Thursday, May 18, 2017

Central African Republic: help needed to avert civil war and disintegration.


by Elizabeth Kendal




BACKGROUND
Central African Republic (CAR) – population five million – is French-speaking, 76 percent Christian and 13.8 percent Muslim. While most Muslims live in the far-north’s Arabic-speaking Vakaga prefecture which borders Chad and Sudan, modernity has forced many Fulani (Peuhl) Muslims to migrate south. Some bring their cattle south to graze, which brings them into conflict with agriculturalists. Multitudes, however, have abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and settled in the cities where they have established Muslim communities, raised children and excelled as traders – so much so they have come to dominate the markets. Funds from Islamic states such as Sudan and Saudi Arabia and Islamic oil barons and dictators such as Libya’s late Colonel Gaddafi have enabled the building of mosques and madrassahs (Islamic schools) which not only serve the Muslim community, but offer free education and aid to poor nominal Christians (see endnote 1.)  Operation World 2010 records Islam’s growth rate in CAR as double that of Christianity’s.

In CAR, as in many places, decades of mass migration of Muslims into the cities has converged with the global trend of the revival of fundamentalist Islam, in particular the “Wahhabisation” of Sunni Muslims -- a trend driven by the Wahhabi engine in Saudi Arabia. Like the global Church in general, CAR’s Church was not only largely oblivious to this trend, but was ill equipped to deal with it (see endnote 2).

Seleka's advance
December 2012 to March 2013
In December 2012 a very well equipped Islamic army called Seleka – an alliance of mostly foreign (Chadian and Sudanese) Islamic militias – embarked on a campaign to rape, butcher, loot and kill its way across Central Africa Republic (CAR). For months the government of CAR pleaded for assistance from France (the former colonial power, which already had troops stationed in the country) and the US – but to no avail. South Africa alone provided assistance, but it was not enough. On Sunday 24 March 2013, Seleka (which means “alliance”) stormed and seized control of the capital, Bangui.

See: Churches targeted as Muslim rebels seize Bangui in an orgy of raping, killing and looting, 
by Elizabeth Kendal, for Religious Liberty Monitoring, 13 May 2013.

and C.A.R: Letter from Bangui
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 22 July 2013.

Reports emerged of local Muslims celebrating Seleka’s success; even of Muslims exploiting the opportunity to loot the homes of their Christian neighbours as armed rebels watched on. What these Muslims and Seleka did not anticipate was how fiercely their take-over would be resisted.

de facto division - 2015
Since then CAR has seen the rise the “anti-balaka” (i.e. “anti-machete”: traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim vigilantes), the unravelling of the fabric of society, the outbreak of sectarian conflict, the insertion of UN peacekeepers, the disintegration of Seleka (2014), the restoration of democracy (March 2016), and the de facto partition of the country.

Violence continues, as does the humanitarian crisis, with more than 800,000 internally displaced, and some 2.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance. From the outset, CAR's Church has courageously been at the very centre of all humanitarian, peacemaking and reconciliation work, despite the risks this entails.

AN EVOLVING CONFLICT

Violence has increased markedly in 2017. But the situation is evolving, and now multiple conflicts exists, which together are leading the state towards civil war and disintegration. The government is struggling to regain control of the state, and to extend its writ beyond Bangui.

While the de facto partition of CAR into a Christian south and a Muslim or rebel-controlled north has led to a decline in sectarian conflict, this has been replaced with intra-Muslim conflict. When Seleka disintegrated in 2014, Seleka leaders Michel Djotodia and Noureddine Adam renamed their faction the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, FPRC) and demanded independence for the Muslim-dominated north. This was rejected by another faction, Ali Darassa Mahamant’s Fulani-dominated Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (l'Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique, UPC).

This year’s “explosion of fratricidal fighting” in Ouaka and Hautte-Kotto prefectures has mostly been between the UPC and the FPRC. Because the UPC is essentially an ethnic Fulani militia supported by armed Fulani cattlemen, while the FPRC is dominated by ethnic Gula and Runga who are settle agriculturalists, the conflict is taking on ethnic dimensions, with fighters mostly targeting civilians from the opposing ethnic group.

