.
For Reverend Nsenga Nshimba, the general secretary of the ECC, what happened in the first round of the census will prevent problems elsewhere.
“In order not to have a slip, we must learn the lessons of this first phase,” he said.