, 21 February, 2020 / 5:13 AM
Following a series of statements by Catholic Bishops in Ivory Coast calling for reconciliation and peaceful elections in the West African nation, a delegation of Prelates in the country was received Wednesday, February 19 by President Alassane Ouattara to discuss the “reconciliation of all Ivorians” as well as peace and stability in the country.
“The bishops met with the President of the Republic, first of all to greet him and to exchange with him on the progress of the country. Particularly around questions concerning the reconciliation of all Ivorians, the President of the Episcopal Conference of Ivory Coast (Cecci), Bishop Ignace Bessi Dogbo told journalists at the end of the two-hour meeting in Ivory Coast’s capital Abidjan.
He added, “Bishops are very sensitive to reconciliation, being themselves ordained ministers for reconciliation.”
The meeting, held at the presidential palace, took place in a context where relations are somewhat tense between the Ivorian episcopate and the government, which is questioning the latest declarations of the bishops and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa on peace and national reconciliation.
At the end of their Plenary Assembly held from January 14-19, Cecci Bishops 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.
In a collective statement, that sanctioned the plenary assembly, the Bishops 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.”
In reaction to the Bishops’ message, the Ivorian minister of Communication, Sidi Tiémoko Touré said, “the issues affecting our nation today call for precautious statements.”
Minister Touré in the interview published on the Facebook page of the Ministry of Communication, also denied three main points in the Bishops’ message: the detention of political prisoners or prisoners of opinion, the fate of the work of the institutions in charge of reconciliation and compensation for victims, and political dialogue.
“There are no political prisoners or prisoners of opinion in Ivory Coast. This must be made clear,” the government spokesman said and added, “the political responsibility of the personalities arrested on December 23rd, whose release the Catholic Church pleads for, does not disguise the fact that we are all citizens. All the more so when it is a question of flagrante delicto of violation of state security.”
Meanwhile the young people and women of the Archdiocese of Abidjan who were planning to organize a large prayer march titled "Let's go to peace" on February 15 were threatened with reprisals by several Internet users who had made known their intention to prevent this prayer rally, which the two main opposition parties wanted to join.
Cardinal Jean Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan, who did not even want a drop of blood to be shed by uncontrolled people, finally replaced the event with a day of prayer inside the cathedral.
Addressing the President on behalf of Cecci bishops during the Wednesday meeting, Bishop Bessi noted, “The history of any people that wishes to build itself solidly needs foresight, discernment and a future-oriented on all its inhabitants, without exception.”
“For several years now, we have wished to establish a permanent framework for consultation between the government and the hierarchy of the Church,” the Bishop of Katiola said and added, “It is in this sense that the bishops have responded promptly to your invitation and are ready to listen to you.”
The Ivorian Prelates also reminded President Ouattara of their commitment to peace and the welfare of the population in the nation building.
“The bishops that we are not only contented to show their firm will to participate in the construction of the common good that is our country, but are committed to it with all the energies of their hearts, and without bias, except that of the truth that their conscience reveals to them through meditation on the Word of God taken up in the social doctrine of the Church,” they said.
Cecci, through Bishop Ignace Bessi, also outlined the efforts made by the Church in achieving reconciliation in Ivory Coast.
“Our Conference, whose vision is to build a Church-Communion at the service of all, with the mission of building universal brotherhood, feels the duty to take its place and play its role in the search for peace through reconciliation," Bishop Bessi insisted.
He added, “Her (Church) mission to build universal fraternity without discrimination requires her to help all the protagonists of reconciliation to cultivate openness to all the components of the country, in all their diversity. Renewing the broken conciliation is so demanding that it should be opened up as widely as possible. Everyone should be involved; no one should exclude themselves or be excluded.
Speaking about the presidential election scheduled for October, Cecci once again called for transparency saying, “On the road to reconciliation, elections are always a decisive and difficult step. That is why, in a context of democracy, they must be faced with the utmost transparency and fairness, so that the voice of a people whose freedom is fully guaranteed can be heard.”
Finally, the Ivorian episcopate has offered its collaboration in the reconciliation process.
“As far as we are concerned, we make ourselves available, possibly with other organizations in a broad consultation and always in a spirit of consensus, to pursue with you the process of reconciliation to build together a stable and united Côte d'Ivoire,” Bishop Bessi 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