Meanwhile the anti-balaka militias have moved on from defending their families and villages, and even from extracting revenge for Seleka atrocities. Now the anti-balaka are waging a war of their own, to “cleanse” the south of Muslims. Naturally this endangers all who defend and protect Muslim civilians, including UN peacekeepers and churches that offer sanctuary.

The anti-balaka have allied with the FPRC in their fight against the Fulani. Water, farmlands, roads and diamond mines are all at stake.

Because the anti-balaka are now fighting the Fulani, the Fulani UPC is now targeting Christians (using to the broadest definition imaginable).

CHURCH IN THE FIRE

On Sunday 11 December 2016, Fulani/Peuhl UPC militants gunned down civilians in and around Bakala, 67km northwest of Bambari in Ouaka Prefecture. Then, at 5 a.m. on 12 December they abducted and slaughtered seven men in the in the town as they returned from a nearby gold mine.

“‘I was hiding in a house and I saw the Peuhl [UPC fighters] gather the men in front of a neighbor’s house and take them inside,’ said ‘Joseph,’ a 55-year-old resident of Bakala. ‘A short time later I heard screams from the men. They were yelling, “Why are you killing us?” and “I’m dying!” I also heard shots. This was all at 5 a.m. A short while later the Peuhl found me and made me help throw the bodies in a well.’

“Later that morning, [Fulani] UPC fighters in Bakala executed another 24 men and at least one boy, whom they accused of supporting the anti-balaka. Bakala residents said that UPC fighters sent a message around town that they would hold a meeting at a local school. Some men were already held at the school from the previous night and when others arrived, the fighters seized the men and gunned them down.

“‘I jumped up and managed to escape, but everyone else was killed,’ said 24-year-old ‘Laurent,’ whose 17-year-old brother was killed. ‘I ran into the bush and just heard shooting as I ran.’”

See: Central African Republic: Executions by Rebel Group [UPI]
Human Rights Watch, 16 Feb 2017

On the weekend of 6-7 May fighting erupted in Alindao, 118km southeast of Bambari, in neighbouring Basse-Kotto prefecture. Initially it was reported that at least 37 people had been killed – although recent reports have put the figure at over 100, with some 8,500 displaced.

According to World Watch Monitor (WWM) victims of this violence included the youngest brother and nephew of the Reverend Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, who is the president of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance and vice-president of the Council of Elders set up to mediate peace. A local church leader told WWM that they suspect the family was targeted because of Rev. Guérékoyamé-Gbangou’s ministry.

An aid worker told WWM: “Two or three ex-Séléka rebels – who have been in the town of Alindao for years and who knew Nicolas’ youngest brother very well – came to his home, and when his older son came out to meet them, one of them stabbed him twice. When Nicolas’ brother heard his son’s scream, he rushed out to see what was happening. That was when the other man shot him four times.”

According to WWM, “Unconfirmed reports suggest that around 10 churches were destroyed or looted in the surrounding villages as the rebels retreated. As many as 3,000 people are also reported to be sheltering inside a Catholic church compound and UN facility.”

Over the same weekend, a group of some 700 anti-balaka fighters attacked a UN convoy near the hotly contested “diamond-mining hub” of Bangassou, the capital of Mbomou prefecture, in CAR’s south-east on the border with D.R.Congo. Five international peacekeepers were killed and a further ten were wounded. As the anti-balaka fighters targeted Bangassou’s Muslim district of Tokoyo and the UN base, more than 1000 residents took refuge in a mosque, some 1500 others in a cathedral and 500 others in a hospital. A further 3000 fled over the border into DR Congo as Bangassou came under siege.

Agenzia Fides (Catholic) reports that on Sunday 14 May, His Exc. Mgr. Juan José Aguirre Muños, Bishop of Bangassou, risked his life to defend thousands of Muslims still sheltering in the mosque. While he survived, the man who stood beside him did not, but was shot dead beside the bishop.

 Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga
The Archbishop of Bangui, Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga – who is a native of Bangassou – led negotiations. By midday on Monday 15 May he had convinced the anti-balaka fighters to withdraw from the city.

An estimated 7,200 civilians have since fled and Red Cross workers have recovered 115 bodies. 

