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Amid Search for Peace “we must not give in to discouragement”: Bishops in Ivory Coast

Catholic Bishops in Ivory Coast with administrative authorities during the official ceremony of their 117th plenary Assembly.

Against the backdrop of a socio-political tension in Ivory Coast, Catholic Bishops in the country are urging the people of God to not give up in the search of the much-needed peace.

“We must not give in to discouragement. The road to peace is and will always be long and difficult. Indeed, one finishes building a material edifice, but one never finishes building peace,” the members of the Episcopal Conference of Ivory Coast (CECCI) say.

In their Sunday, January 24 collective message given at the end of their Plenary Assembly, CECCI members encourage Ivorians to “continue tirelessly to work for peace, which must not be seen as the mere silence of arms.”

“Peace presupposes true and equitable justice in the management of people and the fair redistribution of the country's wealth; peace in all truth and sincerity, without compromise,” they say.

Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, experienced political tension before and after the October 2020 election.

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The country plunged into pre-election violence after opposition politicians called for “civil disobedience” and a boycott of the polls in protest against President Alassane Quattara’s contested decision to run for a third term in September. 

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 that saw at least 3,000 people lose their lives.

The country also experienced sporadic violence after the country’s Constitutional Council announced last November 9 that President Ouattara, the incumbent, had won a third term in office with 94 percent of the cast votes.

Politicians belonging to the opposition contested the results saying that in running for a third term, President Ouattara breached the constitution.

More than 50 people were reported dead as a result of the violence, whose epicenter was reportedly in the country’s political capital, Yamoussoukro.

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UNHCR reported that about 10,087 Ivorians fled to neighboring countries, the majority seeking refuge in Togo, Liberia, Ghana and Guinea.

In the January 24 message whose date of issuance coincided with the conclusion of the 125th Anniversary Celebration of Evangelization in the West African nation, the Catholic Bishops also call for “a new Ivory Coast” guided by reconciliation among the people. 

“This Ivory Coast is within our reach. Its construction requires individual and collective commitment. One of the foundations of this new Ivory Coast is reconciliation,” the Bishops say.

Explaining reconciliation as an act of bringing together at least two separate groups, the members of CECCI decry divisions in the country saying, “Many sons and daughters are separated from each other or distanced from the Motherland by politics; and the gulf has been deeply accentuated by the last presidential election.”

“The time has come to restore the joy of Ivory Coast. To see its children gathered around it without political, ethnic or religious obstacles,” the Catholic Church leaders say in their January 21 statement.

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Referencing the newly-created Ministry of Reconciliation, the Bishops express the hope that the activities of the government department will “go unhindered” and achieve its mission. 

In their message, the Bishops also call for the “scrupulous compliance” of the country’s laws ahead of the March 2021 parliamentary election.

“We invite the tireless search for truth in political treatments and respect for the dignity of the person and human life,” say the Bishops in their collective statement.

They further urge the political leaders in the West African country to foster dialogue among themselves “in serenity and truth with all the components of the Ivorian nation with a view to creating a relaxed and calm socio-political climate.”

“We beg for another effusion of the Holy Spirit on Ivorian earth for the conversion of hearts,” the Bishops implore and conclude, “May we rise in Ivory Coast, our Motherland, a new era of reconciliation, justice and peace.”

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