Ivory Coast’s “pre-election situation worrying,” Cleric Says, Highlights Peace Initiatives

The Single Ballot ticket for the October 31 presidential election in Ivory Coast.

Ahead of Ivory Coast’s Presidential election scheduled for Saturday, October 31, a Cleric ministering in the West African nation says the pre-election mood is a cause for concern and highlights some initiatives Church leaders are undertaking to advocate for peace amid rising tensions.

“The pre-election situation is worrying in Côte d'Ivoire and does not bode well for peaceful elections…and a peaceful post-election environment,” the National Executive Secretary of Justice, Peace, and Environment Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Ivory Coast (CECCI), Fr. Charles Olidjo Siwa has said in an interview published Wednesday, October, 28.

Multiple media reports indicate high tensions in the West African country characterized with several pockets of violence that have led to loss of lives and destruction of property.

Fr. Charles makes reference to “many sad events (that) have occurred in several cities of the country, where there are several deaths.”

The violence has attracted the condemnation of the United Nations (UN) Chief, Antonio Gutteres who has called on political leaders to “reject all hate speech and incitement to violence.”

The UN Chief has encouraged all political actors and their supporters to “engage in constructive dialogue and create an environment conducive to the holding of inclusive and peaceful elections.”

Opposition politicians in the country have called for “civil disobedience” and a boycott of the polls in protest against President Allasane Quattara’s contested decision to run for a third term.

President Quattara took over power after the highly contested 2010 election that saw him win against the then incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo’s refusal to cede power to Quattara led to the 2010-2011 Ivorian crisis characterized by loss of at least 3,000 lives.

However, his bid for a third term in office has put him at loggerheads with other political leaders. In defense, the 78-year-old Head of State argues that his first two terms should not be factored in the two-term limit since the 2016 constitution had not been promulgated.

Politicians opposed to his presidential bid term the move as illegal and are demanding for the dissolution of the country’s Constitutional Council that approved his candidature, as well as the Independent Electoral Commission for disqualifying other candidates considered strong opponents.

Amid the rising tensions, Fr. Charles says that officials of the various Catholic Dioceses in the country are keen on reconciliation, a key pillar of the Bishops’ strategic plan.

“We got closer to the Christian people through the media, field trips, training, and awareness,” he says in the October 28 interview by Vatican News.

He adds, “We are also working on the formation and awareness of our Christians, based on the message of peace delivered by the Pope on the occasion of each celebration of the World Day of Peace.”

In their clamor for peace and reconciliation, Catholic leaders in the country have collaborated with other religious leaders under the Alliance of Religions for Peace in Ivory Coast (ARPI), an interreligious body made of representatives from various faiths, the CECCI official says.

The activities of the Catholic Church in the Ivory Coast “are now part of the vision of this alliance, which works for non-violence, appeasement and the creation of a climate of serenity,” Fr. Charles who is the Justice, Peace, and Environment Commission Executive Secretary adds in the interview.

One of the activities of the interreligious entity that is advocating for a peaceful election include the October 12 gathering at the Abidjan Treichville Palace of Culture where various religious leaders “delivered a message of peace and reconciliation,” the Ivorian Cleric says.

The faith leaders have previously met Ivorian Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko to deliver their message, which Fr. Charles says revolved around eight points including those of the release of political prisoners and the invitation of all political leaders to dialogue.

“As religious, we can only raise awareness and raise awareness of peace. We do not have political power in our hands; we are working to get politicians to meet and talk to each other,” he adds in the October 28 interview.

On whether their messages get to the political leaders, Fr. Charles says, “Politicians welcome us and give the impression that they are listening to us and taking into account everything that is said.”

He further expresses concerns about tense political situation saying, “We are worried, and we wonder whether our actions on the ground are well perceived by political actors. This is really a big concern. Reconciliation remains a prerequisite for peaceful elections.”

Ahead of the elections on October 31, the Priest of Ivory Coast’s Diocese of San Pedro appeals for calm and invites the young people “not to allow themselves to be manipulated into violence.”

As religious leaders, Fr. Charles says their prayer is that “Ivorian politicians can sit around a table to discuss reconciliation and peace.”

“Beyond the elections, we are and will remain brothers, sons and daughters of the same homeland, the Ivory Coast,” he says and adds, “We therefore call on Ivoirians to forgiveness, to fraternity, to reconciliation and to peaceful elections.”

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

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