Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ivory Coast: churches filling up -- with refugees.

While Ivory Coast seems to have disappeared out of the news, the situation for Christians remains absolutely dire.

Here are just a few articles that describe something of what Christians are facing in the new Françafrique Côte d'Ivoire.

Abidjan

On 8 April, the BBC reported that some 1,800 people were holed up inside Abidjan's St Paul's Cathedral.

Father Augustin Obrou, spokesman for the archdiocese of Abidjan, described the situation inside:

"There are almost 1,800 people here, among them women and children who live locally, civil servants and employees who have been unable to return home because of the violence and have nowhere else to go.

"We've had no running water for a week now, and we have babies here, as well as people who have been shot and pregnant women. . . But we are not alone in this situation - other local churches have a similar number of refugees.

"People can't leave because there is no transport. Even if you have a car you are afraid of being shot at, and if you go on foot you can also get attacked. Also people can't be sure that their houses haven't been looted, and many neighbourhoods are too dangerous right now. Generally people are traumatised, so they don't speak much . . .

". . . we are coping by digging water out with long pipes, but it's difficult and people come to fill their buckets from the only pipe working. Those who came with food eat, and those who are from this area rush out and look for whatever food they can get and rush back to the cathedral. And as priests we share, but we only eat the bare minimum to survive.

"It's a very difficult humanitarian situation.

"The other problem is that we have no medicines, and many are unwell, but we can only watch them suffer."

Here is how Daniel Howden, in Abidjan for The Independent, reported the situation on 14 April (nearly one week later).

"Abidjan's cathedral rises like a white harp from the hillside above the city's lagoon. While fighting raged all around it for the past fortnight in the Plateau district more than 2,400 people sheltered inside.

"Now the war is supposed to be over but most of the refugees have chosen to remain. There has been no water for two weeks and almost no food either. Wounded people lie untreated and the old and sick are without medicine.

"Father Jean Baptiste Akwadan is surprised that there hasn't been more help: 'There's been nothing from the government or international agencies,' he says. . .

"Agnes Yaba, a young woman from the war-torn neighbourhood of Abobo, gave birth among the Cathedral pews two days ago. She named her new son Paul, and he now faces an uncertain future."

San Pedro

As mentioned in the previous post A Cry from Abidjan, some 5,000 residents of the southern port city of San Pedro -- Bete, Guere and other tribes that support Gbagbo -- having escaped pro-Ouattara militias, had taken refuge in the Cathedral of St Pierre.

Meanwhile in Duékoué

Some 27,000 ethnic Guéré (a western tribe that supports Laurent Gbagbo and is predominantly Christian) remain holed up the Catholic mission in Duékoué. According to Father Cyprien Ahouré, head of the mission, the mission desperately needs assistance, for they are only really capable of caring for about 1,000 people.

These people survived the 28-29 March ethnic-religious cleansing by pro-Ouattara ethnic Malinké and Baoulé Muslim militias -- a pogrom in which an estimate 800 civilians were slaughtered. Now however, their children are dying of diarrhoea and other treatable diseases while a cholera outbreak looms. And as if things could not get worse, it is simply too dangerous to leave the compound to bury the dead. Women with shaved heads are everywhere.

COTE D'IVOIRE: Mourning and fear in Duékoué
IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Reporting from DUEKOUE, 15 April 2011.

Bah Bonao Sidonie's (41) one-year-old grandson recently died at the mission after a short bout of diarrhoea. IRIN reports: "Bah had already shaved her head when her grandson died. Three of her brothers had also been killed in Duékoué’s Carréfour neighbourhood in March 'when the soldiers [anti-Gbagbo forces] came'. She buried the child herself, alone.

" 'I asked people living here at the mission, as well as the blue helmets, to accompany me to bury my grandson, but I went hours without getting any help,' she told IRIN. 'The youth here at the mission risk being attacked by the Dioula [Malinké] so they can’t go out. I put the child’s body on my back and walked to [the cemetery near] Carréfour; only God accompanied me. I prayed to God to protect me,' she added. 'I dug a hole with a `daba’ [traditional hoe], buried the child, said a prayer and came back.'"

A report from the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, tells of the plight of other survivors who, after escaping pro-Ouattara militias, fled towards the Liberian border.

Alarming IDP conditions in western Côte d'Ivoire; reconciliation needed
Briefing Notes, 15 April 2011

"In western Côte d'Ivoire, and with the security situation apparently calming, our staff are reporting large groups of internally displaced people (IDPs) living in alarming humanitarian conditions. . .

