YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Bishop Marcellin Yao Kouadio of Daloa in the west of Ivory Coast, who was elected earlier this month as president of the country’s bishops conference, has wasted little time making his voice heard.
In the span of just a few days, Kouadio has managed to make government officials uncomfortable with his sharp criticism of the way the state is being managed.
Speaking during a June 4 homily to mark the end of a plenary assembly of the bishops’ conference, Kouadio castigated the government for “widespread corruption, tribalism and selective justice.”
He further condemned the government for engaging in what he qualified as a “development carried out in a piecemeal fashion, in recognition of the docile militant, or in retaliation for unyielding localities.”
The 63-year-old also spoke out against what he called an “armed democracy” and “the shady game played by a political class that was friendly yesterday and divided today.” He said calls for reconciliation by the country’s politicians “have never been sincere, because most of the time those who talk to us about peace go around in bullet-proof waistcoats.”
The criticism received a sharp rebuke from the government. Ivorian government spokesman Amadou Coulibaly accused the bishop of being “an opposition leader in a cassock.”
“To all those who applauded wildly when he spoke and applauded in unison, I just want to quote La Fontaine who said in one of his stories: Learn that every flatterer lives at the expense of the listener,” Coulibaly said.
Ivory Coast, a former French colony, is a country on the West Coast of Africa with a population of 30 million. Catholics are roughly 17 percent of the population, though they’ve long played an important role in national affairs.
Under former President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a Catholic, the country built the largest Catholic church in the world, exceeding even St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, the national capital.
Kouadio’s reference to an “armed democracy” and a failed reconciliation process has to do with the exclusion of former President Laurent Gbagbo from electoral lists ahead of September 2 local elections, which are considered a test case for the smooth conduct of the 2025 presidential election.
The pretext for rejecting the candidacy of the former leader is that Gbagbo was condemned to 20 years for “stealing” from the Central Bank of the West African States. The former president, however, insists it’s a political stunt meant to stain his name.
“I was taken to the International Criminal Court with tons of accusations: Crimes against humanity, war crimes, rape. … I defended myself and I won, I was acquitted. They’re hiding here illegally and they’re pinning an accusation on me. It’s too politicized, it’s not worthy of being called a trial,” Gbagbo said recently.
The bishops have called for an election that is “inclusive, peaceful and free, transparent and fair, credible and accepted by all. To achieve this, the institutions in charge of the electoral process must win the trust of Ivorians by demonstrating their preparedness and ability to organize future elections.”
“Likewise, we implore all those in charge of the electoral and judicial institutions to act with honor, integrity and honesty, dispensing true justice.”
The bishops said it was critical that the blood of Ivorians be spared from what could be another flawed election.
“It is the responsibility of everyone to put all in place to ensure that the blood of our fellow citizens doesn’t flow anew. That begins with a collective engagement to work together and avoid all that could lead us into a spiral of violence with disastrous consequences,” the bishops said in a statement.
Political violence has frequently characterized elections in Ivory Coast.
At least 50 people were killed in violence following the October 31, 2020 presidential election. Between 2010-2011, the country descended into violence after Gbagbo was declared victorious in the 2010 presidential election, although Allasanne Ouattara claimed victory. An estimated 3,000 people were killed.
The bishops said such bloodshed isn’t warranted, because Ivory Coast “is an inestimable good for us all…our parents left it for us as a legacy, and we have to pass it on to future generations. We must avoid all sorts of violence in order to guarantee sustainable peace for all, which is a precondition for development that profits everyone.”
Such peace won’t come without justice, the bishops said, calling for “equitable justice” that is the foundation of all development.
On a different front, the bishops also took issue with the promotion of homosexuality, noting that it doesn’t fit into Africa’s cultural context.
“At a social level, we observe that the culture of ’anything goes’ is perniciously taking hold, with the promotion of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) movement, among others. We would like to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that this is neither our culture, nor a value to be promoted.”
“However, the Church remains open to all its sons and daughters to accompany them,” the clerics said.
Ivory Coast is among the few African countries where homosexuality is not criminalized, and has its own gay rights movement. In May, the first LGBT magazine in West Africa was launched in Abidjan.
On May 13, the third edition of an LGBT festival, Awawalé, took place in Abidjan, to draw attention to the socio-economic vulnerability of LGBT people. On May 22, a flag in the colors of the LGBT community was hoisted at the headquarters of the European Union delegation in Abidjan.