YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – As Angolans prepare for general elections in August, the African country’s Catholic bishops are already expressing concern over what they describe as a “dark and nefarious atmosphere” that has enveloped the country.

Angolans will be voting to elect a new parliament and president, with current President João Lourenço seeking re-election.

He came to power in 2017 after José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down after more than 30 years in power.

Meeting during their first ordinary general assembly for 2022 in the coastal province of Benguela – which is due to conclude on Feb. 7 – prelates spoke about the political tensions which were already boiling over, particularly between the country’s two leading political parties, the MPLA and UNITA.

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“There is a dangerous vacuum of dialogue between rulers and ruled, between party leaderships, and between the various civic actors, further raising the levels of anxiety, radicalism, intolerance, indiscipline, physical, verbal, moral and psychological violence,” said Archbishop José Imbamba, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Angola and Sao Tome, and archbishop of Saurimo.

The archbishop also blamed the media for worsening the situation, noting that the state media “contributes in no way to social harmony, to the peace of spirits, and to the culture of dialogue, democracy and fraternity.”

The comments echoed those of opposition leader Manuel Fernandes, who has called the state media the “propaganda tools of the ruling party.”

“It is imperative that equal and impartial treatment is given to all potential contestants. We condemn the unequal posture that currently characterizes the posture of the public media. The negative exercise of the media can contribute to the untruth and potential electoral fraud,” Fernandes said.

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Imbamba remained hopeful, saying 2022 is the year Angola needs to consolidate its ” young and weak democracy.”

“A strengthened democracy undoubtedly contributes by its nature to the affirmation of human dignity, the strengthening of justice, peace and well-being among citizens,” the archbishop said.

He called on political parties to respect each other during the electoral campaign, asserting that the vote will only be truly free if the campaign “is based on mutual respect and if all the recognized parties have the right and the possibility of expressing their ideas”.

The prelate als0 called on Catholics  “to avoid abstention” and “to renew their electoral cards.”

He also called on the National Independent Electoral Commission to guarantee truth and transparency in the general elections.

“The elections will go the way we want if they are well prepared – in truth, transparency, honesty and justice,” the archbishop said.

Imbamba said society was “eagerly awaiting” the general elections and called for the public’s sense of responsibility.

“It is necessary to invest, once again and with patience, in the civic education of citizens, education for democracy is cultivated,” he said.

He said he was hopeful that the outcomes of a free and fair elections could begin to offer solutions to the many problems plaguing the country.

These problems include rising unemployment which Imbamba said “continues to agitate social life … leading to a despairing youth.”

Official figures indicate that a third of Angola’s population is unemployed, with youth unemployment as high as 59 percent.

“The poverty situation on the part of many families remains frightening. We still witness scenarios of food collection in dumpsters, on steps on roads adjacent to commercial outlets. The loss of purchasing power of families is a glaring fact and has been going on for many years, despite the measures that are being taken here and there,” said Imbamba.

The archbishop said despite the political tensions and economic hardship, Angolans still has to live together in love and harmony.

“We all have the right to promote those values above any and all political disputes, such as good coexistence, tolerance, fraternity, love of neighbor, respect for the opinion of others, permanent openness to dialogue, brotherhood, peace, above all the nation, citizenship and well-being for all,” he urged.