ANTI-BALAKA 

Described in Western media as “Christian rebels”, the anti-balaka are anything but Christian; at best they might be nominal or cultural Christians. Wearing juju (occult charms) around their necks, they fight with knives, clubs, rifles and (ironically) machetes, to rid the south of Muslims. Furthermore, they routinely threaten to burn churches and kill pastors that shelter Muslims. But as the Rev. Dieu-Seni Bikowo explained in 2014, “For us they are not Muslims or Christians. They are people – people in danger.”

anti-balaka
In mid 2014, anti-balaka fighters threatened to burn down the Catholic Church in Carnot, 420km northwest of Bangui in Mambéré-Kadéï prefecture, because it was providing sanctuary for some 900 imperilled Muslims. The head priest, Rev. Justin Nary was also personally threatened: “Walking through town I’ve had guns pointed in my face four times,” he told Associated Press. “They call my phone and say they’ll kill me once the [30 armed Cameroonian] peacekeepers are gone.”

According to the Associated Press article (2014), the Muslims “laugh when asked if they ever thought they would live at a church. However, they recognize the gravity of the situation that now faces them. ‘If it weren’t for the church and the peacekeepers, we’d all be dead,’ says Mahmoud Laminou.” [photo gallery]

PEACEMAKER CHURCH

In August 2015, Imam Omar Kobine Layama (president of CAR’s Islamic Council), Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga (Archbishop of Bangui), and the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyamene-Gbangou (president of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance) were awarded the 2015 Sergio Vieira De Mello Prize in Geneva for their work on the Interfaith Peace Platform which they established together in 2013.

Imam Omar Kobine Layama (l), Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga (c),
Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyamene-Gbangou (r) in Geneva, 2015

One thing that has never changed, is that the Church remains right in the centre of all humanitarian, peacekeeping and reconciliation work in CAR, despite the risks.

But violence is escalating: in fact, on 16 May, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned of “levels of violence that have not been seen since the peak of the conflict in 2014.” Further to this, ethnic divisions are widening. See, Dangerous Divisions: Central African Republic faces the threat of secession. Enough Project, February 2017

CAR’s democratically elected government led by President Faustin-Archange Touadera, and CAR's threatened yet courageous Church, will need all the help they can get if CAR is to avoid civil war and disintegration.

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additional backgrounders: 

CAR backgrounder by GlobalSecurity.org 

Central African Republic: What’s gone wrong?
UN IRIN, 24 Feb 2017
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Endnotes:
1) While most Islamic da’wah (missionary work) is funded by Islamic States (especially Saudi Arabia) and Muslim oil barons, Christian missionary and humanitarian aid work is funded directly from the pockets of Christian donors.
2) As is widely known, it has long been the case that only around one percent of all Christian missionaries are working among and ministering to Muslims. Specialist training, such as that which is available at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology (Australia), has only recently become available.  

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Uganda Analysis: escalating persecution of Christians in Eastern Region linked to Islamisation, decentralisation and impunity.

by Elizabeth Kendal

Uganda: Introduction
Uganda is overwhelmingly Christian 
Operation World 2010 edition describes Uganda as 84.7 percent Christians and 11.5 percent Muslim. The 2014 census indicates a marginal shift, putting the percentage of Christians at 84.5 (down 0.2 percent) and Muslims at 13.7 (up 2.2 percent).  Most of Uganda’s Muslims live in Eastern Region.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni (72) – who has led the country since 1986 – is unashamedly evangelical Christian. As president in 2012, Museveni celebrated Uganda’s 50th anniversary of independence from Britain by leading the nation in prayer and dedicating the nation to God.

Uganda has a secular constitution
Constitution of Uganda
Article 7 establishes, “Non-adoption of a State religion. Uganda shall not adopt a State religion.”

Article 2 enshrines the Supremacy of the Constitution:
"(1) This Constitution is the supreme law of Uganda and shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout Uganda.
(2) If any other law or any custom is inconsistent with any of the provisions of this Constitution, the Constitution shall prevail, and that other law or custom shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void."

