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Togolese Bishops Deny Allegations of being Partisan, say Sources of funding are legitimate

Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Togo (CET)

Bishops in the West African nation of Togo have, in a collective statement, denied allegations of partiality in the country’s politics ahead of general elections made by the Togolese Minister of Territorial Administration.

In a letter made public on January 16, the Togolese Minister for Territorial Administration, Decentralization and Local Government, Payadowa Boukpessi questioned the legitimacy of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace (CEJP) to send observers to polling stations and accused the body of “colluding with local political parties.”

“We the Togolese bishops reject the allegations made by the Minister of Territorial Administration, accusing the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of colluding with local political parties and drawing its funding from hidden sources, convinced that the real reasons are certainly to be found elsewhere,” reads in part a statement issued by the Togolese Bishops’ Conference (CET) availed to ACI Africa.

In the letter, the Bishops have defended their “request for election observation”, which CEJP presented to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) saying, “this is not only a right recognized by the Togolese Constitution but also an ordinary mission of the entire Justice and Peace Commission (CEJP) recalled by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus.”

The Bishops have recalled the advice they received from Pope Francis during their ad limina visit to the Vatican on May 11, 2015. “I encourage you to continue to ensure that the Church takes its rightful place in the ongoing process of institutional reform. However, it is still necessary to be careful not to enter directly into political debate and wrangling,” the Pope noted.

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CET's response follows Minister Boukpessi's request to CENI not to authorize the CEJP to observe the presidential elections slated to take place February 22.

The authority which previously deprived CEJP of this right during the local elections of June 30, 2019 says it doubts the sources of funding and the neutrality of the Catholic Church in Togo.

In their February 3 collective message, the Togolese Bishops have emphasized, “The sending of CEJP volunteers is free of charge.” They denounced “the disrespectful remarks” of the minister and described them as “an insult to the Church.”

“The sources of funding for the Church in Togo are well known. They are credible and legitimate,” the Bishops have reiterated.

Tension is mounting in Togo ahead of February 22 poll in which seven candidates are expected to vie for the presidency, including the incumbent Faure Gnassingbe whose Union for the Republic party holds two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

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Gabriel Agbéyomé Kodjo who recently received the blessings of the Archbishop Emeritus of Lomé, Msgr. Philippe Fanoko Kpodzro is hoping to gain the confidence of Togolese eligible voters.

The Togolese Bishops have appealed for peace, transparency and justice before throughout the process saying, “We the Bishops in Togo intend to play our role as ambassadors of peace, without bias, for a smooth election in light of recent political events.”

They have emphasized, “It is our wish and fervent hope that the election will take place in peace, transparency and justice.”

They have also invited "citizens, who will take the decision to go to the polls, to make use of this right in peace and respect, bearing in complete freedom of conscience, their choice on the one who, in their eyes, seems best suited to lead the destiny of our country.”

The Bishops have also exhorted “all the institutions involved in this process to assume their role in transparency, justice, truth and respect for the mission assigned to them, so that it is not stained with fraud or violence.”

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With the contribution of all the sons and daughters of Togo being essential for the consolidation of peace and democracy the country, the Togolese Bishops have called on the faithful to be “guided by the Word of God and the values of faith that we profess.”