, 21 January, 2020 / 2:38 AM
As eligible voters in the West African nation of Ivory Coast prepare to go to the polls in October, Catholic Bishops in the country have, at the end of their Plenary Assembly, highlighted four issues that need to be addressed to avert a possible post-election crisis, top on their list, reconciliation. Other issues include dialogue, the independence of the electoral commission, and respect for the country’s Constitution.
“The first condition that must be observed in the preparation of these elections must be reconciliation,” reads in part a message from the Episcopal Conference of the Ivory Coast (CECCI) issued in the Archdiocese of Korhogo, the venue of the Bishops’ Plenary Meeting Sunday, January 19.
In their collective statement, the Bishops have explained, “reconciliation presupposes, indeed requires, the return of exiles with guarantees of security and reintegration, the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, without exception, and the unfreezing of assets.”
Though the Prelates applaud the efforts of their nation’s leaders in encouraging citizens to reconcile, they call upon the leaders to strive toward collective reconciliation.
“All political leaders must be part of this dynamism, without resorting to violence as a solution to problems,” the Ivorian Prelates have emphasized in their statement.
A rise in tensions in recent weeks between President Alassane Ouattara and his political rivals has resulted in anxiety about possible election-related violence in Francophone West Africa's largest economy, where the disputed 2010 poll set off a civil war that killed 3,0000 people, a situation the Bishops have recalled in their January 14-19 meeting.
“In the aftermath of the 2010 post-electoral crisis, the state authorities made reconciliation a priority and committed themselves to rebuilding the torn social fabric,” the Bishops recounted.
They added in reference to reconciliation efforts following the disputed 2010 elections, “This major undertaking had raised immense hope with the successive establishment of two institutions: The Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation (CDVR) and the National Commission for Reconciliation and Compensation of Victims (CONARIV).”
“Unfortunately, the results of their work have not been acted upon,” the Bishops have lamented and added, “Not surprisingly, resentment resurfaced, among other things, through mutinies, inter-community conflicts that resulted in the loss of human lives.”
According to the Ivorian Prelates, “These conflicts have shown how hearts have not yet been appeased and that everything can explode at any moment, especially with the weapons used during these clashes, which reveal that the disarmament process so longed for at the end of the post-electoral crisis has not come to an end.”
“To this social divide has been added that of political parties divided into several entities,” the Prelates have noted and added, “Yesterday's allies have become opponents and even enemies today.”
In their nation, the Bishops have bemoaned, “relationships are tinged with resentment, revenge or vengeance, where people now seek to measure or crush each other. A climate of fear and terror is gradually taking hold in our country, and we have a widespread sense of the threat and deployment of force.”
In the face the seeming tense socio-political atmosphere, the Ivorian Prelates have proposed dialogue achieved through “consultation and consensus” as a second condition ahead of the October poll “in order to take into account the legitimate demands and aspirations of all socio-political actors and the enlightened opinions of the international community.”
“If dialogue between the civil society are conducted transparently and with respect for differences, the country will gain renewed energy and constructive fraternity,” the Bishops have explained.
According to the Church leaders, dialogue is required to address issues around “electoral division, the question of identity documents, the electoral list, the electoral code,” among others.
Further, the Ivorian Local Ordinaries have demanded that “total independence of persons and institutions, especially the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)” be guaranteed.
“Like any competition, elections need a referee. The proper conduct of the competition depends on the position of the referee,” the Bishops have stated in their collective statement and have explained, “If the referee is both player and referee, the end of the competition is already known. On the other hand, if the referee is only a referee, with an independence that does not suffer from any doubt, the competition ends peacefully.”
“This is why the IEC's role as a referee requires complete independence,” they underscored.
Finally, the Bishops have stated, “The fourth condition, which is a logical consequence of the independence of the IEC, is that of an open presidential election that guarantees equal opportunities for all candidates wishing to compete. The fight against exclusion would make sense here.”
According to the Bishops, the respect for the rule of law is important “so that no one would harbour the intention or will to manipulate the persons, texts or institutions that will be involved in the electoral process.”
“We implore divine mercy on our country and all its inhabitants, through the intercession of Our Lady of Peace, so that our efforts of conversion may be sustained, our desires for truth, justice, reconciliation and peace strengthened and our nation may continue its journey in serenity and peace,” the Bishops have concluded.
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.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa