December 6, 2020

DR Congo’s Cardinal Ambongo and Rwanda’s Cardinal Kambanda: Two Men With Opposite Visions of Great Lakes Region

Trustworthy and indepth news stories are more important now than ever.
Support our newsroom by MAKING A CONTRIBUTION HERE
Observer will be eagerly looking forward to first public meeting between DR Congo Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo (L) and Rwanda’s Antoine Cardinal Kambanda

Between December 27-31 last year, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, the man with unchallenged power and influence in DR Congo, undertook what was described as a peace mission to eastern Congo.

Cardinal Ambongo specifically held huge gatherings in Goma, Butembo and Beni, – all regions that have borne the biggest brunt of the raging conflict in eastern DRC. At the time, Lamuka opposition block led by some of the most powerful political leaders in Congo, also held big rallies in the same regions.

Cardinal Ambongo, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, publicly alleged there was plan for “balkanisation” of DRC. When he returned to Kinshasa, Cardinal Ambongo in media interviews told the leaders of unnamed neighbouring countries “to stop dumping their populations in Congo”.

These comments were not new, as they have been said by politicians for more than two decades, but they gained prominence because they had come from such a powerful voice. Though Cardinal Ambongo didn’t name countries or individuals, it was openly clear to everyone he was referring to the government of Rwanda.

The comments expectedly attracted furious reaction from Rwanda in the form of a government dismissal, a media campaign against Cardinal Ambongo – following by social media. To date, the vitriol continues.

It is this man Cardinal Ambongo that Rwanda’s new and first Cardinal, Antoine Kambanda, finds in an already heavily polluted region. Kambanda received his instruments of power from Pope Francis at a Vatican function on November 28, together with 12 others from different continents.

Immediately, Antoine Cardinal Kambanda went on a media offensive to give a hint of his vision for the region. It was the clearest of indications that the complicated geopolitics of the great lakes region would be his priority.

In interview with Vatican News, which was actually reproduced in French, pointing to a possibility of its target being both Burundi and DR Congo, Cardinal Kambanda said Rwanda was peaceful but its neighbors were in conflict and war.

“…there is so much to do,” said Cardinal Kambanda. “In Rwanda, peace and stability have reigned for many years. We work in tranquility. It is this, as the Church, which has helped us to create a framework for the reconciliation and reconstruction of society.”

Cardinal Kambanda added: “But, in the region, we have concerns, with neighboring countries living through conflicts and wars. We have refugees in Rwanda, armed combatants in neighboring countries, etc.”

The prelate went further to point out that the ordinary peoples of the region have no problem against each other. “People need peace and do not have conflicts among themselves, if they are not deviated and not fed on ethnic ideology and hatred. We have had a lot of experiences,” said Kambanda.

He said local people at borders depend on each other, trade amongst themselves – when given chance with a peaceful environment.

“There are no problems, if they are not manipulated and terrorized. The day we overcome these ideological manipulations, we will have peace,” said Cardinal Kambanda, but didn’t say who exactly is responsible for the instability.

It is this above perspective of what is wrong with the region from Cardinal Kambanda that puts him on an obvious collision course with the Catholic Church in DR Congo, particularly senior counterpart Cardinal Ambongo.

Cardinal Ambongo and his bishops have for years pointed to a scheme to break up their vast country in what is termed as ‘balkanization’. The promoters of this narrative, openly name Rwanda and Uganda as the leads behind the project, specifically naming the leaders of the two countries.

In one media interview from Kinshasha in January this year, Cardinal Ambongo said: “It is the enemy’s plan, of sowing terror, in order to oblige the population to flee, by consequence abandon this place to be freely run by other occupants who will come to settle.”

“Whether the project will ever be achieved depends on us Congolese. It all depends on us to protect our country.”

A taste of how much Congo’s Catholic establishment resents the government of Rwanda and Uganda, was on open display when DRC was holding elections in late 2018. The Catholic Church deployed election monitors to the deepest corners of the vast country. Not even the government could reach where the Church reached.

The DRC church’s conference of bishops shared their tally of the election result with key embassies in Kinshasa, clearly showing the opposition Lamuka candidate had won the election. It was confirmation of the rejection of the presidency of Joseph Kabila and everyone associated with him. Extremist political actors in Congo don’t consider Kabila as Congolese.

Cardinal Ambongo’s hardline comments, like those of his bishops before, were widely shared in social media platforms of Rwandan exiles. It was the talk on their online radio channels. And then a bombshell fell; Pope Francis elevate Monseigneur Kambanda from Rwanda to Cardinal.

Within days of the announcement, two exiled Rwandan Catholic priest Fr. Theophile Murengerantwari (Germany) and Fr. Fortunatus Rudakemwa (France), put up an online petition asking the Pope to rescind his decision to make Kambanda cardinal.

Their sentiments were widely shared by Rwandan exiles, some of whom are wanted in Rwanda for their alleged involvement in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

The common narrative the exiled priests and politicians, was that Monseigneur Kambanda was a project of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) to infiltrate and weaken Rwanda’s Catholic Church. For years, the ruling party and by consequence the government, have had a very difficult relationship with the Catholics.

