The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religious thought, expression, and practice. All religious groups must register with the government. Government officials at the department and municipal levels have the authority to issue orders suspending certain types of religious practice to maintain peace, although they rarely used it in practice, according to religious groups. Police only interfered in religious practices when there was a “disruption of public order,” according to the Ministry of Interior, which cited two examples of internal disputes in which authorities intervened. Central and local government officials generally included religious leaders in decision-making involving civil society leaders. On March 21, government officials met with religious leaders to discuss the closure of places of worship to limit the spread of COVID-19. In May, Archbishop of Cotonou Roger Houngbedji expressed disappointment that places of worship were grouped with bars and restaurants as leisure services, rather than with markets as essential services which remained open.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
U.S. embassy representatives regularly spoke with leaders of religious groups in cities throughout the country to address religious freedom and tolerance. Throughout the year, the embassy also engaged with religious leaders in conducting its development activities and as part of its ongoing outreach to civil society organizations.
The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and worship, consistent with law and order, and prohibits religious discrimination. It emphasizes that religious tolerance is fundamental to the nation’s unity, national reconciliation, and social cohesion. It forbids speech that encourages religious hatred. In late August, following sometimes violent protests against President Alassane Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term in office, Catholic Archbishop of Abidjan Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa, acting in what he said was his personal capacity, gave a press conference in which he said the President’s candidacy was “not necessary.” The Cardinal stated there was “increasing radicalization” across the political spectrum and “unacceptable violence” during the protests. He called for peace and reconciliation in the lead-up to the October presidential election. Following the Cardinal’s statement, members of the ruling coalition, including Catholic cabinet ministers, held a press conference at the Catholic cathedral in Abidjan and said the Cardinal’s words did not help calm “rising societal tensions” in the country. Some commentators, both supportive and critical of the administration, suggested Kutwa’s statement showed he supported the opposition, although Kutwa repeatedly denied having any political affiliation. Posters on social media self-identifying as Muslim accused the Cardinal of opposing the President, also a Muslim, because of the President’s religion. In March, as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government met with religious leaders of a wide spectrum of faiths to ask them to encourage their followers to respect government decrees related to COVID-19, in particular, a 15-day ban on meetings of more than 50 persons. Many religious groups then cancelled religious services and closed places of worship temporarily.
The director of the nationwide Islamic radio station and television network Al-Bayane, an imam, stated that he had a strong relationship with Christian leaders, including the Archbishop of Abidjan, and stressed the similarities between the monotheistic religions practiced in the country. A Catholic priest serving as spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Abidjan said relations between religious communities of different faiths were generally “warm,” particularly between Christian and Muslim leaders. Religious leaders and civil society representatives stated that leaders across the religious spectrum were broadly united in their desire to work toward peace and reconciliation, particularly in the context of the presidential election.
U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials to discuss the state of religious freedom and tolerance in the country. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with religious leaders throughout the year. Embassy representatives hosted virtual roundtable discussions with religious community leaders and met with the director of the nationwide Islamic radio network and television station, Al-Bayane, several times. Some discussions focused on the role of religious media outlets in promoting peace, social cohesion, and religious freedom, particularly in the context of the October presidential election.
The constitution states the state is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for the right of individuals to choose and profess their religion. The Secretariat General of Religious Affairs (SRA) continued to issue weekly themes for inclusion in Friday sermons at mosques and Sunday sermons in churches. Although the SRA did not control sermons at every mosque and church, its inspectors were present in every region and were responsible for ensuring that mosque and church sermons were consistent with SRA directives. On July 11, SRA authorities in Kankan, Upper Guinea summoned Imam Nanfo Ismael Diaby for continuing to lead prayers in a local language. Diaby and 10 of his followers were handed over to the police by SRA authorities. After the governor of Kankan intervened, Diaby was released on July 13 with no formal charges filed. The same day unidentified youths reportedly vandalized his mosque and home. The government closed all places of worship on March 26 in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, and during the month of Ramadan, media reported instances of mosques in Kamsar and Dubreka refusing to obey the government order by remaining open for prayers. The government announced on September 3 the full reopening of places of worship after religious leaders publicly called for a lifting of restrictions.
In mid-March, at least 30 individuals died and nearly 70 were injured in Nzerekore in the southeast of the country during several days of violence following a constitutional referendum. According to media and nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports, largely Muslim government supporters and mostly Christian and Animist opposition groups clashed, with more than 80 buildings, including churches and mosques, damaged or destroyed. Archbishop of Conakry Vincent Coulibaly on September 20 issued a statement denouncing the attempted seizure by local villagers of land belonging to Catholic institutions near Coyah. The case remained pending at year’s end.
On multiple occasions, the U.S. Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy officials met with the Secretary General of Religious Affairs and other religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance, reconciliation, and social cohesion among religious groups. The Charge met with the Grand Imam to discuss the importance of interfaith dialogue, particularly in the aftermath of the October 18 presidential election. The embassy used social media to share messages and stories of religious tolerance.
The constitution specifies the state is secular and protects the rights of all citizens to exercise their religious beliefs, consistent with the nation’s laws. Religious groups other than Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims must register with the government. The government did not pass draft legislation pending since 2018 that detailed regulations regarding religious groups and did not authorize new religious groups; approximately 900 registration applications from religious groups remained pending at year’s end, the same as in previous years, and the government continued not to accept new applications. According to the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA) in the Ministry of Territorial Affairs (MTA), however, the government did not prevent these groups from opening new religious institutions and carrying out their activities informally.
Members of different religious groups attended each other’s ceremonies, and interfaith marriage remained common.
U.S. embassy officials discussed religious tolerance with government officials in meetings conducted virtually and met with religious leaders throughout the year to discuss their efforts to reduce tensions in communities and support peace and social cohesion, specifically regarding countering violent extremism related to religion. The embassy continued to promote interreligious dialogue through grants. Additionally, the embassy supported a workshop for English teachers in Islamic schools on introducing religious tolerance into lesson plans.