". . . a UNHCR team recently visited the department of Zouhan-Hounien and one of its sub-prefectures, Bin Houye, near the border with Liberia, They met more than 1,000 displaced people mainly originating from Guiglo, Blolequin and Toulepleu [towns also attacked by pro-Ouattara militias]. Some were staying on the premises of a Catholic church and the Ivorian Red Cross in Zouhan-Hounien. . .

"Meanwhile, nearly 6,000 Ivorians have crossed into neighbouring Liberia's Grand Gedeh county since Monday. As supporters of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, these ethnic Guéré refugees – who had been waiting on the border for weeks – said they crossed into Liberia by foot following news of Gbagbo's arrest and reports of reprisal [read: ethnic-religious] attacks in Abidjan. Some arrived in Liberia malnourished. . .

"With this week's new influx, there are now more than 150,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, in addition to over 13,000 hosted in other West African countries.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A CRY FROM ABIDJAN -- Christians imperilled

A cry emerges from Abidjan. A cry of desperation, it emerges only to be suffocated by the din of Western media celebrating the restoration of "democracy" and the return of "normalcy".

A CRY FROM ABIDJAN
-- from a Christian family trapped in Abidjan

"We living in great penury and fear to be looted or even killed like hundreds or even thousands of families in Abidjan. What is going on is beyond imagination: a pure genocide is currently performed right in the eyes of the French and UN troops and the international humanitarian NGO's, targeting entire ethnic groups, as well as a category of people based on their political affiliation or work. Whosoever is suspected to be from the Dan, Wê, Bété (Gbagbo's tribe), Akyé, Abbey, Ebrié -- basically all the western and southern tribes -- is targeted. Militaries, policemen, customs, all men in arms are tracked and killed, along with their families. In some extreme cases, people are killed only because they are not from the north and not Muslims."


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CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED


Before Laurent Gbagbo was captured -- Amnesty International published this warning:
Côte d’Ivoire: Warning of ‘human rights catastrophe’ as forces reach Abidjan
Amnesty International 31 March 2011

"Côte d’Ivoire civilians are at immediate risk of massive human rights violations Amnesty International warned today, as forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara reach the country’s commercial capital Abidjan. [. . .]

"Local sources have told Amnesty International’s delegation currently in Côte d’Ivoire that dead bodies are still lying in the streets of Duékoué [in western Ivory Coast], and tens of thousands of civilians are still sheltering in the Catholic Mission without adequate food, water, sanitation and medical care."

[NOTE: the massacre in Duékoué of around 1000 civilians by pro-Ouattara forces on 28-29 March, occurred in the presence of some 1000 Moroccan U.N. peacekeepers. In its defence, the U.N. has said the majority of the force was deployed around the Catholic mission, defending some 30,000 civilians who had sought refuge there. See report from Salesian Missions official news service. ]

Amnesty continues: "On 29 March, the Republican Forces killed civilian Jean Louana, election campaign director of one of the current ministers appointed by Laurent Gbagbo. They also shot down a Pastor of an evangelical church along with eight members of his congregation."

Quite rightly, Amnesty's report lists abuses from both sides. However, like virtually all Western media it insists on referring to the ethnic massacres perpetrated by pro-Ouattara forces (Republican Forces) as reprisal attacks. This is incongruous considering the fact that the pro-Ouattara forces are the aggressors, the invading forces.

The day after regime change was effected, Amnesty International released this plea:
Reprisal attacks against Gbagbo supporters in Côte d'Ivoire must stop
Amnesty International 12 April 2011

"Perceived supporters of former Côte d'Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo are at risk of violent reprisals, despite President Alassane Outtara’s call for Ivorians to 'abstain from all forms of reprisals and violence', Amnesty International warned today.

"Today in Abidjan, armed men, some wearing military uniforms, have been conducting house-to-house searches in neighbourhoods where real or perceived supporters of Laurent Gbagbo are living, including Yopougon and Koumassi.

"One eyewitness told Amnesty International how a policeman belonging to Laurent Gbagbo’s ethnic group was taken from his house this morning and shot dead at point blank range in front of him.

"'Dozens of young people are going into hiding in Abidjan out of fear for their lives. In the western part of the country people suspected of being pro-Gbagbo are also terrified. Many are hiding in the bush after their villages were burned down and they need to be protected,' said Véronique Aubert, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.