Article 29 protects freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association:
"(1) Every person shall have the right to—
(a) freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media;
(b) freedom of thought, conscience and belief which shall include academic freedom in institutions of learning;
(c) freedom to practise any religion and manifest such practice which shall include the right to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious body or organisation in a manner consistent with this Constitution;
(d) freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition; and
(e) freedom of association which shall include the freedom to form and join associations or unions, including trade unions and political and other civic organisations."

Article 36 protects the rights of minorities.
"Minorities have a right to participate in decision-making processes, and their views and interests shall be taken into account in the making of national plans and programmes."

So why are Christians suffering violent persecution in Eastern Region [see Morning Star News: Uganda] and why are the authorities not doing anything about it?

-------------------------------------

UGANDA ANALYSIS
Escalating Persecution of Christians in Eastern Region Linked to Islamisation, Decentralisation and Impunity.


Eastern Region = Green
click on map to enlarge
Two trends have converged in Uganda’s Muslim-dominated Eastern Region to make life exceeding difficult for the Christians who live there: those trends are Islamisation and decentralisation. Compounding the crisis is the fact that persecutors seem to be guaranteed impunity.

Islamisation

Despite the revival of fundamentalist Islam being a global trend, and despite the impact fundamentalist Islam is having on the world, the trend is generally not well understood. There are many reasons for this, the most salient being the Western drift into neo-Marxist cultural relativism which leads Western elites to deny all politically incorrect narratives as they “progress” towards their eagerly-awaited post-Christian utopia.

The reality, however, is that during the late 1970s, the call to Islamic reformation converged with Islamic disaffection, ultimately erupting in 1979 in Islamic revolution: a successful Shi’ite revolution in Iran, and a failed Sunni revolution in Saudi Arabia.

Though the Sunni revolutionaries failed in their objective – i.e. the overthrow of the ruling House of Saud (which they deemed profligate) – they actually achieved something far greater. The revolutionaries’ siege of Mecca might have cost them their lives but it facilitated the empowerment of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi clerical establishment. Since December 1979, Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi clerics have had access to virtually unlimited funds with which to sponsor international jihad and to spread Wahhabi fundamentalist Islam across the globe, all from behind the benign facade of the ruling US-allied House of Saud and its US security umbrella.

The “Wahhabisation”/reformation process has been going on for some 35 years now. What this means is that most Muslims under the age of 30 have been raised more or less on a diet of intolerant and supremacist, pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, anti-Christian and anti-Western, Saudi Arabian Wahhabi Islam. The transformation of Islam across the Middle East, Africa and Asia – from secular and folk to serious and fundamentalist (mostly via the mosques) – is palpable and incontestable. The revival of fundamentalist Islam has widened the gap between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims; between conservative and modernising Muslims; and between Muslims and non-Muslims.

[Islamic ideology, history and the events and consequences of 1979 -- including “The Fatwa that Changed Everything” -- are discussed at length in chapters 3 and 4 of my book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).]

Decentralisation

When Yoweri Musevini came to power in 1986, Uganda was both volatile and traumatised, emerging as it was from years of ethnic conflict and centralised tyranny. Ostensibly in the interests of diffusing tensions, reducing national-level conflict, increasing political participation and improving service delivery, Museveni launched a program of radical decentralisation that saw considerable power devolved to local authorities.

District creation is popular politics, for it creates jobs and empowers people. In Uganda, power is concentrated at the district level; consequently, competition for the position of District Chairman can be fierce. Indeed, the whole process has become politicised, with district creation functioning as a source of patronage. What’s more, Museveni – who came to power as a staunch opponent of ethnic and sectarian politics – now seems willing to benefit from it.

At independence (1962) Uganda had 18 districts. When Musevini came to power in 1986, there were 33. By the year 2000 there were 56, and by the time of the February 2016 general elections there were 112. New districts are being created all the time. In September 2015, parliament approved the creation of 23 more districts: four to become effective on 1 July 2016; with another six to become effective on 1 July 2017; another six on 1 July 2018; followed by seven more to become effective on 1 July 2019.

Today Uganda is the most balkanised country in all Africa. And while national-level conflict has decreased, it has been replaced with local-level conflict and systemic corruption.

