Tribute to Father Denis Maugenest

From Father Denis Maugenest

I first met Father Denis Maugenest in September 2003 at the inauguration ceremony of the Institute of Theology of the Society of Jesus (ITCJ) in Cocody les Deux-Plateaux, a district of Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. I had been invited by Father Yves Morel.

During the meal following the mass, I was sitting in front of Father Denis Maugenest and we started a conversation. As we were inaugurating a training institution, I told him that I had heard about the Catholic University of Central Africa in Yaoundé and I expressed my admiration for the success of this structure, unaware that he had been its founder, which he revealed to me much later in our meeting.

The Founder of CERAP and the Institut Afrique Monde

During this discussion, Father Maugenest informed me of the refoundation in 2002 of the African Institute for Economic and Social Development (INADES) created in 1962 by the Jesuits, well known to all Ivorians, now renamed the Centre de Recherche et d’Action pour la Paix (CERAP), in the context of the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.

He revealed to me his vision of CERAP which, in his opinion, should be a place of reflection and free debate, supposed to contribute to education for citizenship and the culture of peace, to raising awareness on respect for human rights, to questioning everyone about the need to live together and to interreligious dialogue.

He also wanted, as I understand it, for CERAP to play its part in the training of young Africans from all walks of life, and for the Institution to set an example by helping to renovate the Ivorian University.

In 2006, when I joined the CERAP team as advisor to the Director General, Father Denis Maugenest, and then as Secretary General, CERAP became a training and publication centre, including “Débats – Courrier d’Afrique de l’Ouest”.

Within CERAP, the Institute for Dignity and Human Rights (IDDH) was officially recognized in October 2005. This private Ivorian institution of higher education, offered in-service training in human rights, conflict management and sustainable development.

Then, in 2008, the School of Moral and Political Sciences of West Africa (ESMPAO) was set up within the IDDH, which offered a master’s degree in Ethics and Governance. It was at this time that CERAP/IDDH became admitted as a Member of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF). The CERAP / IDDH was subsequently ranked as the first private higher education institution in the ranking carried out by the Ivorian Ministry of Higher Education.

CERAP’s Executive Director, Father Denis Maugenest, was a hard worker and passionate. He only took one week’s vacation a year to complete his spiritual retreat.

Cultivated, having the courage of his opinions, he was never discouraged, even in the worst difficulties. He was not afraid to innovate or take risks.

Father Denis Maugenest returns to France in 2011, after his stay in Côte d’Ivoire. He then decided, after having thought about it, to found the Africa World Institute (AMI). He had no difficulty in getting some people to support his idea. The Africa World Institute (AMI), a free and independent laboratory of ideas, was therefore created in October 2013, with the precious and immense help of the Society of Jesus, whom I cannot thank enough.

The Africa World Institute (AMI) has set itself the mission of:

  • to make Africa’s dynamism and potential known to as many people as possible through a better understanding of its society, culture and economy, from both a historical and a contemporary perspective;
  • to position itself as a body for reflection, analysis and debate, proposing innovative and bold ideas for the development of a peaceful Africa, open to the world, with a point of view to defend on what happens there;
  • to encourage and implement initiatives that aim to improve the lives of men and women on the African continent.
    Father Denis Maugenest, was a member of the Board of Directors of the Africa World Institute, then asked to be a simple sponsor, with the concern to promote the youngest, which did not prevent him from being present at all the meetings.

The latest work of the Africa World Institute concerns interreligious dialogue and its contribution to peace in West Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Benin) on the one hand, and in North Africa (Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia) on the other. Father Maugenest was particularly devoted to peace and dialogue in Africa.

At the request of its Board of Directors, a branch of the Africa World Institute was set up in Côte d’Ivoire in 2014. Father Denis Maugenest’s wish has always been the spin-off of the Africa World Institute in several African countries.

A life given to Africa

Father Maugenest has given much to Africa and Africans. We owe him a lot. He has constantly expressed the idea that it is up to Africans themselves to imagine the best for the Continent and to devote themselves boldly to it.

The date of November 30, 2019

It is the date of November 30, 2019 that the Jesuit brothers of Father Denis Maugenest have chosen for the last Eucharistic celebration with him. It is also at the same time on November 30, 2019 that the symposium organized by the Africa World Institute on the theme: “Higher education and employability of young people: innovative strategies within the framework of the objectives of sustainable development” opens in Abidjan, at CERAP, in the presence of students from several Ivorian universities, in the amphitheatre built by Father Maugenest upon his arrival in Côte d’Ivoire, after having taken his pilgrim’s staff for a fundraising event.

On the evening of November 30, at 6pm, an extraordinary general assembly of the Africa World Institute will be held in Côte d’Ivoire. We will dedicate these two activities to Father Denis Maugenest. It will be our way of saying goodbye and thank you.

On behalf of the Africa World Institute, I extend heartfelt condolences to his biological family, his brothers in Christ, the Jesuits and his friends. We are sure that he will continue, “from heaven where our hope places him”, to support us, to support what he has accomplished here on earth much more than he was able to do when he was among us.

 

Denise Houphouet-Boigny

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