Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Kaduna Declaration: Nigeria in the shadow of Biafra


By Elizabeth Kendal

Nigeria is home to "over 520 ethnic groups" (Operation World 2010). The three largest ethnic groups are roughly distributed by geography and defined by religion. Northern Nigeria is dominated by the Hausa-Fulani Muslims, while the south is mostly non-Muslim and predominately Christian, with the Yoruba in west and the Igbo in the east.

THE KADUNA DECLARATION

On Tuesday 6 June, at a press conference in Arewa House, Kaduna (in Nigeria’s volatile Middle Belt), a coalition of sixteen northern youth groups delivered a chilling ultimatum.  As spokesperson for the Coalition of Northern Youths (CNY), Alhaji AbdulAziz Suleiman delivered the terms.

“With the effective date of this [Kaduna Declaration], which is today, Tuesday, June 06, 2017, all Igbos currently residing in any part of Northern Nigeria are hereby served notice to relocate within three months and all northerners residing in the East are advised likewise.”

In a lengthy statement, Suleiman railed against the “ungrateful, uncultured” and “cruel Igbos”, accusing them of exhibiting a “reckless disrespect for the other federating units”. He charged the Igbo (collectively) with having “stained the integrity of the entire nation with their insatiable criminal obsessions”, and insisted they be held “responsible for Nigeria’s cultural and moral degeneracy”. He even claimed that “Igbos masquerade as Fulani herdsmen to commit violent atrocities” from which they reap political gain.

After thoroughly vilifying the Igbo collectively as a people, Suleiman complained that “northern leaders have adopted and have been dragging its people into a pitifully pacifist position in order to sustain an elusive national cohesion that has long been ridiculed by the Igbos.”

He then laid out the solution as proposed by the Coalition of Northern Youth: ethnic cleansing and separation.

“Since the Igbo have clearly abused the unreciprocated hospitality that gave them unrestricted access to, and ownership of landed properties all over the North, our first major move shall be to reclaim, assume and assert sole ownership and control of these landed resources currently owned, rented or in any way enjoyed by the ingrate Igbos in any part of Northern Nigeria.

“Consequently, officials of the signatory groups to this declaration are already mandated to commence immediate inventory of all properties, spaces or activity in the north currently occupied by the Igbos for forfeiture at the expiration of the ultimatum contained in this declaration. In specific terms, the groups are directed to compile and forward an up-to-date data of all locations occupied by any Igbo in any part of Northern Nigeria including schools, markets, shops, workshops, residences and every other activity spaces.

“We are hereby placing the Nigerian authorities and the entire nation on notice that as from the 1st October 2017, we shall commence the implementation of visible actions to prove to the whole world that we are no longer part of any federal union that should do with the Igbos. From that date, effective, peaceful and safe mop-up of all the remnants of the stubborn Igbos that neglect to heed this quit notice shall commence to finally eject them from every part of the North.”

Full statement can be read here:
Biafra: North give Igbos 3 months to leave zone, say they are ungrateful, uncultured
By Amos Tauna, Daily Post (Nigeria), 6 June 2017

NIGERIA: IN THE SHADOW OF BIAFRA

On 30 May 1967, Lieutenant-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwa (34) became the first and only leader of the Republic of Biafra. His declaration of Biafran independence from Nigeria is remembered annually by many Nigerians, primarily because of the horrendous civil war which followed it. The Nigerian Civil War – also known as the Biafran War (1967-1970) – claimed the lives of some 100,000 Nigerian military personnel and between 500,000 and two million Igbo civilians, most of who perished from starvation.

This year, to mark the 50-year anniversary of the outbreak of the Biafran War, pro-secessionist Igbo groups such as BNYL (Biafra Nations Youth League), MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra), IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) and others, decided to turn up the heat.

Ostensibly to protest (1) the neglect and marginalisation of the Igbo by the government of Muhammadu Buhari (a northern Muslim), and (2) escalating Fulani (northern Muslim) violence and southward territorial expansion (jihad), IPOB issued a “sit-at-home” order for 30 May 2017. The order was of course illegal, as IPOB has no authority to issue such an order. Regardless, in cities and towns throughout the south-east, schools, churches, banks and businesses closed their doors, primarily on account of fear and a desire to avoid retaliation from belligerent, militant IPOB youths.

It must be noted that pro-secessionist IPOB has escalated its rhetoric and its actions over recent years, especially since its leader, Nnamdi Kanu was arrested on charges of treason in October 2015. While many IPOB rallies have turned violent, the response of the Nigerian security forces has been equally so, resulting in many deaths, drawing the ire of human rights groups such as Amnesty International. Kanu was released on bail in April (2017) and is still awaiting trial.

