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Cablegate: Kimbanguism: Congolese History, Identity And

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1. (U) Summary: The Kimbanguist Church is a large home-grown
Congolese religion. Like most of the population, Kimbanguists
consider themselves Christians, although they are not always
seen as such by others. Church officials claim nearly
one-sixth of the population follows Kimbanguism; it has a
significant voice in Congolese society. Based on the
teachings of Christianity, the religion was founded by a
self-proclaimed Congolese prophet named Simon Kimbangu during
the country,s colonial era. Kimbangu and his movement
quickly became an early symbol of Congo,s independence drive
and remain important pieces of the country,s history and
identity. Congolese politicians of all faiths publicly pay
respects to Simon Kimbangu and have routinely sought the
church,s support. End summary.


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2. (U) Congolese Kimbanguist theologian Kalemba Manzo
Constantino defined the religion as "Christianity deriving
from the actions and teachings of Simon Kimbangu." The
movement began when a self-styled prophet by the name of
Simon Kimbangu claimed to be called by God and began
preaching and healing on April 6, 1921. Kimbangu started his
work in his home town of Nkamba, in western Bas-Congo
province. Kimbanguists believe Simon Kimbangu is part of the
Christian Trinity: the Holy Spirit in human form.

3. (U) Today Kimbanguist officials claim some 17 million
followers worldwide, with 10 million alone in the DRC,
including more than one million in Kinshasa. This would
represent about one-sixth of the DRC,s estimated population
of 65 million. Other sources maintain Kimbanguists are no
more than ten to fifteen percent of the population. Most of
its adherents are located in Bas-Congo and Kinshasa, although
there are numerous Kimbanguist churches throughout the
country. Kimbanguist officials also told us they have
followings in many other African countries, especially nearby
Angola and the Republic of Congo.


4. (U) Church officials and followers say that during the
colonial period, Belgian authorities were alarmed by
Kimbangu,s popularity and perceived his movement as a threat
to the Catholic Church. In his preaching, Kimbangu embraced
the emerging concept of an African identity and traditions,
and was among the first Congolese public figures to protest
Belgian rule. In response, colonial authorities imprisoned
him in 1921 and outlawed Kimbanguism. Kimbangu died in prison
in 1951.

5. (U) Kimbangu was later recognized as an early independence
hero by Mobutu Sese Seko, Laurent Kabila and Joseph Kabila.
His resistance against Belgian colonial rule and support of
Africanism made him an icon of black liberation thought, and
Congolese political leaders today regularly pay respect to
the Kimbanguist community and his memory. In his June 30
independence day address to the nation this year, Kabila paid
tribute to "Simon Kimbangu's generation" for starting the
fight for democracy. National Assembly Vice President Marc
Mvuama, a practicing Catholic, told us that Kimbanguim is
respected regardless of one,s religious background because
the religion is regarded as a home-grown response to
colonialism that helped liberate the country. He added that
the Protestant and Catholic churches are viewed by Congolese
as remnants of western colonialism and thus not genuinely

6. (U) Kimbanguist officials reported that they were
persecuted by colonial authorities but flourished in secret
under the leadership of Simon Kimbangu,s wife Marie Muilu
Kiawaga after his imprisonment. In 1959 Kimbangu,s third
son, Joseph Diangienda, became the movement,s leader after
it was officially recognized by the state as the Church of
Jesus Christ on Earth by his Special Envoy Simon Kimbangu
(EJCSK). After Joseph Diangienda died in 1992, Simon
Kimbangu's second son Salomon Dialungana Kiangani became the
Kimbanguist spiritual leader. He was succeeded in 2001 by his
son Simon Kiangani, who remains the church,s spiritual
leader to this day.

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7. (SBU) Congolese observers describe Kimbanguists as
financially independent, well-organized, and
community-minded. Kimbanguists themselves attribute these
traits to years of colonial persecution when they had to be
determined and self-sufficient to succeed. Even after the
church was legalized in 1959, one Kimbanguist leader said its
members were excluded from some educational and medical
facilities still controlled by Belgians and subsequently
decided to build their own. A Kimbanguist leader told us they
have roughly 180 medical centers and over a thousand
Kimbanguist schools open to the public around the country
(611 primary schools and 540 secondary schools). The church
also runs a Kimbanguist University with a a theological
campus outside Kinshasa that was built in 1977 and a general
campus within the city built in 1994. In addition, they built
the Hopital Kimbaguiste de Kinshasa with partial USAID
funding. The Kimbanguist community,s main edifices and
sources of significant pride are the church,s temple in
Nkamba, the Kimbanguist equivalent of Vatican City, and a
research center in Kinshasa open to the public.

8. (SBU) There has been speculation that the Kimbanguist
church is linked with the group Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) because
both groups have mystical elements, claim to follow Simon
Kimbangu and are based in Bas-Congo. Kimbanguist officials
disavowed any contact with the BDK however and said they
considered it a political rather than a religious group.


9. (SBU) Given the movement,s large number of followers, it
represents an important bloc of votes for political
candidates. Political and religious leaders told us there is
often an informal alliance between the government and
churches, including the Kimbanguists. Mvuama said churches
often benefit from financial donations from politicians who
in return receive unofficial support from religious leaders.
He said this can mean encouraging followers to vote for
certain candidates in private or endorsement political
campaign goals in public sermons.