"Amnesty International has learned that the village of Zikisso, 300 km west of Abidjan, has been attacked several times, including last Sunday, by armed forces allegedly loyal to President Alassane Ouattara. The village chief, Gnagbo Matthias, was abducted by these forces on Monday and is reportedly being held in the town of Lakota.

"Humanitarian conditions are rapidly deteriorating in a Catholic mission in Duékoué, 600 km west of Abidjan, where 27,500 people took refuge after hundreds of people were killed on the basis of their ethnic origin or presumed political affiliation. . . "

An independent report from the Associated Press (AP) also confirms that ethnic-religious-political killings are taking place in the south and western regions.

Reprisals rock Ivory Coast after strongman deposed
AP 13 April 2011

"GUIGLO, Ivory Coast (AP) — The young man in civilian clothes didn't have the right answers for troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara and they suspected he was a fighter backing his rival for the presidency. So one of the soldiers kicked the man in the teeth.

"Fifteen minutes later, an Associated Press reporter saw his body, the chest torn open by bullets, dumped outside this western town.

"Reprisal killings erupted as Ouattara's fighters made a lightning assault to force his rival Laurent Gbagbo from power. And although Gbagbo was captured Monday in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial capital, suspected Gbagbo supporters are still being rounded up in cities and villages, especially in western Ivory Coast.

"Parishioners are reporting the kidnappings of dozens of young men in San Pedro, said a Catholic priest in the cocoa-exporting port city in southwestern Ivory Coast. He asked not to be named, explaining: 'We are all in danger'. . ."

AP reports that some 5,000 ethnic Bété and Guere refugees (predominantly Christian tribes loyal to Gbagbo) are holed up in San Pedro's Cathedral of St. Pierre, surrounded by pro-Ouattara forces who recently shot open the gate and fired into the crowd, killing one and wounding several.

"A woman at the cathedral who was too scared to give her name said her neighbor, the headmaster of the Catholic primary school, was killed Monday night at his home because he belonged the wrong tribe.

"'We have a very toxic and explosive mix here of political, ethnic, religious and land rivalry,' the priest said. 'The recent tumultuous events have brought long-simmering conflicts to a head. Who knows where this will end'."

See also:
COTE D'IVOIRE: Accounting for atrocities
IRIN 14 April 2011
A quote concerning Abidjan: "Kouamassi, south of the lagoon, and Yopougon, one of the most densely populated parts of the city, with strong pockets of support for Gbagbo, have remained tense. Residents in these areas have talked of man hunts and executions, of incoming troops targeting Gbagbo supporters, with the young particularly vulnerable. They paint a damning picture of the operations and general behaviour of the Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), troops loyal to President Alassane Ouattara. . ."

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NOT ALL AFRICA CELEBRATING
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GHANA's former President, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, has described the arrest of Cote d’Ivoire’s President Laurent Gbagbo as a repetition of the tragedy of DR Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, who was popularly elected in 1960 on a platform of independence and resistance to neo-colonialism only to be assassinated in 1961 in the service of Western interests.

Rawlings laments: “Fifty years down the road, with Africa still groping for freedom and justice, Black Africa repeats the tragedy of Patrice Lumumba, while next door fellow Arabs are fighting and dying for their freedoms. Whither are we bound?”

(see: Patrice Lumumba: the most important assassination of the 20th century
Guardian, 17 Jan 2011 (50th anniversary of assassination))

Mr Rawling was scathing concerning the humiliation and "violent manhandling" that accompanied the arrest of Laurent Gbagbo, his wife, and family.

He also expressed grave concern over the verifiable reports that the rebels were conducting house-to-house "cleansing" operations in Abidjan, wherein men have been executed and women and young girls abducted.

Rawlings told myjoyonline.com that “Reports by the Red Cross and other international organisations of the massacre of 800 in Duekoue by the advancing rebel forces and the failure to lay the blame where it belongs by the international community further exposes biases in the Ivorian crises.”

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FINALLY: All Elizabeth Kendal's work on Ivory Coast dating back to the Sept 2002 coup, have now been uploaded to the blog.
http://elizabethkendal.blogspot.com/search/label/Cote%20d%27Ivoire

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

IVORY COAST: where Islamic and Western interests converge

Ivory Coast is an ethnic-religious fault-line nation. The north is predominantly agrarian and Muslim, while the south, which is more urbanised, industrial and administrative, is predominantly Christian and animist.

Decades of mass Muslim immigration helped make Ivory Coast prosperous, as workers flooded in from neighbouring poor Muslim states to work in Ivorian industries, in particular cocoa. But rapid population expansion eventually resulted in land stress, while subsequent economic downturn resulted in rising unemployment.