As it turned out, 30 May 2017 passed relatively peacefully. Though some IPOB youths did wreak havoc, seemingly in the hope of triggering a clash with Nigerian military personnel, the state was well prepared. Having secured potential flash-points ahead of time, the military retired to the barracks on the evening of 29 May, leaving local police to handle local incidents.

Unfortunately, that was not to be the end of it. The secessionists rhetoric emanating from pro-secessionists Ibgo youths has inflamed latent ethnic-religious hatreds in northern Hausa-Fulani Muslim youths.

The Coalition of Northern Youths’ 6 June “Kaduna Declaration” – in which Igbo are given until 1 October to quit the north – is but a response, a return volley to the pro-secessionist rhetoric emanating from the Igbo youths in the south-east. Coming as it does in these days of revived fundamentalist Islam and heightened Islamic zeal, the threat must be taken seriously.

screenshot: Most Rev Benjamin Kwashi,
Anglican Archbishop of Jos,
speaks to Global Christian News.
This is indeed an unfolding crisis.

If the situation is not defused; if the youths cannot be contained or reasoned with; and if security is not maintained or preferably tightened, then Nigeria could see an eruption of ethnic-religious violence leading to a new round of ethnic cleansing, culminating in a further entrenchment of hostility and division.

Tensions will doubtless escalate as the anniversaries roll by.

While 30 May marked the 50yr anniversary of the declaration of Biafran independence, 6 July marks the 50yr anniversary of the day the war actually began – the day artillery shells started raining down on Ogoja (10km south of the border with the north) and battalions of mostly northern Muslim forces started advancing on Enugu (the Biafran capital).

And of course the anniversaries will continue rolling by – battles won, battles lost – climaxing in the months between October 2018 and early 2019, when the Ibgo will remember 50yrs since the encirclement and blockade of Biafra. By the end of 1968 Igbo children were perishing at the rate of around one thousand per day on account of the decision by the Nigerian government to use starvation as a weapon of mass destruction against its own people. Most critically, the Igbo will be remembering this famine just as Nigeria heads into its next General Election, slated for February 2019.

If Nigeria manages to get through the next two years without massive bloodletting, it will be nothing short of a miracle.

Ethnic-religious cleansing not unprecedented

The Coalition of Northern Youths has given the Igbo until 1 October to quit the north. After that, northern youths will “commence the implementation” of actions to reclaim lands and properties and “mop-up” the remnants of the “stubborn Igbos” that have neglected to heed the quit notice, “to finally eject them from every part of the North.”

How likely is this scenario? 

Across Nigeria, senior community leaders are scrambling to douse the flames. Unlike the belligerent youths of the east and north, these senior leaders are old enough to have lived through the Nigerian Civil War. Driven by their nightmares, they are eager to do all in their power to avert a new outbreak of hostilities. Many are calling for dialogue to address fundamental issues such as injustice, corruption and marginalisation; as well as Boko Haram and the issue of Fulani banditry and southward territorial expansion (jihad).

In the East, MASSOB leader Ralph Uwazuruike has distanced his group from Kanu’s IPOB. He insists that pro-Biafra groups have no interest secessionist conflict. “Self-determination without violence is a fundamental right,” he said. “We must strive against sowing the seeds of discord but do all that will promote peace and justice.” On Monday 12 June, Uwazuruike travelled to Kaduna in an effort to advance peace.

In the North, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai has ordered the arrest of all signatories to the Kaduna Declaration. Critically, on Wednesday 7 June, the governors of 19 northern Nigerian states met in Maiduguri, Borno, to publically denounce the Kaduna Declaration.  Premium Times reports: “The governors said they are in touch with heads of their security agencies and have taken measures that will guarantee the rights of all Nigerians to live in the 19 states in the three geo-political zones within the north.” Hopefully their rhetoric will translate into action.

While a return to civil war is highly unlikely, the threat posed to over a million mostly Christian Igbo living and working in the Muslim north cannot be overstated.

As the CNY deadline of 1 October approaches, the Igbo will also be remembering the massacres of 1966. On 29 May 1966 more than 3,000 Igbo were slaughtered in various northern cities, including Kaduna, Kano and Jos, in Islamic pogroms incited by the clerics and organised in the mosques.

Resenting Igbo success, the northern Muslims feared the more educated Igbo might one day come to dominate Nigeria. Then, after the 29 July 1966 Hausa-led military coup, a campaign of ethnic cleansing was unleashed across the north. Some 30,000 Igbo were killed as more than 1.3 million fled. The mass exodus of Igbo from the north resulted in a humanitarian crisis in the east as the east sought to adsorb this flood of displaced and traumatised humanity.