10. (SBU) Kimbanguist leaders have never officially supported
a political leader, but many Congolese interlocutors claim
there has often been an alliance between the government and
the Kimbanguist church regardless of who was president.
Several Kimbanguist officials said there were especially
close ties between Joseph Diangienda and Mobutu, who
reportedly gave personal donations to the church and
regularly attended Kimbanguist ceremonies. One Kimbanguist
told us this relationship was "predestined by God" since the
two were friends before rising to power, and because both had
the first name "Joseph." Other Congolese contacts told us
people threw rocks at Diagienda's funeral because many in the
Congolese community resented the alliance with the unpopular
dictator. Laurent Kabila likewise retained good relations
with the Kimbanguist church and paid respect to the memory of
Simon Kimbangu in public statements, but was less involved
than Mobutu, according to church officials.

11. (SBU) Joseph Kabila is similarly regarded as an ally of
the Kimbanguist church although there is no clear evidence
most followers are active supporters. His daytrip to Nkamba
in February 2002 and three day stay March 15-18, 2003 were
fondly remembered and much-discussed in Kimbanguist circles
who saw it as the ultimate sign of respect and friendship.
Some contacts told us they knew of no political affiliation
between Kabila and the church, though others said Kiangani
unofficially ordered followers to vote for Kabila. One
Kimbanguist leader described the relationship as "perfect,"
saying Kiangani and Kabila were in regular contact and that
Kimbanguists voted for him "automatically" because of this
relationship. Election results do not support this claim,
however, as Kabila showed poorly in Bas-Congo and Kinshasa,
areas which voted heavily in favor of Jean-Pierre Bemba. One
Kimbanguist who has left the church said Kiangani was not
able to deliver the vote as promised because of divisions
within the church.


12. (SBU) In October 2002, a dispute arose in the Kimbanguist

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church that resulted in at least 17 of the 26 of Simon
Kimbangu's grandchildren leaving the official church with a
minority of followers. The group,s unofficial name is the
Kimbangu Church "Bana 26" (meaning in support of the 26
grandchildren), though the name is used sparingly by its
members to avoid cementing a division they hope to resolve.
One Kimbanguist member of Bana 26 estimated one-fifth of the
church left at the time of the split, but a mainstream
Kimbanguist leader told us there were no more than 3,000
followers who left.

13. (SBU) Kimbanguist members gave diverse explanations for
the division. The former General Secretary of the church
cited the creation of "illegitimate church legislation,"
while a Bana 26 member said the group was waiting for
Kiangani to step down because his "extremist followers" were
incorrectly claiming that Kiangani was a reincarnation of
Simon Kimbangu. A current Kimbanguist leader told us Kiangani
was Simon Kimbangu's reincarnation but said the division was
a result of the other grandchildren demanding overly
important positions in the church. Kimbanguist leaders told
us the division had attracted Kabila's attention, and one
Kimbanguist leader said Bana 26 was trying to use him as a


14. (SBU) Kimbanguists generally lead austere lives and do
not dance, smoke, drink alcohol or practice polygamy. While
the religion was originally based on Christianity and the
Bible, members place great importance on prophecies and
mystical signs, which they view as proof of God's
manifestation in Simon Kimbangu's family. Kimbanguists told
us they know about deaths and births of Simon Kimbangu's
relatives in advance, and gave many examples of signs they
said were proof of predestination by god. One practicing
Kimbanguist told us that God revealed to followers in a
vision that the true date of Christmas (and thus the birth of
Jesus Christ) was May 25, which is also the birth date of
Simon,s second son Dialungana. Other major church
celebrations commemorate important dates in Simon Kimbangu's
family history: April 6 for the beginning of Simon Kimbangu's
ministry; July 8 for Diagienda's death; and October 12 for
the death of Simon Kimbangu and the birth of Kiangani.

15. (SBU) Although Kimbanguists consider themselves
Christians they are not always considered Christians by
Congolese outside the church, who often claimed Kimbanguists
say Simon Kimbangu is either God the Father or Jesus Christ.
Kimbanguists consider the Kimbangu family sacred, and always
choose the movement,s spiritual leader from among Simon
Kimbangu's descendants. Kimbanguists told us spiritual
leadership decisions were "divinely inspired," and one leader
said they were in fact "prophesied" in advance. Most
Kimbanguists know the family history by heart and keep
pictures of Kimbangu and his descendents around the house.


16. (SBU) The Kimbanguist church is a unique and important
part of the Congolese identity. It carries political prestige
because its leaders were early advocates for national
independence. Its historic importance, socially active role
and large following continues to attract political leaders
who seek its support while paying respect to the memory of
Kimbangu. When we met with Kimbanguist leaders they seemed
more interested in their religious devotion than mainstream
politics. Their political activities are therefore more
likely driven more by a desire to build harmonious
relationships with political leaders who can provide material
support to the church. While the church is a popular domestic
and somewhat international religion, its domestic clout may
be diminished if internal divisions cannot be reconciled.

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