Posted on: 2016-03-01

The Recowa-Cerao Assembly

The effects of colonialism, be they positive or negative on Africa, will not go away in a hurry. Unless concerted efforts are made to redress some of the negative effects of that aspect of African history, pains and divisions could linger forever. How does one sweeten the hemlock of slavery, for example? Think of the foreign languages which though useful, eventually divided some African peoples of the same tribe and ethnic group into two or even three different language groups. Given the major role of language in the identity of peoples, many families, tribes and ethnic groups thus became strangers to their own kin because of their language diversity. A good example of this is the Yoruba people who in Nigeria have English as a second language while the same people in Benin Republic or  Togo speak French. Nonetheless, healing such differences is very essential for progress and the integration of Africans. The Catholic Church after the commendable example of the Economic Community of West Africa, ECOWAS, initiated this in Abuja, Nigeria in 2007 with the resolve to unify her English, French and Portuguese-speaking Episcopal conferences in West Africa. This was then ratified with the first plenary assembly in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast in 2012, bringing all the Bishops and Church leaders of West Africa together under one umbrella called RECOWA-CERAO. RECOWA is the acronym for Regional Episcopal  Conferences of West Africa, while CERAO is the French acronym for Conferences Episcopal Regional de l'Africa de l'Ouest.

The pangs of progress

The second assembly of RECOWA-CERAO with the theme: "The New Evangelisation and the Specific Challenges for Church, Family of God in West Africa: Reconciliation, Development and Family Life", has just taken place in Accra, Ghana from 22nd to 29th of February, 2016. This was quite a feat for the Church, being an organization without the financial and technical clout of a government or big organizations. It was humbling to see prelates who would normally have a lot to say, being curtailed by lack of proficiency in the language of other participants with whom they must work. It was quite funny to see the stuttering effort by many to speak the other language anyway, in order to cultivate friendship and build relationship. All however agreed that such challenges are a small price to pay to heal the wound of history. Inevitably, under such pressurizing and limiting circumstances, it should be only a few years before most catholic prelates overcome the obstacle of the tongue and become fluent in at least two international languages of the assembly. After 8 arduous days praying and pondering together under those conditions, the Bishops of RECOWA-CERAO agreed on a number of resolutions here cited:

Political Developments and Democracy

Since our last meeting, there have been positive developments in our region. Despite enormous difficulties, we have witnessed some progress on the political front. Wars have largely ended in most of our countries. We pledge our commitment to deepening democracy and its ideals of justice and development among our people. We continue to encourage our political leaders to seek power by free and fair means and to imbibe the culture of tolerance and respect for the rule of law and due process.

Insurgency and the rise of Religious Extremism:

We note with sadness the ugly face of extremism and the rise of violent extremist groups among our countries. The violence of Boko Haram has left serious wounds and fractures  on our people. However, we commend the government of Nigeria and the regional governments who have rallied around to rout this terrible cancer which has destroyed our communities. There is still a lot to be done, but we are committed to uniting with our respective governments to ensure the return of peace among our people.

Inevitability of Dialogue:

In the face of these challenges, Dialogue has become an imperative. We note the tremendous work that religious leaders in the region have done some times at  great risks. In the last few years, we have witnessed increased fear, suspicion and anxiety among our various religious groups. We resolve to further intensify our efforts towards ensuring that religion becomes an instrument of peace and not war.

Politics as a tool for Development, Peace and Justice

We note that our people are still vulnerable to the excesses of warlords, war mongers and political thugs. With its imperfections, we believe that Democracy holds the key to integration among our people. Our politicians must learn to respect the wishes of our people while shunning ostentatious lifestyles that further alienate the electorate. We resolve to continue to encourage our people to use Democracy to build bridges for the attainment of justice and peace.  

The Youth, our Future

With over 65% of our population made up of young people, we are resolved to ensure that they become our greatest investment. We call on our governments to harness the talent of our youth  by creating the necessary environment for them to thrive. We resolve to intensify our efforts towards turning the minds of our youth away from crime, violence and drugs towards making them agents of peace and reconciliation.

Having deliberated yet again on a family-related theme, the Church in West Africa thus reemphasizes her commitment to family life but perhaps more importantly, her commitment to the RECOWA-CERAO integration. Would that it thus becomes a model for other West African organizations to embrace the project of unity which in all cases is the source of strength and development.