Wednesday, November 17, 2004

IVORY COAST : CHRISTIANS ANXIOUS AS WAR THREATENS

WEA Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 298 - Wed 17 Nov 2004

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IVORY COAST : CHRISTIANS ANXIOUS AS WAR THREATENS
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By Elizabeth Kendal

When mostly Muslim rebels (backed with foreign funds and arms) seized control of northern Ivory Coast (IC) in 2002, Christians, southerners and government supporters fled south for their lives. As those fleeing included most of northern IC's doctors, nurses, professionals, administrators and school teachers, living conditions in the north have deteriorated markedly under rebel control. Of great concern are reports from MSF (Doctors without Borders) and the UN that AIDS has increased markedly in the north of IC as desperate girls prostitute themselves to survive. Having abandoned the government of national unity, the rebels declared in mid October their refusal to negotiate further or disarm.

On 4 November, President Laurent Gbagbo launched a surprise air raid on rebel strongholds in the north, attempting to defeat them militarily and re-unify the country. When nine French peacekeepers in rebel territory were killed in an IC air raid on 6 November, France immediately responded by destroying the two IC helicopter gunships used in the raid. France then struck pre-emptively to 'neutralise' IC air power, destroying all IC's air force planes and the airport tarmac. When French tanks then headed for the Presidential Palace, government supporters streamed into the streets and created a human shield around it. Some government supporters furiously attacked French interests. Whilst no non-African died in the protests, French soldiers killed up to 100 and wounded some 1,000 protesting government supporters.

Though France, the former colonial power in IC, is acting as peacekeeper and peace mediator, it is not neutral. Intelligence agencies have long believed that France would like to see or even engineer a coup in IC. President Gbagbo is opposed to the pro-France policies of IC, believing they are not in IC's best interests. Gbagbo's rival, A D Ouattara, the president of the RDR party to which the rebels are aligned, implemented many pro-France initiatives when he was IC Prime Minister. France would benefit economically if Ouattara were back in power. What we have today is a still uncertain future, with a three-way stand off between the IC, France and the rebels.

IC has a huge population of immigrants from Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso, its poorer northern Islamic neighbours. The possibility of the rebels' aims succeeding causes IC's Christians great anxiety, as all these migrants would be naturalised, making IC instantly a Muslim majority nation. Then, by the strength of their votes, the constitution could be amended and A D Ouattara
elected president. (Presently he is barred from the presidency due to issues of nationality.) If that happens, IC will never be the same again, but will become a reflection of its northern Islamic neighbours. This scenario does not sit well with Ivorians – Muslim, Christian and traditional religionists – who regard their liberty as precious.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to expose the plots and schemes of corrupt, self-serving
politicians who would destabilise a free and prosperous nation
in pure self-interest.

* great wisdom for all IC leaders, especially President Gbagbo
who is a Christian; may he draw close to God in this crisis, and
emerge more dependent on God than ever before. 'Some nations
boast of their armies and weapons, but we boast in the Lord our
God.' (Psalm 20:7 NLT) 'The horses are prepared for battle, but
the victory belongs to the Lord.' (Proverbs 21:31 NLT)

* Christians in Ivory Coast to be drawn to pray, and may they
receive wisdom, courage and radiant power from the Holy Spirit
for visible Christ-likeness in the midst of a society filled
with hostility, fear, anger and confusion. 'Godliness helps
people all through life, while the evil are destroyed by their
wickedness.' (Proverbs 13:6)

* God to be preparing the Church in Ivory Coast to be an
instrument of grace, reconciliation and healing.

* Almighty God to rescue Ivory Coast, and for justice and liberty
to prevail across the whole nation.