By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The bishops of the Central African Republic have called on citizens and on the government to work towards socio-political change amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and preparations for the country’s presidential elections, set for 27 December 2020.
“As pastors, we share ‘the joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties’ of the Central African people,” the bishops affirmed.
'We have taken the time to deliberate on the complex situation of our country which has almost always lived on the brink of the abyss, without really knowing peace,” the Bishops said in a 26-point message released on Sunday at the end of their Second Ordinary Assembly which took place from 20 to 26 July in Bangui, the capital city.
“We feel deeply concerned by two major challenges: coronavirus and the electoral process,” the bishops said. “How are we handling the coronavirus pandemic? What can we do to ensure a credible and acceptable electoral process?” the bishops asked.
Long-running socio-political crisis
The bishops noted that since the Central African Republic’s independence in 1960, the country has only seen three democratic transfers of power: in 1981, 1993 and 2016. All other accessions to power have been through coups d’état (1966, 1979, 1981, 2003 and 2013) that have destabilized the country.
As a consequence, according to the Bishops, over the past twenty years, the country has become a “laboratory” for peace initiatives. It was even given the unwanted title of “world champion of the United Nations’ missions” in 2014 due to its long-running socio-political unrest.
The need for collaborative leadership
Using the example of Moses in the Bible, the bishops said that leaders are called to hear the cries of their people and lead them to the Promised Land. However, Moses could not do it alone. He acknowledged his limitations and asked God for help (Num 11:14). God answered his prayer by assigning seventy men chosen from among the elders of Israel to help him (Numbers 11: 16 – 17).
“Moses represents every inspired leader who listens to his people, shares their sufferings, and agrees to truly collaborate with others to bring his people out of misery,” the Bishops pointed out.
“Like Moses and his collaborators, can we work today for our social, economic, political and religious liberation to build our country, the Central African Republic, in truth, justice, reparation and reconciliation?”
As in many other countries, the Covid-19 crisis has led the Central African Republic to implement restrictive measures.
The bishops noted that the Church, for its part, has reduced the maximum number of participants at each Mass to fifteen people and has suspended all the activities of various groups in the Church. It has also engaged in Covid-19 sensitization campaigns through community radio stations.
The Bishops saluted the multiple acts of solidarity among the people in these trying times and encouraged them to keep on supporting coronavirus victims and other particularly vulnerable people. They also expressed their gratitude to all the countries that have assisted the Central African Republic in its fight against Covid-19.
However, they voiced their concern about those taking advantage of the pandemic to enrich themselves by sowing fear among the people. They also lamented the lack of adequate structures for the care of those infected by the Covid-19 virus, as well as the lack of proper protective equipment for healthcare personnel.
At the same time, the prelates said that the focus on Covid-19 should not make us forget those suffering from other diseases. such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, diabetes, tuberculosis and measles.
The bishops commended the government’s efforts in recruiting, training and dispatching electoral agents to the field in preparation for the upcoming elections in December. However, they also raise a number of concerns.
First, the Bishops highlight the “real problem of the free circulation of arms of all calibers” and call for an end to illegal weapons possession in the country.
“In order for the Central African population to live in peace,” the bishops said, “disarmament and all the suppression of armed groups should be a priority at all levels.”
The bishops also pointed out that the “suspicion of forged documents” weighs heavily on the current voter registration process, adding that these allegations have to be cleared up as the confidence of the population in the process depends on it.
Besides, they asked, “how can the lack of mobilization, the demotivation of the population to register on the electoral roll and the low participation of women be explained?"
The mission of the Church
Highlighting the Church’s role as an agent of peace, the Bishops said that it has the responsibility to accompany the electoral process.
“In the light of the Gospel, the Catholic Church simply wants to enlighten consciences by giving elements for discernment and peace-building,” the bishops stated.
In this vein, the bishops appealed to all parties to avoid all actions that are detrimental to the electoral process and embrace peace.
Concluding their message, they enjoined everyone to “work together for structural changes” and for “social, economic, political and religious liberation to build a new Central African Republic willed by God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”