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With “many weapons in circulation,” Bishops in CAR Concerned about Insecurity Before Polls

Headquarters of the National Election Authority in Central African Republic.

Bishops in the Central African Republic (CAR) have, in a Pastoral Letter, expressed their concerns about insecurity amid armed civilians as eligible citizens of the Central African nation prepare to take part in the general elections slated to take place December 27.

In their pastoral letter shared with ACI Africa Sunday, September 6, the members of the Central African Episcopal Conference (CECA) also appeal to various stakeholders to respect the time frame of the polls and ensure a free, transparent and peaceful election.

“The overall security situation in the country remains a cause for concern. Many weapons are in circulation and the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration and Repatriation (DDRR) program is slow to take off,” the Bishops say in their collective letter dated September 6 and titled, “Free my People.”

They add, “We note with bitterness that 70 or even 80 percent of our country is still occupied by armed groups, some of whose leaders are mercenaries. They are involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity, environmental crimes and large-scale looting of our mineral resources.”

“The state of insecurity makes thousands of houses uninhabitable. Some families prefer to live in exile or to stay in IDP sites, which are sometimes located a hundred meters from their homes. Victims are desperately waiting for their rights to be granted,” they further say in their pastoral letter signed by the nine Bishops of CECA.

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Against this backdrop of insecurity in their country, the members of CECA say that the electoral process ahead of the December 27 polls is a challenge “that requires our commitment.”

“What are we doing to ensure that this process is free, credible, transparent, peaceful and accepted by all?” the nine Bishops probe and continue, “What can we say about the electoral deadlines that are looming in our country? Will they be credible and accepted elections or contested elections followed by scenes of violence? Is there currently a climate of trust or mistrust?”

They further probe about the political formations and the readiness of the candidates vying for various positions to respect the “code of good conduct.”

“What types of political alliances are we seeing? Are the candidates in the presidential and legislative elections ready to sign and abide by a code of good conduct?” the Bishops inquire and continue, in reference to eligible candidates, “What kind of society will they propose to us?”

They also ask, “What do we expect from key stakeholders in order to have a credible and accepted electoral process without violent protests?”

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As a way forward, the Bishops in CAR appeal to various stakeholders involved in the electoral process to ensure peaceful and transparent elections.

They call on the government to “create the necessary conditions for the exercise of political civil rights and a better adherence of all Central Africans to a credible electoral process, guarantee the required basic security for the various actors including voters, candidates, election officials, voter educators, election observers, political party agents, media representatives, etc. and  prevent, anticipate, circumscribe and resolve threats, risks or actual acts of violence during the electoral process.”

The members of CECA also invite the leadership of the National Election Authority to “put in place a mechanism to prevent electoral fraud, establish a strong, transparent and effective performance management system to avoid tensions; and be sensitive to the needs and concerns of political parties and candidates.”

In their 15-page letter, the Bishops urge leaders of political parties and candidates in the general elections to “agree on a code of good conduct and its application to support a credible process in the interest of the stability of our country.”

They also invite leaders of armed groups to “play a constructive role in the electoral process by refraining from fostering fear, intimidation, repression or imposition of candidates with whom you have signed secret pacts.”

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The members of CECA invite the youth to “vote massively to show that power is not obtained through weapons but depends on values, ideals, social projects, constructive debates, and political convictions.”

They also invite their country’s political leadership to draw inspiration from the leader who facilitated the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.

“Moses represents every inspired leader who fights against evil in the name of God and with God's instruments. Today, following Moses, every disciple of Christ, every believer, every woman and man of goodwill should commit themselves to work for our social, economic and political liberation,” the Prelates say.

They add, “The Central African Republic, a country in collapse, is in a delicate period of its destiny, requiring wise and courageous, humanistic and responsible leadership in the face of the national, regional, continental and international challenges.”

“We need to bring together the skills, talents, and expertise of Central Africans around the world to build a successful society that will help us emerge sustainably from the failure we have been witnessing for several decades,” the Bishops in CAR say.

Inspired by Pope John XXIII's Encyclical Pacem in Terris, the members of CECA appeal, “Let us work together for the effective return of positive peace in the Central African Republic.”