On January 29, 2019, President Paul Kagame greets then newly consecrated Archbishop of Kigali, Monseigneur Antoine Kambanda, at event held in stadium

Before Kambanda became Archbishop of Kigali at a big consecration ceremony in the stadium in January 2019, he was a little-known head of an insignificant diocese in eastern Rwanda. In his speech, President Paul Kagame’s conciliatory tone was unusual – a complete departure from the public attacks he had directed at the Catholic Church for years.

Kagame even committed to support the Catholic Church financially to build a new cathedral. The commitment was within months followed through with Kigali City surprisingly handing the Church a prime piece of land in the city center.

The land is where the historic maximum security prison ‘1930’ sat. The jail was moved as part of plans to turn the space into a luxury hospitality spot as Rwanda seeks to become a high-end tourism destination. The site is now Catholic land.

In less than two years, Antoine Kambanda has moved from not appearing among the most recognizable names in Rwanda’s Catholic Church establishment, to the country’s first Cardinal. It is a rise only similar to that of his superior Pope Francis whose ascendancy to the papacy equally took the world by surprise.

But as Cardinal Kambanda has risen to the pride of many Rwandans, for exiles, who share the sentiments of Congolese Cardinal Ambongo towards the government of Rwanda, it is just a new chapter in the fight for the minds and souls of the great lakes region.

In the Vatican News interview, Cardinal Kambanda said in attempt to bring peace to this region he would work within the Central African Episcopal Conferences (ACEAC) which converges bishops from Rwanda, Burundi and DRC.

Already, the first week of the Advent month in this December, was consecrated to prayer for peace in the great lakes region.

“Together, we have also put in place several initiatives such as “ACEAC Justice and Peace” – initiatives for peace in the Great Lakes, although very often the scale of the conflicts is beyond us,” said Cardinal Kambanda.

“Nevertheless, the gospel, even if it doesn’t display itself,….. it transforms society.”

Cardinal Ambongo sat in same room with Cardinal Kambanda when both were in Vatican for the latter’s consistory. They will of course have many more secret meetings we may never know. Observers will be eagerly looking forward to the first public meeting of the two prelates.

What a Cardinal does and power

The Cardinals of the Catholic Church are the most senior clergymen (priests) in the Church below the Pope. They form what is called the ‘College of Cardinals’ among whom the next Pope is either appointed, or they sit and choose a Pope from outside the College.

Over centuries the role of Cardinals has significantly evolved and come from different congregations. Many represent whole countries and regions of countries like Cardinal Kambanda and Cardinal Ambongo.

From time to time, the Pope will bring the Cardinals together for a Consistory, to consult with them as a whole body. It is at these times that new Cardinals are named. Cardinals who are under 80 years of age are allowed to vote in the election of a new Pope. The maximum number set (though it can be changed by the Pope) of elector Cardinals is 120.

The Cardinals by extension wield enormous influence and power in their country, region and globally. They act as some kind of spiritual guide over that territory, with far reaching impact on the life of that region.

We can't do quality journalism without your support

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn't cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue are declining, The Chronicles remains committed to "Serving Your Right To Know The Truth". Stand with us as we document Rwanda's remarkable journey for you and the future generation. Do you value our journalism? We can't do it without you. Show us with your support by CONTRIBUTING HERE.
Email your news TIPS to or WhatsApp +250788351327.
You can also find us on Signal


  1. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve visited this blog before but after browsing through a
    few of the posts I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyhow, I’m definitely delighted I stumbled upon it and I’ll be
    book-marking it and checking back regularly!

  2. Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a entertainment account it.
    Look complex to more delivered agreeable from you! However, how can we be in contact?

  3. I think that is one of the such a lot important info for me.
    And i am satisfied studying your article. But should statement on some basic things,
    The website style is ideal, the articles is in point of fact excellent :
    D. Just right process, cheers

  4. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up very fast!
    What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate
    link to your host? I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

  5. Greate article. Keep writing such kind of information on your site.

    Im really impressed by your blog.
    Hi there, You’ve done a great job. I will certainly digg it and for my part suggest to my friends.
    I am sure they’ll be benefited from this site.

  6. Thanks for your marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you will be a great author.I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and definitely will
    come back sometime soon. I want to encourage that you continue your great writing, have a nice day!

  7. Hi there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative.
    I am going to watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate if you continue this in future.
    Lots of people will be benefited from your writing.

  8. It’s actually a nice and helpful piece of info. I am happy that you just
    shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us informed like this.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Hi! I simply want to offer you a big thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be returning to your blog for more soon.

  10. I do not even understand how I finished up here, but
    I believed this post was good. I do not know who you’re however definitely you are going to a well-known blogger if you happen to are not already.

  11. Howdy outstanding blog! Does running a blog such as this
    require a large amount of work? I have very little expertise in coding however I was hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyhow, if you have any recommendations or techniques for new
    blog owners please share. I understand this is off topic
    but I simply needed to ask. Appreciate it!

  12. Hi there to every body, it’s my first pay a quick visit of this web site; this website
    carries remarkable and actually good material for readers.

  13. Greetings from Los angeles! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to browse your
    blog on my iphone during lunch break. I love the info you
    provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
    I’m shocked at how quick your blog loaded on my cell phone ..
    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, wonderful site!

  14. Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is valuable and everything. However just imagine if you
    added some great pictures or video clips
    to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and video clips, this blog could undeniably
    be one of the most beneficial in its niche. Excellent blog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *