YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – In offering hopes and prayers for a better 2024, the Catholic bishops of Africa delivered a largely searing judgment about the continent’s political leadership in the year that just closed, condemning failures on multiple issues including insecurity, poverty, corruption and economic stagnation.

In Nigeria, Archbishop Adewale-Martins of Lagos said he was saddened by the economic hardship faced by Nigerians in 2023.

He said rising fuel prices and the devaluation of the local currency, the naira, had reduced the purchasing power of Nigerians and forced many of them to leave the country. He urged the government to focus on economic policies that would improve the living conditions of the poor and to create jobs for the youth.

“Government must listen to the cries of poor Nigerians,” Adewale-Martins said.

“They are finding it difficult to keep their heads above water. Along with the insecurity, this has led many of the best brains being sucked out of the country as they yield to the Japa syndrome,” he said, using a bit of Nigerian slang derived from a Yoruba word meaning “to escape” or “to run away,” and it generally refers to young people leaving the country with no intention of coming back.

“Those of us who remain are struggling to breathe, as they say. This is unacceptable,” Adewale-Martins said.

“As we enter into the year 2024, we call on the government, at all levels, to lock its focus on economic policies that will help to rejig the economy and bring solace to the impoverished masses,” he said.

“If President Bola Tinubu wishes to write his name in gold, he must begin from now to use all resources available, human and material, and not allow politics and political expediency to stand in the way of common good and the welfare of the people. All Nigerians ask for is policies that will bring down the high cost of foodstuff, reduce transportation costs, and provide gainful employment for the jobless, especially the youth,” he said.

Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo of Oyo Diocese called on Nigerians to be agents of positive change in 2024 and to work together with the government to transform the country. He said Nigerians should be honest, productive, accountable, and disciplined, and challenged them to “make a fresh vow to turn Nigeria from a country of perpetual potentialities to one with huge actualities.”

“This can only happen if we all, government and people, work together,” he said.

In Ivory Coast, a country that has experienced war and violence, Bishop Joseph Aka warned against trivializing reconciliation. He said reconciliation had been misused by politicians for their own interests. He recalled the suffering and death that the country had endured and emphasized the need for healing.

Aka said the only way out of the pain and wounds was to be like the Good Samaritan, who helped a stranger in need. “Any other option leads to more violence and injustice,” he said.

“On this path of reconciliation, let us remember that we necessarily need ‘love and truth to meet’. Without this, it is impossible to live as brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Those who are not enlightened by the light of love cannot tell the truth about themselves or others. He either lies or hurts others by saying false things.”

He explained that justice is the condition for peace “because it allows everyone to be recognized in their existential reality and to be helped according to their needs in order to contribute to social peace.”

“If justice does not protect the rights of the weak, it fails to promote peace and reconciliation; it becomes unjust,” Aka said.

“To be just before God means to carry out His will with the conviction that this divine will is always a source of peace and joy, and makes us promote and defend an ethic of otherness,” he said.

The President of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar  (SECAM), who is also the Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, had a message with a more continental appeal.

The Congolese Bishop told Vatican Radio that he hoped 2024 would become Africa’s year of liberation.

“I can only wish all the best that could be imagined for the suffering African people. And the best wish for me is that these people, overall, can finally live in peace, in complete security, in serenity and confidence,” he said.

“I wish a year of fraternity for these people who suffer and who continue to suffer. This is why I ask, and it is our responsibility, that the Church always be at the side of these people to accompany them in their quest for liberation, on the path to greater consideration and dignity for all men and women who live on this continent.”