Date: Tuesday 5 November 2002
Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: The Foreign Muscle Behind the Rebellion.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
By Elizabeth Kendal
A tense peace presently hangs over Cote d'Ivoire (CI) as a truce now moves into its 18th day. Meanwhile in Lome, the capital city of Togo, representatives of the CI government of President Gbagbo wait to see if the rebels will return to the negotiating table. There was a break in talks over the weekend to enable the rebels' political representative, Guillaume Soro, to return to Cote d'Ivoire in order to report to his group about the meetings.
Peace talks were set to resume in Lome yesterday, Monday 4 November at midday, however, the rebels did not show up. Talks were postponed and should recommence today (Tuesday 5 November). The prospects certainly look grim as the primary rebel demand is the resignation of President Gbagbo and fresh elections and this is not an option the government will consider.
Most analysts now believe the uprising must be either state-sponsored or network-sponsored. It appears that Christianity in Cote d'Ivoire is not up against a few disgruntled or aggrieved local Muslims, but a monstrous, wealthy, powerful and deadly serious foe.
On Sunday 3 November, Reuters reported, "In the rebels' northern stronghold of Bouake, thousands of supporters marched in the center of the city to hear their chief political representative, Guillaume Soro, report on the outcome of three days of talks last week.
"A Reuters correspondent said Soro told the crowd the small steps taken by negotiators in those sessions were not enough. 'If our political demands are not met at the negotiations, we are ready to resume the war,' Soro said to loud cheers. '"We will never accept disarmament,' Soro said at the Bouake rally. 'We took up arms to demand the departure of Gbagbo. If not for that, we would not have started fighting.'
"Mohamed ibn Chambas, the top official of the Economic Community of West African States bloc (ECOWAS) which is mediating in the conflict, said he was 'very surprised' by Soro's statements about the necessity for Gbagbo to leave. 'That's not what he (Soro) was saying during the negotiations last week,' Chambas told Reuters in Lome." (Link 1)
It is widely believed now, that foreign muscle is driving the rebellion. This is tragic because the ultimate losers will be all citizens of Cote d'Ivoire who have lived in relative peace and who could no doubt have solved their problems through dialogue and democratic means. War can only mean massive loss off of life, destabilization, and vulnerability to exploitation.
Most analysts believe that the uprising must be either state-sponsored or network-sponsored, as the funds involved are way beyond any purely local group. France is implicated as compliant,
neighbouring Burkina Faso is implicated as aggressive; al Qaeda is implicated and is even alleged to have established militant cells in Cote d'Ivoire. More recently, Libya's Colonel Moammar Gadhafi is implicated. It is alleged by independent French media that Gadhafi is either directly or indirectly funding and /or arming the rebels.
There is most surely a drive from the wider Islamist umma to claim Cote d'Ivoire for Islam. This should come as no surprise in this post-Sept 11 age, where an embrace of militant Islam is often more of an anti-West protest statement that a religious conviction. One only needs to look at the post-October 2001 election results in nations with a Muslim majority, such as Bangladesh, Bahrain, Pakistan, Turkey and the state elections in Malaysia, to see how the "War on Terror" (labelled in the Islamic world as the "War on Islam" has been used to draw many many "folk", "moderate" and "secular" Muslims into the radical camp. The "War on Terror" has been like petrol on the flames of the Islamic renewal and militant Islamist movements.
The radicalisation of many of Cote d'Ivoire's Muslims however, goes back further than October 2001 and is far subtler. Due to the fact that they learn in Arabic, graduates of CI's Quranic schools have not been able to qualify for University entrance into Cote d'Ivoire Universities. Graduates of CI's Quranic schools therefore have in recent decades, travelled to Cairo, Egypt and Medina, Saudi Arabia to study. They have gradually and quietly replaced much of Cote d'Ivoire's folk or "moderate" Islam with educated, Orthodox, Quranic Islam.
This has been a very subtle and quiet movement that is only now manifesting itself in a way that seriously and immediately threatens the future of the nation. It has taken many foreign (but not Ivorian) observers by surprise.
Reuters and AFP photographers are now photographing rebels and northern Muslims sporting T-shirts with a picture of Osama bin Laden's face over a map of Cote d'Ivoire. It has also been established that the rebels have access to a seemingly limitless supply of sophisticated arms, including armoured vehicles. It is alleged that large quantities of arms and ammunitions were brought into northern Cote d'Ivoire, through compliant neighbours and stored in mosques and homes many months in advance in preparation for this uprising. Rebel leader Guillaume Soro, has even boasted that the rebels and their supporters could fight the government for two years
without a supply problem.
It appears that Christianity in Cote d'Ivoire is not up against a few disgruntled or aggrieved local Muslims, but a monstrous, wealthy, powerful and deadly serious foe. What happens in Cote d'Ivoire will most certainly have implications for many other African nations. For Cote d'Ivoire is not unlike many other nations in Africa, with a large Christian population, non-Muslim government, growing Church, freedom of religion -- yet made vulnerable through economic crisis or ethnic tensions, to the exploitation and infiltration of men with ambitious visions (like Colonel Gadhafi) or nations with religious designs (like Saudi Arabia) or organisations with political purpose (like al Qaeda). If Cote d'Ivoire goes down, it could set a precedent for much of "Christian" Africa, which is equally as unstable.
1) Reuters "Ivory Coast rebels in no mood for compromise" 4 November 2002
CNN "Scepticism mars Ivory Coast talks," Monday, 4 November 2002
Reuters "Ivory Coast rebels threaten peace-talks pullout" 5 November2002