News 04 May 2021

Democratic Republic of the Congo – Islamists are redrawing the East of the country

An interview with Bishop Paluku Sikuli Melchisédech.

Bishop Paluku Sikuli Melchisédech of the diocese of Butembo-Beni, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has denounced the failure of his government in the face of the challenges confronting it. Terrorists are expelling the indigenous populations from their homes, while criminals are trafficking in the exploitation of Congo’s mineral resources, completely undisturbed.

ACN: Since the beginning of April a wave of demonstrations, some of them violent, have shaken your country, calling for an end to the insecurity. What is your position in regard to these demonstrations?

Bishop Paluku Sikuli Melchisédech: You cannot ask people who are being slaughtered like animals to simply shut up and do nothing. They have every right to demand security, every right to demand freedom. We simply urge that this should be done with respect for the law, peacefully and without violence. 

What are they protesting about exactly? 

The completely ineffectual nature of the UN peacekeeping mission. But more broadly about the continuing ongoing conflicts, which have never been sorted out and which are continuing in the east of the country. When I became bishop, 20 years ago, people were already talking about the ‘Balkanisation’ of the region. I can only say that the expression still applies today! The national Congolese Bishops’ Conference calculates that there have been over 6,000 people killed in Beni since 2013 and over 2,000 in Bunia in the year 2020 alone. There are also an estimated at least 3 million internal refugees and around 7,500 people who have been kidnapped. There is a grand scheme to Islamise or expel the local populations. 

Why do you speak of Islamisation? The main organisation involved, the so-called Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), does not claim to be an Islamist organisation. 

All those who have been kidnapped by these terrorist groups and who have escaped alive from them report the same thing. They were given the choice between death and conversion to Islam. They are given Muslim names to cement their identity. Besides, even those who live in the diocese and haven’t gone through this traumatic experience can tell you that mosques are springing up everywhere.

Who is funding them? 

In his time Mouammar Kadhafi gave very generously towards the building of these mosques. Now there are other sources of funding that are paying for the construction of these buildings. 

As for the funding of the armed terrorist groups, they are engaged in some very lucrative activities. It is plain to see that Islamisation is not their sole motivation! This region abounds with natural resources and they are being exploited completely illegally. How else can you explain those coltan refineries that are operating in Rwanda, when the country has none of this resource? Instead, this rare mineral is extracted here in our region and exported quite illegally across the other side of the frontier. And I see no sign of the Congolese government being concerned.

Are you denouncing a silent complicity on the part of your government? 

Either it is weakness, or else it is complicity. 

Are you not taking a risk in denouncing the government of Congo in this way? 

The Congolese Catholic Church is not concerned in this respect. She has done so much for the construction of the country and she manages so many schools and hospitals! Congo would not be the Congo without the Church. So we are fortunate in being able to speak out quite freely. 

Featured Image: Displaced and refugees in the East of Democratic of the Congo. Photographer: Caritas Butembo-Beni - Père Valérien.

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