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Youth Unemployment, Religious Intolerance, Herdsmen Menace among Concerns of Bishops in West Africa

CANAA || By Father Don Bosco Onyalla, Nairobi || 10 April 2017

recowa standing committee march 2017The Catholic Bishops in West Africa have expressed their concerns about unemployment among the youth, religious intolerance, the menace of herdsmen, among other challenges affecting the countries of West Africa.

These were part of the deliberations that the Catholic Bishops belonging to the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA-CERAO) told the Chairperson of the Authority of heads of States and Governments of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia at the conclusion of their fifth four-day Standing Committee meeting, which took place in Assinie, Ivory Coast at the end of March 2017.

RECOWA-CERAO brings together Catholic Bishops from 15 countries of West Africa, which include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Sierra-Leone, Senegal, Gambia, and Togo.

During their meeting, the Bishops deliberated on the challenge of youth unemployment including these youth’s high risk of exposure “to trafficking, drug abuse, violence and forced migrations”; religious intolerance and extremism, which pose “a serious threat to the right of every citizen to freely choose and practise the religion of his or her choice”; and the menace of herdsmen who, “often armed with dangerous weapons, are associated with rape, murder, destruction of farms, kidnaping and conflicts”.

Although the Bishops acknowledged with appreciation “the democratic transfer of power in many of our countries and the relative peace we are witnessing in our region,” they expressed their concern about “the disregard for the rule of law, weak institutions, shrinking space for political participation by all, frequent human rights violations and tortures” in some of the countries within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

“We are also worried about political leaders who employ extra-democratic means to remain in power for life, we appeal to our political authorities to respect the democratic tenets of their countries,” the Bishops stated.

The regional body of Catholic Bishops met under the theme, The New Evangelization and its Challenges for the Church, Family of God in West Africa: the Role of the Bishops in the prevention, mediation, resolution and transformation of conflicts.

“As an organization committed to integral human development, RECOWA-CERAO is ever ready to partner with ECOWAS in contributing to the rapid development of our region and our continent,” the Bishops stated in their message availed to CANAA on Saturday, April 8.

Below is the full text of the Bishops’ message.

MESSAGE OF RECOWA/CERAO TO H. E. ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA AND CHAIRPERSON OF THE AUTHORITY OF HEADS OF STATES AND GOVERNMENTS OF THE ECONOMIC COMMUNITY OF WEST AFRICA STATES (ECOWAS)

PREAMBLE

We, the Catholic Bishops of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa RECOWA-CERAO (Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Sierra-Leone, Senegal, The Gambia and Togo), having concluded our 5th Standing Committee Meeting from 28 to 31 March 2017 in Assinie, Cote d’Ivoire, wish to communicate to you some of the fruits of our deliberations on the theme: ‘‘The New Evangelization and its Challenges for the Church, Family of God in West Africa: the Role of the Bishops in the prevention, mediation, resolution and transformation of conflicts”.

COMMENDATION

We express our deep gratitude for your support to the African Faith Leaders Initiative on Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was spearheaded by our continental body, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), towards the successful negotiation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.

In communion with our communities across West Africa, we also wish to express our heartfelt gratitude for the efficiency with which you managed the situation in The Gambia. We congratulate you on the firm position you took on behalf of the Authority of Heads of States and Governments of ECOWAS Commission, which led to the constitutional transfer of power to the rightfully elected President. With this, you sent a strong and clear signal to all political actors and leaders in our region.

We applaud the ECOWAS Vision 2020 which aims to move from an “ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of Peoples”. This is a clear strategic vision from the political leaders and therefore, calls for more collaborative and holistic regional development approaches and integrated programmes. We are happy about the positive and remarkable achievements in our region over the past decade.

SOME ACHIEVEMENTS

We are grateful to almighty God for the democratic transfer of power in many of our countries and the relative peace we are witnessing in our region. We are benefiting from the economic growth which brings hope to our citizens. In spite of these positive developments we are at pains to observe some significant challenges within our region which need to be addressed.

OUR CONCERNS

Political transition and instability

Political transitions of power in some countries are characterised by the disregard for the rule of law, weak institutions, shrinking space for political participation by all, frequent human rights violations and tortures. These are clear disregard for relevant treaties, laws and legal frameworks adopted by governments in our region. We urge our authorities to respect the commitment they have pledged to keep. We are also worried about political leaders who employ extra-democratic means to remain in power for life, we appeal to our political authorities to respect the democratic tenets of their countries.

The danger of youth unemployment

Sixty-five percent of our population is made up of the youth. Unfortunately, a majority of them are unemployed and therefore highly exposed to trafficking, drug abuse, violence and forced migrations. As long as they remain without jobs after their graduation and move about in our sub-region, they are easy preys to warlords and political criminals, who may recruit them for violent crimes and terrorism.   There is an urgent need to reverse this trend by putting in place appropriate measures and incentives to create gainful employment opportunities for our youth.

Religious intolerance and extremism

The desire of religious extremist groups to forcefully “islamise” countries in our region poses a serious threat to the right of every citizen to freely choose and practise the religion of his or her choice. In the case of The Gambia which was declared an Islamic state, we are happy that this matter has been reversed with the current leadership. We strongly appeal that this situation should not be repeated in any country in our region. Whenever government adopts a particular religion as a state religion, the rights of other citizens to freedom of conscience and worship is infringed upon.

The menace of herdsmen

The recurrence of natural and man-made disasters such as floods, storms, desertification, food insecurity, forced migration, and other humanitarian crises related to climate change have become a serious threat to human and animal survival. Of particular concern is the environmental and social havocs wrecked by the herdsmen who move their cattle across communities and national borders in the region. These herdsmen, often armed with dangerous weapons, are associated with rape, murder, destruction of farms, kidnaping and conflicts. While there is freedom of movement of people and goods in our region, we appeal to our authorities to effectively address this particularly destructive activity.

OUR CONTRIBUTIONS

In line with the recommendations adopted, during our last Plenary Assembly held in Accra, Ghana, from 22-27 February, 2016 on the theme: ‘‘New Evangelisation and the challenges to the Church, Family of God in West Africa: Reconciliation, Development and Family Life’’, we the Catholic Bishops of RECOWA/CERAO are fully committed to create a regional structure for prevention, mediation, resolution and transformation in the event of conflicts in our region. The Catholic Church, through the national Bishops Conferences and their Justice, Development and Peace Commissions, mediates in governance and political issues in their respective countries in our region.

The creation of the Catholic Parliamentarians Liaison Offices at some national levels has positioned RECOWA-CERAO as a key and strategic development actor. We support the advocacy work of our National Conferences to monitor public policies and their implementation in order to promote good governance and the common good in public affairs.

We are in the process of creating in Abuja a RECOWA-CERAO Liaison Office to collaborate with relevant commissions and institutions of the ECOWAS. Furthermore, we have proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to define the terms of our mutual collaboration. We need the support of Your Excellency to facilitate these processes.

CONCLUSION

As an organization committed to integral human development, RECOWA-CERAO is ever ready to partner with ECOWAS in contributing to the rapid development of our region and our continent.

Finally, we thank you on behalf of RECOWA-CERAO and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Liberia (CABICOL) for accommodating us in your tight official schedule. We invoke God’s blessings on you and your people.

Monrovia, April 04, 2017

Most Rev. Ignatius A. KAIGAMA, Archbishop of Jos Nigeria, President of RECOWA/CERAO

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