By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
“In certain circumstances, silence can be likened to cowardice and complicity with iniquity.”
With these words, Cardinal Jean Pierre Kutwa began his letter on Monday to Ivorian citizens, expressing concern about the developments on the country’s political front in the buildup leading to the presidential elections, scheduled for October 2020.
“The socio-political life of our country is taking a dangerous turn,” the Cardinal noted. “As the presidential elections approach, we are forced to notice the radicalization of positions on both sides.” These positions, he pointed out, have become more pronounced “since the declaration of the candidacy of the president of the Republic on 6 August 2020.”
Alassane Ouattara, 78, Ivory Coast’s incumbent president filed his candidacy for re-election after initially saying that he would not run again after being president for two five-year terms from 2010 – 2020. Ouattara said that he changed his mind after the death of prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly of a heart attack in July.
Ouattara’s candidacy bid for the October elections has generated fresh tensions in the country. In August, several violent clashes stemming from Ouattara’s bid left several dead and more than 100 injured.
The Ivorian Constitution limits presidents to two terms but Ouattara’s supporters argue that a 2016 amendment to the Constitutions reset the clock, permitting him to seek a third term. However, opposition and civil society groups hold that Ouattara’s candidacy is unconstitutional and therefore should not be permitted.
Cardinal Kutwa, speaking against the violence, said it was “unacceptable” that “citizens of the same country, armed with clubs, stones, machetes and firearms” would go about killing, injuring each other and causing material damage.
He mourned the deaths of the victims of the clashes, praying that the dead may rest in peace and for consolation for their families.
Presidential election candidates
Posing major threats to the incumbent president’s third-term bid for the presidency are several candidates.
Pascal Affi N’Guessan of the Ivorian Popular Front party (FPI) presented his candidacy on Thursday. N’Guessan, a former prime minister, is running against Ouattara for a second time after losing to him in the 2015 presidential elections.
Another candidate is former president, Henri Konan Bedie of the Ivory Coast Democratic party (PDCI). 86-year-old Bedie led the country from 1993 to 1996.
Supporters of Ivorian ex-president Laurent Gbagbo have also submitted his documents to the electoral commission to get him registered as a candidate in the October elections. Gbagbo, 75, who was tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) was freed conditionally in 2019 after he was cleared of crimes against humanity linked to the violence that erupted after the 2010 elections. He has been adopted as the presidential candidate of the EDS (Ensemble pour la Démocratie et Souveraineté).
Appeal for peace, dialogue and reconciliation
Invoking his responsibilities as a pastor, Cardinal Kutwa called for “non-violence, dialogue, and respect for the law,” – all things without which, “one cannot build a modern and peaceful state,” he pointed out.
He also stressed the importance of forgiveness, pointing out that “there is no peace without justice and there is no justice without forgiveness.” Forgiveness, therefore, is the “path to reconciliation” without which social cohesion is impossible. Reconciliation also “allows antagonists to unite and start again.”
Appealing to the individual and collective conscience of the nation, the Cardinal urged everyone to “search for solutions for the crisis” pointing out that the current situation of unrest does not bode well for the organization of elections.
“Ivory Coast, our country, is a country of dialogue by tradition,” he stated. “Let us remember this! Let us not put dialogue under the snuffles to take paths that do not honor our beloved country.”
Respect for laws
Cardinal Kutwa pointed out that the fundamental laws of the country which allow for the recognition of the rights and freedoms of the citizens, is a good place to start to help everyone to live in justice, reconciliation and peace in preparation for the organization of peaceful elections.
Stating that “the force of law is and always will be to be preferred to the law of force,” he called for a common interpretation of the constitution that respects the former - which is a path to peace with respect for rights, as opposed to the latter which leads to disorder.
Addressing the country’s president, whose candidacy the Cardinal considers to be “unnecessary,” he reminded him of his duty as “guarantor of the Constitution and national unity”, which calls for his courageous involvement with a view of restoring calm in the country.
Concluding, the Cardinal prayed that everyone, in the exercise of their duties, will have the wisdom to accomplish them in accordance with the law, especially with respect to right to life, saying that “only justice that recognizes each person’s rights and duties will bring us peace.”