Just as in Nigeria – where the proliferation of Local Government Areas (LGAs) has enabled Muslim minorities and settlers to become majorities in ever-smaller LGAs [case study Jos] – the proliferation of districts in Uganda has enabled Muslim minorities to become majorities in their own ethno-sectarian districts. While this is achieved in accordance with Article 179 of the constitution and with the blessing of the parliament, all it does is consolidate and legitimise tribalism and sectarianism.

Distressed church leaders of Bukedi diocese, pray at a
meeting in Katira district, Eastern Region, 10 Feb 2017.
(Morning Star News)
The problem for Christian minorities in Eastern Region’s Muslim-dominated districts is that they are now living in a parallel reality. As vulnerable religious minorities in any one of Eastern Region’s essentially self-governed Muslim-dominated districts, they could be forgiven for forgetting that they also live in a Christian-dominated state with a Christian president and a secular constitution that guarantees freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association.

Article 2 of the constitution establishes the constitution as the supreme law in Uganda. Yet in many Muslim-dominate districts, secularism and religious freedom exist more in theory than in practice. Indeed, it seems the constitution no longer reaches into all areas of the state.

While none of the Muslim-dominated districts have as yet declared themselves to be Sharia Districts, the reality is they don’t actually need to, for they already function as de-facto Sharia fiefdoms where Christians may be persecuted with impunity.

Recommended reading:
Districts creation and its impact on local government in Uganda
By Jane AYEKO-Kümmeth, University of Bayreuth, Department of Development Politics. (April 2014)
Decentralisation and conflict in Uganda
By Elliot D. Green, Development Studies Institute London School of Economics (Dec 2008)

Impunity

District creation is closely linked to patronage, so it is not hard to understand why the central government might be loath to interfere in local governance or to challenge District Chairmen.

But there is more than just patronage at stake. Though only around 13 percent Muslim, Uganda is a member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Writer Elizabeth Namazzi explains:  “The year was 1974, and Idi Amin Dada placed Uganda in the fold of OIC. His hope was that in any eventuality of war, his brothers in faith would offer their support to ensure his stay in power. It never happened. Instead, when Amin was overthrown in 1979, Saudi Arabia did the next best thing — they offered him asylum. . .

“Although he sought a political ally when he sought OIC membership for Uganda, [Idi Amin] knew that along with political support, the OIC would provide Uganda with many development opportunities.”

Indeed! While the OIC obliges member states to advance Islam (something most member states are eager to do) it also provides member states with access to funds from the Islamic Development Bank. As an OIC member, Uganda also benefited from Gaddafi’s munificence.

Uganda has benefited and continues to benefit financially from its OIC membership. This is yet another reason why the central government may well be loath to challenge the Islamisation of Eastern Region’s essentially self-governed Muslim-majority districts.

Losing control?

The fact that nothing is being done to counter the trends of Islamisation and escalating persecution of Christians in Eastern Region, may indicate that President Museveni is actually losing control of Eastern Region. If so, this does not bode well for the Christians who live there, or for the future of Uganda.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ivory Coast: Troubles Far From Over

By Elizabeth Kendal


As recent mutinies demonstrate, Ivory Coast’s troubles are anything but over.

That Ivory Coast’s troubles have roots in the ethnic (indigene/“Ivorite” versus migrant/settler) and religious (secular and Christian versus Muslim and Islamist) tensions caused by decades of mass migration, is self evident.

However, while racial and religious tensions do pose serious challenges, nothing compares to the challenge of FrançAfrique.

Mutinies Reveal Volatility

At around 2am on the morning of 6 January 2017, mutinying soldiers took control of Bouaké, Ivory Coast’s second largest city. Perched atop Ivory Coast’s volatile ethnic-religious “fault-line”, Bouaké has long been the “rebel” front-line.

click on map to enlarge
As the mutiny spread to other major urban centres, President Alassane Ouattara announced that he had agreed to consider the mutineers’ demands. To that end he ordered his defence minister and military chiefs to hold urgent talks with members of the security forces.

Violence erupted again in Bouaké on Friday 13 January as the government met with the mutineers to iron out the details of an agreement. The agreement forged will see some 8,500 mutinying soldiers paid 12 million CFA francs (US$19,400) each – a significant amount given that many Ivorians earn about $160 a month.

