By Vatican News staff writer
Pope Francis, during the Sunday Angelus, expressed his closeness to the Ivory Coast, which celebrated its National Day of Peace amid rising social and political tensions that have caused many victims. He also encouraged the country’s political actors to “re-establish a climate of mutual trust and dialogue” in order to bring out solutions that protect and promote the common good.
Welcoming the Pope’s appeal, the President of the Ivorian Bishops’ Conference (CECI), Bishop Ignace Bessi Dogbo of Katiola, told Vatican News’ Fr Jean Pierre Bodjoko, SJ, that Pope Francis’ words on the situation in the Ivory Coast were received with much gratitude, especially as the Pope called for collaboration, reconciliation and peaceful coexistence in the country.
The situation in the Ivory Coast
Fresh tensions began in the West African nation after the Ivorian Constitutional Council announced that incumbent President Alassane Ouattara had won his bid for a third term in office earlier this month.
More clashes broke out after Ouattara’s re-election after the 31 October polls which were mostly boycotted by the opposition. Many Ivorian citizens took to the streets in protest, maintaining that the controversial third term is in contravention of the country’s laws. The violent protests have so far claimed the lives of at least sixteen people and have caused massive damages to businesses and properties.
The UN reports that as many as 8,000 Ivorian citizens have fled the country to neighboring Liberia, Ghana, Guinea and Togo.
“For the time being, the situation seems a little calm,” said Bishop Dogbo. “The two important personalities, namely the President of the Republic and the leader of the opposition have met” and this seems to have brought some relative calm to the situation.
However, continued the Bishop, “the coming days are to be feared, because the opposition has announced a demonstration on Monday.”
Ivorian media reported that on Wednesday, President Ouattara met with the opposition leader, Henri Konan Bedie to start a dialogue to avoid further escalation of tensions in the country.
Day of Prayer for Peace
On Sunday, the Ivory Coast celebrated its Day of Prayer for Peace – a traditional observance marked annually on 15 November. Normally on this day, diocesan executive secretaries would meet with the national secretary and president of the Justice and Peace Commission.
This year, explained Bishops Dogbo, due to the situation of conflict, the celebration was modified to be observed at the diocesan level. It was, nonetheless, an opportunity to sensitize the people to peace through reconciliation.
Reiterating the Pope’s appeal on Sunday, Bishop Dogbo encouraged all Ivorian citizens to be calm in their desire for dialogue and concertation, adding that the country’s Bishops have repeatedly called on citizens to embrace peace and dialogue.
He noted that in March 2020, the Bishops published a document on the situation of the Church in the country at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace inspired by the post-synodal exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI. In addition, they reiterated their calls for peace and dialogue in a message in Karongo in January 2020.
“I would like to take up this same message to ask all Ivorians to open their hearts to dialogue and concertation, because the Ivory Coast has been a country of dialogue,” Bishop Dogbo said.