It was into this tense climate that presidential aspirant Alassane Ouattara, an ambitious former Prime Minister and Northern Muslim, came playing the race and religion cards for political gain. While his ploy has won him popular backing amongst Ivory Coast's Muslims and immigrants, it has fuelled tensions and aggravated divisions -- as racial-religious politics always does.

Ouattara has campaigned for the naturalisation of all immigrants; something that would give Ivory Coast -- which is politically secular and officially 30 percent Muslim -- an instant Muslim majority. All objections to this scenario -- objections that generally arise from native, secular and non-Muslim Ivorians -- are met with cries of "'Islamophobia", "xenophobia" and "racism".

Precisely because he is a Muslim who is prepared to play the immigrants-and-Muslims-as-victims card for political gain, Ouattara has the backing of most (but not all) African states. Islamic states support him as he advances an Islamic agenda. Meanwhile, to those regimes in poor African states desperate to maintain the inflow of remittances from Ivory Coast, Ouattara represents maintenance of the status quo.

More importantly, precisely because he is prepared to sell-out Ivory Coast's sovereignty and her immense agricultural (coffee, cocoa) and mineral (diamonds, oil) wealth in exchange for power, Ouattara has the backing of resource-hungry Western powers, in particular the neo-colonialist hegemon: France.

In this regard, the international media does largely misunderstand the situation in Ivory Coast. For the high stakes in Ivory Coast relate not only to race ('Ivorite' vs 'immigrant') and religion (Christian vs Muslim), but also to Ivorian independence vs French neo-colonialism.

To this end, Alassane Ouattara is essentially France's man in Ivory Coast. He is France's guarantee that their exploitative monopoly and neo-colonialist hegemony over Ivorian amenities -- including water and telecommunications and banks -- will remain. The colonial pact brokered in the 1960s mandates that 65 percent of the foreign currency reserves of former French colonies in Africa go into the French Treasury, while a further 20 percent of reserves go to cover "financial liabilities". Did you ever wonder why Francophone Africa was so poor? And while this is revenue that France clearly cannot afford to lose, it is revenue that Francophone Africa obviously cannot afford to give.

See: SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME: CFA franc

It is this poverty-perpetuating French neo-colonialism that staunch nationalist Laurent Gbagbo has been fighting for decades. This is why France particularly is so keen to see regime change in Ivory Coast.

And France is not alone. Since 9/11 the US has been keen to lessen its dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf. Present tensions in the Middle East have only deepened that resolve. Consequently, the US is actively seeking to increase its control over the oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea. Oil from the Gulf of Guinea is not only of a higher quality than that of the Persian Gulf, it is also (or at least it portends to be) more secure.

In late 2010 the Atlantic Council, the preeminent pro-NATO think tank co-released a report entitled "Advancing U.S., African, and Global Interests: Security and Stability in the West African Maritime Domain." It proceeds from the fact that "The Gulf of Guinea is at the brink of becoming a greater supplier of energy to the United States than the Persian Gulf and is therefore of far higher strategic importance than has historically been the case."

See: Militarization Of Energy Policy: U.S. AFRICOM And Gulf Of Guinea
by Rick Rozoff, 8 January 2011

To this end, it is important to note that Ivory Coast, on the Gulf of Guinea, is one of only five African states (a group that includes Libya) not subordinated to US Africom. Africom is essentially US "boots-on-the-ground" in Africa. It is military cooperation on humanitarian projects, or as Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University puts it, Africom is "fundamentally a front for US military contractors like Dyncorp, MPRI and KBR operating in Africa".

See: There's no business like war business
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times online, 30 March 2011

Sustaining and advancing neo-colonialism against nationalist forces.

At the end Cold War, NATO lost its reason for existence. And so it was that the "humanitarian intervention" was born.

A "humanitarian intervention" invariably involves entering an asymmetrical civil conflict on the side of the weaker force, allegedly for the purpose of saving lives. This however, rarely achieves the desired humanitarian result. Rather "humanitarian interventions" normally culminate in frozen conflicts; or in the empowering of forces that could never have achieved power in their own right, and therefore will never be able to sustain power in their own strength, and therefore will require the assistance of a "stabilisation force" or of "peacekeepers" -- in other words, "boots-on-the-ground" (what some might call an occupation).