Unsurprisingly, copy-cat mutinies subsequently erupted in other cities as other former rebels demanded similar payments. In some cities, disgruntled civil servants also went on strike. Four people died when tensions spilled over into violence in the political capital Yamoussoukro.

Then, on 7 February, an elite Special Forces unit directly involved in providing close security to the president mutinied in the south-eastern coastal town of Adiaké, just 90 km east of the port city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital.

While order has been restored, it is not clear that any agreement has been reached. According to one report, a representative of the Special Forces’ mutineers told TV5 that they are seeking 17 million CFA francs (US$27,500) and promotions, warning that if the government refuses, then “the country will suffer” for they are “really ready” to fight to the death.

Reporting for Ventures Africa, Franck Kie commented (8 Feb): “A month after these events [in Bouaké] happened, the situation appears to be back to normal, but there are still serious questions about Cote d’Ivoire’s future and stability. In 2014, a similar mutiny took place and according to many sources, the military men which were protesting early 2017 had already been paid back then. Since their requests have always been approved, and they are the ones with weapons, for how long will Cote d’Ivoire be held hostage by these men?

“The next few months will definitely tell us where the country is heading in the future. Also, the brief [Special Forces] mutiny on February 7th confirms that the calm was very fragile and that pandora’s box has been opened, with anybody holding a gun able to take the whole country hostage.”

Who are “these men”?
        Who are the mutineers?

mutineers in  Bouake, 6 Jan 2017. 
The mutineers are former rebel fighters, most of whom fought with Guillaume Soro’s rebel army known as the New Forces during the troubles of 2002 to 2011. Most are northern Muslims, including Muslim settlers from Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea. Despite having terrorised Ivory Coast for years, these former rebels were absorbed into the Ivorian military in 2011, following the violent coup d’état that brought Alassane Ouattara to power. The mutineers claim not to have received the compensation they were promised for the part they played in the violent ouster of Laurent Gbagbo.

Many suspect the 6 January mutiny in Bouaké  – which does appear to have been orchestrated – is part of a power play by former rebel leader Guillaume Soro. Surely it was no coincidence that the mutiny erupted in the early hours of the day Soro would be re-elected as President (speaker) of the National Assembly.

As President of the National Assembly, Soro had been the legal successor to the president – that is, until President Ouattara oversaw changes to the constitution. Passed in a referendum in October 2016 and signed into law on 8 November, the new constitution establishes the office of vice president, and designates the vice president as president’s legal successor.

Soro (l), Ouattara (c) and Duncan (r) - 10 January 2017.
As such, the constitutional reforms pose a threat to Guillaume Soro’s presidential ambitions. Consequently, many analysts believe that the 6 January mutiny in Bouaké was but a show of strength from Guillaume Soro, who still commands the allegiance of the bulk of former rebel fighters.

On Tuesday 10 January, President Ouattara (75) named former prime minister Daniel Kablan Duncan (73) as his vice president. Duncan was finance minister under Ouattara when Ouattara was prime minister in the early 1990s. A long-time Ouattara ally, Duncan is also a leading figure in moves to expand Islamic finance and Islamic investment in Ivory Coast.

Observers believe Ouattara is paving the way for Duncan to succeed him in 2020 – but that Soro might have other ideas.

The volatility is unnerving investors.

A Stratfor Global Intelligence report published on 22 February forecasts problems ahead for Ivory Coast.

The Hidden Threat to Africa's Most Promising Economy
FEBRUARY 22, 2017 | 09:30 GMT (subscription)

Forecast
Despite years of impressive economic growth, Ivory Coast will need to enact sweeping reforms within its military to prevent its burgeoning democracy from backsliding.
But these reforms will be exceedingly difficult for the government to make, constrained as it is by its historical reliance on the country's powerful former rebel commanders.
In the absence of the much-needed overhaul, Ivory Coast's next presidential election in 2020 could become an outlet for greater unrest.”

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It must be noted however, that if conflict does return to Ivory Coast, then everyone – but especially Christians – will have more to worry about than the price of chocolate.

