Congolese President’s Fiercest Critic to Coordinate Anti-Covid-19 fund
As the Democratic Republic of Congo like other countries around the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s lone Cardinal, Mgr. Fridoline Ambongo has been given the task of coordinating the response to the scourge.
Congolese President, Felix Tshisekedi has appointed the Archbishop of Kinshasa, head of the National Solidarity Fund against Covid-19 (FNSCC).
“By placing men of God in the management of the FNSCC, we expect that the 80 million Congolese will find satisfaction in the management of those who are supposed to preach by example,” the President said.
Tsisekedi said it was a question of “guaranteeing transparency in management, traceability of assistance, and control of all donations.”
And the Cardinal says he is more than ready to serve.
"Our work is often the humanitarian aspect, we have credibility and we want to put our credibility at the service of this fight," the Cardinal who is also vice-president of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, (CENCO) said .
"There are many of our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters who suffer because there are people who have nothing to eat, people who stay at home, they don't know what the next day will be like, " the cleric continued.
The Cardinal said it was critical to associate religious bodies “in this common fight against this enemy that is Covid-19,” adding that the Church continuous to pray for the eradication of the virus.
The FNSCC is a 12-member team that brings together representatives of religious denominations in a country where close to 80% of the population is Christian. Created on April 6 by President Tsisekedi, the FNSCC is out to mobilize resources that will be used to fight against Covid-19.
The fund will also be used to prop up companies hit by the Coronavirus, as well as provide financial help to the Covid-19 Multisector Response Committee to enable it monitor and detect the disease by strengthening the capacity of the laboratory in the National Institute for Biomedical Research.
In addition, the fund will finance the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment for the population and for health workers on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic.
The appointment of the Cardinal, along with leaders from other denominations as members of the fund has received effusive praise from both religious bodies and lay observers.
"The appointment of his Eminence Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo to the head of the National Solidarity Fund, that of the Heads of Religious Confessions and members of Civil Society is a strong signal of the collaboration that must exist between the Churches and the State”, said the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO) on its Twitter account.
Political analyst, Charles Manda also welcomed the choice of members of the civil society instead of politicians, saying it was “very strategic" on the part of President Félix Tshisekedi. "These are rare personalities who still enjoy the credibility and confidence of the Congolese people," he said.
But discordant voices are not lacking in the general shout of praise. Some have criticized the Cardinal for accepting an appointment from a president whose election he (the Cardinal) had always contested. Lawyer and activist, Nico Mayengele Ngenge has accused Tsisekedi of appointing Cardinal Ambongo to legitimize his presidency.
He said by accepting the appointment, the Cardinal had fallen “into the trap set for him by Felix Tsisekedi, whose presidential election was qualified by the same Cardinal as "a spectacular lie". “Let us ask our Eminence Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo to decline this poisoned political offer.”
He said the politicians were deceiving the Cardinal-a fierce critic of the government, into a position that will later be used to tarnish his image. He suggested that the sums of money likely to come into the fund could become a source for the government to “illegally accuse the Cardinal of embezzling public funds,” the sole aim being to silence one of its most virulent critics.
But Tsisekedi believes he has done the right thing by selecting people who still enjoy credibility and will help pass “the right message in the fight against the deadly pandemic.”
Cardinal Ambongo now faces the arduous task of convincing both the president, his critics, and the Congolese people that his earlier criticism of government response to the pandemic was grounded.
In March, the Cardinal criticized what he called government’s “tottering response” to the crisis when the governor of Kinshasa said he was postponing the total lockdown initially announced.
“This retreat gives the impression that the government is tottering in the management of a matter as sensitive as the public health of our people in the context of this grave pandemic. This situation is simply untenable. Let’s not joke with the lives of our people, because all life is sacred,” the Cardinal warned then.