YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast (CNS) — A national reconciliation commission, launched in September 2011 after months of armed conflict over disputed election results, should continue working past its mandated closure in September, said the president of the Ivory Coast Catholic bishops’ conference.
Bishop Alexis Touabli Youlo of Agboville said reconciliation after such a divisive, although short, conflict, takes longer to realize than the two years the commission was authorized to operate.
“It’s utopian to talk about reconciliation in such a limited period. You can’t just reconcile hearts in the time it takes to harvest cassava,” Bishop Youlo said during a mid-August press conference.
“Each of us is invited to open their heart freely, and this is hard since one doesn’t open one’s heart as one opens the door to a chateau,” he said.
The bishop’s comments came as the Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation, headed by former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, prepared to end its efforts to secure peace in the West African nation.
He said local branches of the commission had been functioning for only six months and would need “at least 10 years” to “repair the damage” from the hostilities.
“Reconciling battered hearts isn’t just a physical thing. It requires a lot of time,” added the bishop, who said he had agreed to chair a branch in his own diocese despite “strong misgivings.”
“People are still suffering and absolutely must be allowed to overcome their sorrows,” he said.
The 11-member commission, which includes religious leaders, was established six months after hostilities ended in an attempt to unify the country. Fighting began when President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in November 2010 elections. His action prompted a rebellion by militias loyal to rival candidate Alassane Ouattara.
More than 3,000 people were killed and 500,000 were displaced as Ouattara’s forces seized the country with backing from the United Nations and France, the former colonial power.
The ouster of Gbagbo, who currently faces trial for crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, followed an earlier conflict in 2002-2003 that led to the deployment of 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers.
Modeled on a similar body in South Africa, the commission planned to organize public meetings among victims and those accused of atrocities. It has been hampered by a lack of funding, accusations of government inaction and sporadic violence by supporters of Gbagbo, including the June 2012 killing of seven U.N. peacekeepers.