Catholic Priests in West Africa Urged to Find Solutions to Region’s Tribal, Religious Conflicts

A section of priests who are attending the 10th Conference of the Regional Union of West African Priests in Guinea-Bissau. Credit: Fr. Peter Konteh

Catholic priests in West Africa who are meeting in Guinea-Bissau for their general assembly have been urged to propose ways to address ethnic and religious divisions in the region.

In his goodwill message to the 10th Conference of the Regional Union of West African Priests, Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles of Sierra Leone’s Archdiocese of Freetown expressed regret that many countries in West Africa are experiencing divisions on tribal lines and that some of these divisions are manifest in the Church.

Themed “The prophetic role of priests in the face of intolerance and ethnic-religious instrumentalization in Sub-Saharan Africa”, the priests’ assembly started on June 2 and is to end on June 11.

Archbishop Tamba Charles noted that the theme of the assembly is relevant in light of the current situation in West Africa where most countries are also experiencing a rise in religious-based violence.

“I commend you for the theme that you have chosen for this particular assembly. It is so relevant because our West African sub-region is witnessing a surge of conflicts of various kinds, including those of ethnic and religious nature. In such a situation, we priests have a vital role in spearheading conflict resolution and reconciliation because we are ordained to be ministers of a Church established by Jesus Christ to be a sacrament of union with God and of unity of all men and women,” Archbishop Tamba Charles said in the message that was shared with ACI Africa on Tuesday, June 4.


Credit: Fr. Peter Konteh

He said that the choice of a theme that touches on intolerance and ethnic-religious instrumentalization in Sub-Saharan Africa seems to suggest that the priests are aware of the challenge that the Church faces in the region.

“It is my hope that you would address this challenge to the credibility of our Church as a sacrament of union with God and of unity of all men and women,” the Sierra Leonean Archbishop said, and added, “I am also hoping that you would make recommendations for the priests, and even for us bishops, in the West African sub-regions to be effective agents of peace, reconciliation, and of national cohesion.”

The Conference of the Regional Union of West African Priests is part of the Regional Union of the Diocesan Priests of West Africa (RUPWA). It brings together priests from all West African countries who speak English, French, and Lusophone.

In his address, Archbishop Tamba Charles who also serves as the president of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) blamed tribal conflicts in West Africa on the partitioning of the continent.

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“The European powers partitioned Africa without any regard for the ethnic and traditional consistencies of the continent,” he said, adding that colonizers drew boundaries that divided tribes and ethnic groups and “dumped together” regions that were previously autonomous kingdoms and political entities, and called them nation-states.

He said that as a result of the partitioning, many African countries, including those in West Africa, turned out to be “mere amalgamations” of tribes and kingdoms that had no natural affiliation with each other, and so lacked the basis for national cohesion and unity. He said, “Small wonder why, in many of our countries, many political parties have strong tribal, ethnic, and regional bases because they see their national boundaries as external impositions.”

Archbishop Tamba Charles found it regrettable that many priests do not always carry themselves as agents of peace, reconciliation, and unity.

Many clergy, he said, take positions on Church matters based on our tribal and ethnic affiliation. The example he gave is the rejection of Bishops on tribal lines.

“We have witnessed, for example, in our sub-region, the rejection of bishops simply because they did not belong to the tribe or region of the dioceses the Pope nominates them. Such a way of acting in no small way undermines our credibility as priests of Christ and the mission of the Church as a sacrament of the unity of all men and women,” he said.


Credit: Fr. Peter Konteh

He said in the West African region’s “challenging times”, the Church is called to carry out its mission to foster unity among all men and women.

“How we priests act in such a terribly volatile situation, will contribute to or undermine the credibility of the mission of the Church as a sacrament of unity of all men and women,” the Archbishop said.

He added, “I pray that, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of Peace and Queen of Africa, God may guide the entire proceedings of your conference, so that you may come up with recommendations and resolutions in favour of an effective mission of conflict resolution, peace-building, healing, and reconciliation in the West African sub-region.”

Government officials in Guinea-Bissau are among those participating in the regional priests’ conference which has also seen the attendance of the Muslim community in the country.

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Speakers at the conference have emphasized the importance of the theme of the conference not only for Bissau but for all our countries in West Africa.

Fr. Peter Konteh who serves as the Second Vice President of RUPWA told ACI Africa that the priests’ conference is always “truly a historic moment” where Catholics from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries come together annually to discuss critical topics affecting the region.

Fr. Peter Konteh

“In the midst of all the current challenges we encounter, we, as Catholic priests, are called to be the voice of the voiceless,” Fr. Konteh who also serves as the Executive Director of Caritas Freetown told ACI Africa on Wednesday, June 5.

He added, “We must be prophetic, standing firmly on the side of Truth. We should not allow politics, tribes, or religion to separate us. Together, we will continue to champion unity and peace in our beloved region.” 

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.