Accra (Agenzia Fides) - At the end of the Workshop on "The Role of the Church in supporting peaceful and credible elections in Africa", held in Accra, Ghana, from September 12 to 16 (see Fides 14/09/2011), organized by SECAM and by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a final document was written up of which a copy was sent to Fides. Among the "recommendations" that emerged from the analysis of the situation the following observations are highlighted: promotion of civic education that ensures that citizens make informed choices, free from ethnic or religious affiliations; strengthening of ecumenical and inter-faith platforms for greater engagement in electoral processes; improved engagement with civil society, especially women, the youth and the media; ratification and implementation of the African Union and the sub-regional protocols on elections; active monitoring and observasion of electoral processes that cover the periods before, during and after elections; the development of frameworks by SECAM and other Church institutions, to provide broader platforms for the active participation of regional secretariats and national conferences in the implementation of activities for peaceful elections and good governance.
Through the analysis carried out by representatives from 20 African nations observed "with dismay and shame" that the African continent has been plagued by protracted inter-communal and electoral violence over the last three decades, " we therefore see the importance of the Church - said the document - to strengthen cooperation at national, regional and continental level in promoting common interests and addressing shared challenges with a focus on the need for promoting good governance". About 12 countries in Africa shall be conducting elections before the end of this year and 14 others in 2012.
After underlining that "general elections are a crucial political event in every country within which democracy is defined and the type of leadership determined" the participants of the Symposium noted that more often than not elections have been manipulated in Africa "to satisfy selfish or partisan interests to the detriment of the common good", leaving the citizens of some countries in extreme poverty". In her prophetic mission, the Church has a positive role to play in elections, for the benefit of all. Election observation and monitoring should be actively promoted and the Church ought to be commended for her role as observer".
"It is sad that after more than a century of Christianity in many African countries, some Christians still use ethnic identities to the exclusion of others. We call on our brothers and sisters to do away with this tendency and rather bring to bear on politics their Christian faith and virtues. We also call on our political leaders to conscientiously exercise good stewardship and uphold the common good over selfish, ethnic, religious and partisan interests. The Church has not always engaged effectively with political leaders for the cause of peace and development in some countries. This, we think is contrary to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ".
The document also highlights that physical and psychological boundaries have been erected through various means "to create divisions and conflicts that are often violent", and recognizes the need for unity. Although the increase of the democratic space and relatively peaceful and transparent elections are held in some countries in Africa, "election conflicts remain a threat to peace in Africa".
The main causes of electoral violence are: lack of political will to implement reforms that support democratic principles; partisan administration and management of electoral bodies; ignorance, illiteracy, poverty and lack of adequate electoral education, manipulation of ethnic identities and inadequate training of polling officials.
Finally what was recognized was "the important role of media" in the electoral process: if technological advancements have meant that media platforms are the most used and trusted mediums of communication, unfortunately, the media has on many occasions "been used to promote hate-speech and violence". (SL) (Agenzia Fides 19/09/2011)