The Stakes have been Raised

Much has changed since Alassane Ouattara was inaugurated in May 2011.

In August 2011, US-French-NATO forces aided al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who, as an ally in the “War on Terror”, had kept Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) hamstrung for years.

In October 2011, Gaddafi was barbarically lynched by a mob of “bearded ones” (as he derisively and contemptuously called them) to cries of Allahu Akbar. Libya’s numerous weapons caches were raided, the weapons making their way into the hands Islamic jihadists throughout West and North Africa, Syria and the wider Middle East.

Re-equipped and finally off the leash, AQIM exploded back onto the scene.

By mid April 2012, AQIM affiliate Ansar al-Dine had seized control of much of northern Mali, securing more weapons, leading a local security expert to lament that AQIM “is today more armed than the combined armies of Mali and Burkina Faso”.

On 15 January 2016, Ansar al-Dine kidnapped Swiss Christian missionary Beatrice Stockly from her home in Timbuktu, Mali. Also on 15 Jan 2016, AQIM affiliate al-Murabitoon – formerly known as MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) – attacked Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, killing 29 civilians, including seven foreign Christian workers in what it called “a message . . .  to the slaves of the cross”.  Also on 15 Jan 2016, Ansar al-Dine crossed from Mali into Burkina Faso and kidnapped Australian missionaries Dr Ken Elliot (81) and his wife Jocelyn from their home in Baraboule [see RLPB 341 (27 Jan 2016)]. Beatrice Stockly and Dr Ken Elliot remain in AQIM captivity to this day.

On 16 March 2016, al-Murabitoon gunned down 14 civilians and two soldiers in Grand-Bassam, a beach resort town in south-eastern Ivory Coast [see RLPB 348 (16 March 2016)] midway between Abidjan (the commercial capital) and Adiaké (the site of the 7 Feb 2017 Special Forces mutiny). On 14 October 2016, al-Murabitoon abducted US-missionary Jeff Woodke (55) from his home in northern Niger. Nigerian authorities tracked his captors to Mali, where al-Murabitoon is based. Woodke’s situation is dire [see RLPB 396 (1 March 2017)].

According to data compiled by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal, “al Qaeda and its many allies and affiliates launched at least 257 attacks in Mali and the wider West Africa region in 2016, nearly a staggering 150 percent uptick from the group’s 106 assaults in the 2015 calendar year.” Further to this, “Three separate attacks, two in Burkina Faso and one in Niger, have been claimed by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.”

The rise of AQIM and the presence of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara raises the stakes in Ivory Coast. For if there is anything transnational Islamic jihadists do cherish, it is chaos, insecurity and a cause that can be exploited.

FrançAfrique

“FrançAfrique,” explains Richard Li, “a term coined by former Ivorian President Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1955, was originally meant to describe the good relationship between France and Africa. However, it has come to symbolise everything that went wrong with the French neocolonial relationship that meant keeping its former colonies in Africa on a tight leash, shown in political interference and protecting France’s political and economic interests: organised coups to remove African leaders who attempted to go rogue; covert military interventions to secure natural resources; and corruption and illicit outflows.”

FrançAfrique is rooted in the colonial pact brokered between France and its former colonies in the 1960s; a pact still in operation today. The colonial pact 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”. This means Africa’s fourteen former French colonies only ever have access to 15 percent of their own money; if they need more they have to borrow their own money back from France at commercial rates.

FrancAfrique - political cartoon - March 2015
Further to this, the colonial pact perpetuates French control over strategic raw materials. It also gives France the right to station troops in the country with the right of free passage and mandates that all military equipment be acquired from France. It requires that French businesses be allowed to maintain monopoly enterprises in key areas such as water, electricity, ports, transport and energy. To this day, France’s African policy remains the personal fiefdom of the President’s office.

To remain in power in francophone Africa, one must be prepared to act as a vassal of neo-colonial France. This was something the nationalist government of President Laurent Gbagbo (a historian, former political dissident, and a southern Christian) and Mamadou Koulibaly (a professor of economics, finance minister, president/speaker of the Parliament, and northern Muslim) was not prepared to do.

