By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The Bishops in the Ivory Coast highlight the importance of justice, peace and reconciliation in the country amid rising political tensions ahead of the presidential elections slated for 31 October.
Their recently-released 79-page pastoral letter is entitled “The Church in Côte d’Ivoire at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.” In it, the Bishops stress the importance of social cohesion in order to “build an Ivorian society that is ever more fraternal and open to all, respectful of the dignity and rights of the human person and concerned to establish among all citizens bonds of friendship, trust and mutual respect.”
The pastoral letter, composed of 83 points, is divided into three parts: A Church called to live communion with God, others and creation; A Church-communion at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace; and the commitment of all to build a society of peace.
According to the Bishops, “only an authentic reconciliation accomplished in truth and justice will bring lasting peace to the Ivorian society.”
Regarding reconciliation, the Bishops insist that it “must be inclusive and participatory in the sense that it must not exclude any antagonism.”
Reconciliation, the Bishops continue, “must be accompanied by courageous and honest acts: meeting the protagonists of the crisis, listening to each other, rebuilding a common history, accepting the painful past, taking into account the sufferings of each and every one, accepting the motivations, reasons and causes of the crisis.”
According to the Bishops, “promoting a just order, respecting the principle of subsidiarity and fighting corruption” are the necessary conditions for attaining justice in the Ivory Coast.
The Bishops bemoan the fact that “in recent years, government authorities of all ideological tendencies in our country have always tried to manipulate justice according to their interests.”
The manipulation of justice, the Bishops said, is done “either to deny Ivorian nationality, to sell it off, or to make a political opponent ineligible, or to hand over to international justice certain compatriots while others responsible for crimes enjoy their freedom.”
The Bishops argued that “it is not enough to organize elections for the country to be at peace.” Rather, what is needed is “to cultivate love and fraternity among ourselves, through words, actions and relationships marked by conviviality.”
The role of the Church
In the Bishops’ opinion, the Church has a vital role to play on the pathway towards peace in the West-African country.
“It is, therefore, all the sons and daughters of Ivory Coast, Bishops, priests and all consecrated persons, including non-consecrated persons, who are called to build and consolidate peace.”
Therefore, the Bishops pointed out, “the loss of credibility and discredit in the mission, requires of us a renewed and resolute attitude to resolve the conflicts within the Church.” Furthermore, they insist:
“The Church will only be able to contribute credibly to the construction and consolidation of social cohesion in Ivory Coast if pastors and lay faithful are reconciled among themselves."
Rising tensions in the Ivory Coast
Ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for 31 October, political tensions are rising in the West-African country.
Incumbent president Alassane Ouattara had previously announced his decision to withdraw from the presidential race in the upcoming elections. However, the death of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly on 8 July revived tensions. Opposition parties are complaining they are being intimidated in a bid to discourage them from vying for the country’s number one position.
Further compounding these tensions, the country’s politicians are debating whether or not the elections should be postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis which has infected 15,253 Ivorians and caused 94 deaths as of Saturday.