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?

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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).