WINDSOR, Ont. - Ghana’s first cardinal said the church will be playing a role in upcoming elections in his country, seeking to maintain stability in what generally has been one of West Africa’s most peaceful and economically developed countries.

Cardinal Peter (Kodwo Appiah) Turkson told a news conference here that despite recent years of good governance under a parliamentary system “we have in the back of our minds what happened in Kenya” last December and January when rioting broke out and people died over disputed presidential election results.

“The tribal differences and the possibility of political groups making use of the tribal differences among us, that’s also there,” he said. “We want to ensure that nothing like that happens.”

He said the church will be contributing monitors to ensure the elections “are free and fair.” The country’s first election was held in 1992 and the subsequent political evolution has shown the country has “made some headway.” He said “it’s that hope that we can transfer some of these experiences to our neighbouring countries.”

Otherwise, Turkson said, the country is “peaceful politically (and) economically very viable.” Catholics make up about 18 per cent of Ghana’s Christian population. The overall population is 23 million.

Turkson was in Windsor after participating in the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City in mid-June. He came after pledging to visit local Rotarians because of their help in rebuilding schools and medical clinics in his region.

A group called RELAY (Rotarians Enhancing Learning of African Youth) has made three trips to the area since 2005. It also has done similar work in Kenya and is headed to northern Ethiopia next year. Since starting with a $10,000 project it has raised more than $250,000.

Turkson, 59, was proclaimed cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003. He was ordained in 1975 and has a doctorate in sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

Turkson has spoken out strongly in Ghana in favour of political cohesion, stressing the importance for Catholics to read and understand the Koran, for example. Muslims make up 16 per cent of the population. He also called on his nation’s government to fulfill a promise to provide identity cards to all citizens as a “basic instrument for democracy” that would assist in planning for the country’s welfare.

Turkson said that while Ghana is moving forward on several fronts the country still requires substantial assistance. Commenting on the amount of technology he saw in Windsor’s hospitals, he said cases that would probably lead to death in Ghana may not necessarily do so here, “so the difference is huge.”

The RELAY group was formed by husband and wife Michael and Shelly Duben. Michael’s mother was from the Ghanian town of Anomabo. After her death he wanted to visit the town “to just have a look at what her community was like. And because we’re Rotarians we decided to do a project there.”

Duben suggested Turkson is someone to watch in the church.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the next pope potentially coming out of Africa,” he said. “He is fairly young and he’s one of those individuals who’s just an engaging speaker. Whether young or old he gets the message across. And that’s what we really like about him.”

(Stang is a freelance writer in Windsor, Ont.)

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