Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: "We want all of Ivory Coast" (rebels).
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.
This posting covers three issues:
- the targeted stabbing murder of a priest in the rebel attack on Gohitafla at 4am on 7 June 2004,
- the decline in living standards in northern Cote d'Ivoire under rebel control,
- the address by Imam El Hadj Harrissou Fofana, one of Cote d'Ivoire's most prominent Muslim leaders, before a gathering in Abidjan on 29 May 2004.
In his address, Imam Fofana alleges that foreign Islamists have infiltrated and profoundly influence Cote d'Ivoire. He also alleges that an Islamic political party offered to pay the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire a large sum of money to launch a disinformation campaign from their mosques, denigrating the nation and all non-Muslims, presumably with the intention of preparing the ground for religious conflict.
PRIEST STABBED TO DEATH IN GOHITAFLA
At around 4am on Monday 7 June, unidentified gunmen entered the town of Gohitafla, a frontline town in divided Cote d'Ivoire (CI) that lies on the south end of the demilitarized "zone of confidence" policed by French peacekeepers.
The group of around 30 gunmen entered the farming village of Gohitafla from the rebel-held north only hours after President Gbagbo had flown out of CI for a 9-day visit to the USA. Suspicion abounds that the rebel forces had attempted to re-ignite hostilities in President Gbagbo's absence, and in his native region.
Djedje Augustin, reporting for http://www.ivoirealites.net , writes that the gunmen were members of Guillaume Soro's rebel forces, although the rebels deny that they were responsible for the attack. Reuters reports that seven were killed and 14 wounded in battles between the rebels, the National Armed Forces of Cote d'Ivoire (FANCI) and the French peacekeepers, and two civilians were stabbed to death.
Augustin spoke to sources on the scene who believed that the toll was probably much higher. They believe 11 civilians were murdered and report that there was considerable property damage as well. Augustin's on-site sources also revealed that the Catholic Church in Gohitafla was targeted and the priest stabbed to death.
DETERIORATION OF THE NORTH
The situation in the north has deteriorated drastically since the 19 September 2002 coup that plunged the nation into civil conflict and left the north in the hands of the Muslim rebels.
The BBC reports, "Bouake is everything one might expect of a rebel stronghold. Men with Kalashnikovs are everywhere, strolling through the market or showily flexing their muscles from the outboard of a passing jeep. Few have complete uniforms. Many have replaced missing boots with hi-tech trainers; whatever else, the rebels seem to be winning the fashion war.
"Most wear T-shirts in honour of their commander or company - thus a group wearing Cheetah tops can be followed by a procession of "Che Guevaras", and even a gaggle of "Osama Bin Ladens". One company seems to employ only bearded soldiers. All are heavily armed..." (Link 1)
According to the BBC, most civil servants, including teachers, fled south to Abidjan after the September 2002 coup. According to UNICEF, "80 percent of the doctors, nurses and midwives in northern Cote d'Ivoire have fled since the country plunged into civil war in September 2002. Drugs and equipment have been looted from hospitals and health centres and the system for monitoring the outbreak of epidemics has been paralysed." (Link 2)
The rebels remain committed to their original objective - the capture of all of Cote d'Ivoire. The BBC article notes, after one rebel commander recently spoke of secession, rebel leader Guillaume Soro responded by explaining that secession was not an option he was considering. "'Why should we content ourselves with Bouake?' he told an excited crowd in Bouake's football stadium. 'We want all of Ivory Coast!'" (Link 1)
A MUSLIM LEADER SPEAKS
El Hadj Harrissou Fofana is one of Cote d'Ivoire's most prominent Muslim leaders. He is the president of Al Coran and spokesman for the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire, comprising 15 Imams and 15 Muezzins. On 29 May, Imam Fofana addressed a huge youth gathering in Abidjan. (Link 3)
Imam Fofana expressed the concern that the nation's peace, historic tolerance, and religious freedom are being threatened by outside Islamist forces and corrupt politicians advancing their own personal political agendas.
Reporting on behalf of the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire, Imam Fofana said that, over the course of some time, foreign Muslims have come to occupy 85 percent of the senior positions in mosques as Imams and Muezzins, while Ivorian Muslims have been marginalised.
The problem with this, according to Imam Fofana, is that these Muslims have come to be leaders and teachers of Muslims in Cote d'Ivoire (CI), yet they do not understand CI history or culture, its republican institutions, its Constitution, or its electoral code. He also accuses the foreign Muslims of teaching a "blurred" Islam, and charges that politicians and the Islamic organisations in CI have been complicit in supporting the elevation of foreign Muslims into positions of leadership. He says that no one should be surprised therefore that Cote d'Ivoire has changed so much over the past decade.
Imam Fofana called for the preaching of foreign Imams to be monitored and for the rebels to be disarmed.
Imam Fofana also alleged that members of the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), Dr Ouattara's party, recently offered the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire 60 million FCFA (USD $110,323.00) to run a campaign of disinformation from their mosques, denigrating both the country and its non-Muslim population.
(Rally of Republicans spokesman Mr Cissé Ibrahim Bacongo, denounced the claims as lies and propaganda. Link 4)
According to Imam Fofana, the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire refused "the money of the corrupt politicians", saying that they would prefer freedom and independence in poverty, to opulence with slavery and destruction. He says the concern must be for peace, for love between Ivorians and foreigners, love between religious communities, and respect for each other and the beliefs of each community.
Imam Fofana appealed to the gathering not to give up, but rather resist the provocations of foreign Islamists and corrupt politicians, and help change the direction of the nation back to the
path of freedom, peace and prosperity.
These words confirm the analysis that at the core of the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire is a battle for the very soul of Cote d'Ivoire - a nation that has historically had a Muslim minority (roughly one third Muslim and one third Christian), secular government and complete religious freedom.
1) Life on hold in rebel-held Bouake
By James Copnall. BBC, Bouake, Ivory Coast. 11 May 2004
2) Cote D Ivoire: EU Re-Equips 25 Health Centres, Mainly in the
North. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Yamoussoukro, 4 June 2004.
3) Harrissou Fofana: "Il faut ivoiriser les fonctions d'imam et de
muezzin en Cote d'Ivoire."
Notre Voie. 3 June 2004
4) Accuses par Harrissou Fofanal le RDR et le CNI repondent a l'imam
imposteur. By Ferdinand Yao
Le Patriote (Abidjan) 2 Juin 2004