«Stop the bloodshed. Let the peace process begin». It’s the 6th of April 2011 and while Pope Benedict launches this last appeal for peace in Ivory Coast, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson, president of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was flying back to Rome from Accra, Ghana.
Sent by Pope Benedict one week earlier to mediate between the conflicting parties in Ivory Coast, he hadn’t even managed to set foot on Ivorian territory. Airports had been shut down because of the riots, and Turkson wasn’t even allowed a special diplomatic permission – a nice way to intimate the Catholic Church to stay out of this conflict.
«The real president in Ivory Coast is called Nicholas Sarkozy», roars Martin Nkafu, lecturer and expert in History and traditions of Africa in the Pontificia Università Lateranense in Rome. In Ivory Coast, his vision is shared by many. In fact, the French political choice to employ their special forces to back Alassane Ouattara -the president elected to replace Laurent Gbagbo- did not pass unnoticed. It was the French special forces to capture Gbagbo and lay power in Outtara’s hands, thus terminating a conflict started when Gbagbo refused to recognise his opponent’s election. It had been a violent conflict, like all those fuelled by ethno-religious reasons.
The classic analysis of the Ivorian conflict opposes three big ethnno-regional ‘blocs’, each represented by a party and a director: the Akan East and the Baoulés, represented by Houphouet-Boigny and his self-proclaimed successor Henri Konan Bedié with the Ivory Coast Democratic Party (Pdci) ; the Krou West, gathered around the Beté core, represented by Gbagbo’s Ivorian Patriotic Front (Fpi); eventually, the northern Dioulas, politically represented by Outtara’s RDR.
Handy as it might be, this analysis is heritage of a nineteen-century colonial interpretation, where every ‘political chief’ has his own ‘ethnic weight’ inside a ‘regional bloc’. Actually, it’s more complex than that. Ivory Coast is, in fact, a country largely made up by immigrants. The pretext behind Gbagbo’s refusal to leave power was that the four Northern regions where Outtara had gathered his landslide victory are made up mainly by immigrants from Burkina Faso. Moreover, Outtara’s tribe itself is originally from Burkina Faso -and hence the pretext, even if the election was regular according to all the observers of international organization.
The presence of the Catholic Church in Ivory Coast is extremely strong. It’s from the Church, in fact, that the Ivorian education system stems from, and all schools are Catholic. Moreover, the largest exporter of cocoa in the world needs a ruling class at least able to manage business deals with the First World. Therefore, Ivorian managers receive their education in Catholic schools, and show great respect for Catholicism too. That’s why both Outtara and Gbagbo turned to Mons. Jean Pierre Kutwa -the highest ecclesial authority in Ivory Coast- looking for support.
It is for this reason that the former president Boigny had wanted the ‘St. Peter of Africa’ to be built in Yamoussokro. The cathedral (the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace) in the forest should have clearly and wholly reminded St. Peter’s and should have embellished the new Ivory Coast capital -even though Abidjan retains the title of administrative capital. John Paul II too went there on a visit, where he made clear that the Church is anywhere, yes, anywhere but in ostentation. It is necessary to say that, on that occasion, the splendour of the cathedral on the one side contrasted with a starving poopulation on the other.
Not many in Europe reported on the Ivory Coast situation. In Italy, it only happened when the Holy See itself took a stance – a thing that proves, according to a Holy See official, that «if the Catholic Church makes the right move, it is able to influence public opinion. Something that didn’t happen, for example, in the case of Libya». It was Catholic Church that reported the mass murder in Ivory Coast and condemned the massacre. A condemn that costed a heavy price to Catholic Church . The Osservatore Romano wrote an extensive article about the situation in Ivory Coast on April 14, with no spare of criticisms. As Pierluigi Natalia wrote, «war in Ivory Coast, one of the few countries where colonialism was followed by decades of peace, only started after the price of cocoa slumped. That followed the international decision to decrease dramatically the percentage of cocoa needed for products to be sold as chocolate».
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Source: mondayvatican.com – 18 aprile 2011
Author: Andrea Gagliarducci