On the other hand, presidential aspirant Alassane Ouattara was not only prepared to perpetuate FrançAfrique, he was also prepared to play the race and religion cards for political and personal gain. Worse still, he was willing to take power by force if necessary.

FrançAfrique is why Alassane Ouatarra is today threatened with a divided and volatile military. That said, FrançAfrique is also why Alassane Ouatarra – as France’s man in Yamoussoukro – would doubtless retire comfortably in France if all hell was to break loose.

Laurent Gbagbo at the ICC
FrançAfrique (as distinct from “war crimes”) is precisely why former president Laurent Gbagbo and Young Patriots leader Ble Goude are today standing trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague while current president Alassane Ouattara and New Forces leader Guillaume Soro are not.

Poverty-perpetuating, exploitative FrançAfrique is an enduring injustice and Ivory Coast’s greatest challenge. And as long as French and Islamic interests converge in Ivory Coast, then FrançAfrique will continue to pose an existential threat to the Ivorian Church.

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BACKGROUND

2002: Civil War leads to Polarisation

Civil war erupted in September 2002 after the mostly northern Muslim rebel fighters led by Guillaume Soro attempted to seize control of the state. The coup, which was launched in Bouaké, failed and the government remained in control, albeit over a divided country: a largely ethnical-religious cleansed and increasingly lawless, rebel-controlled north, and a government-controlled south, with a perpetually volatile middle belt.  

Cote d’Ivoire: Tearing Apart, 17 October 2002
By Elizabeth Kendal for World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.

While the rebel coup d’état failed, the peace deal imposed on Ivory Coast by former colonial power France, was, in the words of Parliamentary Speaker Mamadou Koulibaly, “a constitutional coup”.

Cote d'Ivoire: Peace accord “opens Pandora’s box”, 31 January 2003
By Elizabeth Kendal for World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.

2010: Violent Coup Sows the Seeds of Future Troubles 

Elections were held on 28 November 2010, despite the fact the conditions mandated for elections – in particular the disarmament of the rebel-held north – had not been met. Under such conditions, polling in the north was never going to be free and fair. [See "US Senator: Obama Administration 'Wrong' on Ivory Coast", VOA, 5 April 2011]

The election result was hotly contested. Immediately following the vote, the strongly pro-Ouattara Independent Electoral Commission proclaimed Mr. Ouattara the winner. But Mr Gbagbo challenged the result, forcing the strongly pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council to open and investigation, as mandated by Ivory Coast’s constitution.

Before the Constitutional Council could announce its ruling, pro-Ouattara elements broadcast, via French TV from Ouattara’s headquarters, that Alassane Ouattara had won the election. The illegal and pre-emptive announcement was met favourably in the West on the grounds that a Ouattara presidency would better serve French and US economic interests. When the Constitutional Council subsequently declared Gbagbo the winner the opposition cried foul. Both men claimed victory; tensions soared.

On 10 Dec 2010 the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the “UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and of the French forces which support it”. On 24 Dec 2010 the UN General Assembly recognised Ouattara as the winner of Ivory Coast’s elections. Russia objected, saying the UN should not be interfering in the electoral processes of a sovereign state.

Despite the fact that this was a political crisis requiring a political solution, Alassane Ouattara – assured of Western backing – moved to seize power by force. It was a classic case of asymmetric conflict. Up against the mighty and loyal army of the Ivorian State, the pro-Ouattara rebels were by far the weaker force. The violent coup d’état was only successful because the mostly northern Muslim rebels were aided by UN and French troops, tanks and helicopter gunships.

While the UN and France-backed coup did empower Alassane Ouattara, it also sowed the seeds of today’s troubles, by leaving Ouattara indebted not to his foreign backers, but to many thousands of former rebel fighters.

IVORY COAST: where Islamic and Western interests converge
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 7 April 2011

Ivory Coast: church attacked; refugees suffering; lawyers refused; Mbeki speaks.
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 May 2011

The above posting quotes a detailed Foreign Policy article entitled, What the World Got Wrong in Cote D'Ivoire, by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. After correcting the record, Mbeki asks: "Why is the United Nations entrenching former colonial powers on our continent?" [If you are not subscribed to Foreign Policy magazine, you can read the article here.]

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Elizabeth Kendal is international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com