It is little wonder that sceptics view the "humanitarian intervention" as little more than opportunistic neo-imperialism or neo-colonialism. NATO's humanitarian interventions in Yugoslavia and Kosovo (at the expense of many hundreds of thousands of displaced Serbs), and Russia's humanitarian interventions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (at the expense of the some 200,000 displaced Georgians) are classic examples. France's "humanitarian intervention" in Ivory Coast is destined to go down in history as yet another appalling example of outright neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism, this time at the expense of native, secular and non-Muslim Ivorians.

The following reports make good background reading:

Cote d'Ivoire: Tearing Apart.
By Elizabeth Kendal, WEA RLC
Thursday 17 October 2002

Cote d'Ivoire: The Foreign Muscle Behind the Rebellion.
By Elizabeth Kendal, WEA RLC
Tuesday 5 November 2002

IVORY COAST: Christians anxious as war threatens.
By Elizabeth Kendal, WEA RLC
WEA Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 298 - Wed 17 Nov 2004

From this point -- Nov 2004, after France's violent and destructive "humanitarian"/military intervention to prevent President Gbagbo from reunifying the state -- the conflict in Ivory Coast was essentially frozen.

In democracy we trust

The West insisted that Ivory Coast could be reconciled, reunified and essentially saved by means of democratic elections, such is their faith in "democracy" and the inherent goodness of man. In reality however, Ivory Coast's divisions are so profound and the stakes are so high that, unless genuine reconciliation occurred first, elections could only trigger conflict.

See: IVORY COAST: on the brink of war.
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 085
By Elizabeth Kendal. Wed 08 Dec 2010

Ivory Coast (IC) went to the polls on 28 Nov 2010, despite the fact that the northern rebels, in violation of all agreements, had not disarmed.

In Ivory Coast, as in most democracies, an electoral commission manages the mechanics of an election while a constitutional council or court investigates complaints before proclaiming the definitive result. On 2 Dec 2010, Ivory Coast's electoral commission (which is dominated by Ouattara supporters by a margin of 20-2) illegally pre-empted the constitutional council's decision and broadcast via French TV from Ouattara's headquarters that Ouattara had won the election. When Ivory Coast's Constitutional Council, which had been investigating irregularities, announced on 3 Dec 2010 that Gbagbo was the winner, a political stalemate ensued.

See: STATEMENT BY THE GOVERNMENT OF IVORY COAST
BASIC FACTS SURROUNDING THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE NOVEMBER 28 ELECTIONS
20 DECEMBER 2010

Despite the fact that this was a political problem that warranted a political solution, Alassane Ouattara, bolstered by the support of the "international community", moved to seize power by force.

Virtually all of Ivory Coast's state institutions, including the army, are loyal to President Gbagbo, as is at least half the registered population (concentrated in the south). As such, Abidjan will not yield willingly.

In fact this would be a totally asymmetrical conflict were it not for foreign interference. The rebels would never be able to seize or retain power without Western support. Fortunately for them, in Ivory Coast, Islamic and Western 'interests' converge once again.

In fact France is so keen to see regime change in IC that it has sent attack helicopters against the Presidential Palace and Ivorian military barracks -- in the name of "humanitarianism" of course -- and this despite that fact that these facilities not only house whole families, but they also abut residential areas.

While UN and French helicopters were attacking Ivorian positions in Abidjan, northern militias allied to Alassane Ouattara were pressing south. Some 800 were massacred last week in the south-western town of Duekoue when it came under attack from northern militias. Subsequently, UN peacekeepers found themselves guarding tens of thousands of civilians seeking refuge in a Duekoue church.

SEE:
Echoes of Rwanda in Ivory Coast killing fields
By Dan McDougall, 11 April 2011

Misery afflicts Ivory Coast's west after killings
DUEKOUE, Ivory Coast (AP) 11 April 2011

Côte d’Ivoire: Ouattara Forces Kill, Rape Civilians During Offensive
Human Rights Watch, 9 April 2011

While for Ouattara this is primarily about personal power and personal wealth, for many of those allied to him, this conflict is nothing short of Islamic jihad.

VALE

In 1913 William Wade Harris of Liberia crossed into Ivory Coast preaching the power of Christ over spirits. Dressed in white and carrying a cross, a Bible and a bowl, he baptised around 120,000 and, according to Dr Elizabeth Isichei (1995), 'permanently rewrote the religious geography of the Ivory Coast'.

But permanence can never be assumed. That which is good must be treasured and preserved. What Harris achieved, greed and mass Muslim immigration have undone. Once the most free, safe and prosperous country in all West Africa, Ivory Coast may never recover. Religious liberty and Christian security, once a given, will be tenuous now.