In December 2014, businessman and United Methodist Vano K. Kiboko was imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for speaking out against that nation’s president, due to his attempts to usurp the constitution and run for an additional term. But as of January 26, 2016, Vano was transferred to a military prison called Ndolo Prison.
“We were told that it was because he was eating with the outcasts in prison. He was befriending the prisoners,” says his brother, Rev. Kiboko I. Kiboko. “He was also praying for peace in the Congo, and especially peace for free election in the Congo in 2016. And that did not fly very well.”
Click here to listen to the conversation
with Rev. Kiboko
It’s strange to think that simply making friends with fellow prisoners would spur a transfer, but Rev. Kiboko says you have to understand the background. “In the Congo, those who do have money and power, they don’t intermingle with poor people. And so when they see you with poor people, then you become a threat,” he explains, noting that his brother baptized some 700 people in 2015, many of whom confessed their sins to him, leaving the authorities to wonder, “’What did they tell him about us?’ And so he becomes a threat because he knows more than normal people.”
The situation was better for Vano at Makala Prison, where he was previously. “He was able to receive people from noon through 5. And his wife would go there in the morning, they let her do that. But in this new place the maximum one can see him is five minutes a day,” says Rev. Kiboko.
Vano had also been able to do more to help others at Makala, where he was able to get a TV brought in to bring a little bit of enjoyment to the prisoners, and, more importantly, where he was able to arrange for medical doctors to come in. “He even got permission from the president of that prison to allow those doctors to perform surgeries outside of the prison. Several people were beneficiaries of that.”
Concern for his health
There is now some concern about Vano’s health in the new prison. “He has diabetes. And he also has seven bad discs. When he was arrested in December of 2014, he was on his way to Houston, Texas, for his annual check-up. Eventually they were going to perform a surgery. And he hasn’t seen any medical doctor for a year,” reports his brother. “That place does not have any air-conditioning. It is extremely hot. When they moved him in that place, in the first 24 hours, he did not eat anything. He did not even have his medication.”
Rev. Kiboko is worried not only for his brother’s health, but his overall safety as well. “This president is well-known by poisoning people. He can easily kill my brother. And so that why I’m coming public.”
Vano was officially sentenced to three years in prison during a hearing several months ago. There was reason to hope that he could get out early, though, when the government announced that clemency would be given to some prisoners who had good behavior and had served at least 25% of their time. But while Vano meets that criteria, his brother claims they are trying to deny him the opportunity.
“Now they’re trying to find something that would describe him as a bad person, a very dangerous person. And he becomes very dangerous because he’s praying with the outcast, he’s eating with the outcast, he’s praying for peaceful election for 2016,” says Rev. Kiboko. “He openly invited people to use peaceful means to solve Congolese problems. He discouraged people from using guns. Violence does not help. We have to be able to dialogue, to be in conversation with one another.”
While most would see those as reasons to celebrate Vano, it is sadly working against him.
But Rev. Kiboko is helpful that those of us on the outside can help his brother. “Continue to pray as you’ve been doing,” he asks, “and use your friends, any connection that you have outside of Iowa to make sure that everybody gets this information.” He hopes that our bishops will take up the cause and pick up the phone and call someone in a position of power.
“We can make a difference, a big big difference,” he says. “This is a business man – at the same time, a United Methodist evangelist. Every time I refer to him as business man, he says, ‘I am primarily a United Methodist evangelist.’”