The massacres and ethnic cleansing of 1966 convinced the Igbo that the Muslim Hausa-Fulani would never tolerate the existence in their midst of the now-successful Igbo – i.e. an infidel people who the northerners had previously only ever viewed as savages fit only to be kept as slaves. This was also the reason why the war lasted as long as it did; for the Igbo were convinced that defeat would culminate in genocide. As it turned out, everyone was simply too exhausted for that.

Now (2017) as then (1967), the likelihood of an independent Biafra being realised is zero – after all, Nigeria’s oil (discovered in 1956) lies predominantly in the Delta region.

Today – 50yrs on from the pogroms of 1966 and the war of 1967-1970 – in these days of Islamic revival and heightened Islamic fundamentalist zeal; in these days when Islamists seem to have access to bottomless pit of career transnational jihadis and terror-funding to draw on, the question that needs to be answered is this: can Nigeria’s “Wahhabised” northern youths be contained?


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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 


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Syria and Chemical Weapons: listen to the experts

By Elizabeth Kendal

On Monday 26 June, the White House issued the following press statement:

The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.  The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.

As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.


Coming, as it does, comes hot on the heels of President Trump’s visit to Riyadh and his speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, this statement may indicate that the Trump administration is preparing to escalate the conflict in Syria.

See: Trump in Riyadh: A Message to Tehran,
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 29 June 2017

Now that President Trump has redrawn Obama’s Red Line, all we have to do is wait for the chemical attack that should deliver the Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis and its militant/jihadist proxies exactly what they so desperately want: US missile strikes against the Syrian government – only this time, far more devastating.

Like previous chemical attacks, this one too will be the work of Islamic jihadists – most probably foreigners who have no qualms about sacrificing Syrian nationals for what they regard as the greater Islamic good.

Anyone who finds this difficult to believe should consider the following expert analysis.

Under the heading: “Strategic Trajectories: Indicators of emerging patterns of global significance”, Issue 4,2017 of Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy (D&FA, the magazine of the Washington-based International Strategic Studies Association) included a report entitled, “Attack on Syria: US Has Returned to ‘Business as Usual’.” 

Excerpt:

“US Pres. Donald Trump may, on April 7, 2017, have sacrificed the direction of his Presidency largely to calm domestic critics. He authorized the firing, by two US Navy destroyers in the Western Mediterranean, of 60 BGM-109B unitary warhead and BGM-109D cluster munition Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAM) at the Syrian Air Force base at al-Shayrat; 58 of the TLAMs hit designated targets. The incident may well be a strategically pivotal – domestically as well as internationally – as the decision in January 2002 by US Pres. George W. Bush to attack Iraq.” (emphasis in the original)

After examining various intended and unintended or unavoidable consequences of this action, D&FA examined the casus belli (the incident that provoked the attack).

Excerpts: 

“The US attack authorized by Pres. Trump was in response to an alleged attack by Syrian Air Force aircraft on the north-western Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, in southern Idlib province, supposedly using chemical-payload bombs. Despite US government claims of irrefutable evidence that the Syrian Arab Air Force had used chemical weapons, no evidence was provided that the Syrian Government was involved in the use of chemical weapons. The US claims, when examined, are all based on reports from partisan sources within the Syrian opposition and from the Turkish Government, and not a single piece of evidence was from direct reporting by any US military or intelligence officer with an understanding of chemical weapons.

“Site investigations of the alleged attacks, in fact, revealed cratering from BM21 122mm Grad rocket launcher munitions, not aircraft-delivered munitions. Several of BM21 systems – including long range versions – were brought in from Turkey to jihadists groups operating in Idlib province shortly before the alleged ‘Syrian attack’, roughly about the same time that the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that the removal of Syrian Pres. Assad was not (then) a US priority.”

As D&FA notes, every time the US had indicated that the removal of Assad was no longer an absolute goal, “Turkey and its allies (including jihadist and ‘Syrian opposition’ groups) produce ‘evidence’ that Syria had used chemical weapons against its own people”. . .  What’s more, “The model for the release of such ‘evidence’ has been virtually identical in all cases . . .”

D&FA also notes that “Sarin (GB) has been the chemical weapon of choice by terrorist groups linked to Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the past in the Syrian conflict, not just the August 21, 2013, now-verified false-flag attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, by Saud-backed jihadists with the knowledge of the US Intelligence Community. . .

“Chemical analysis of the sarin residue found at Khan Sheikhoun indicated that it was made to the same recipe as the sarin used in the Ghouta attack in 2013, which has been absolutely and independently confirmed to have been used by Saudi-backed jihadis in that attack. It is explicitly not military-grade sarin and not the type which had been used by the Syrian Armed Forces before the internationally monitored disposal of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. . .

“It is probably that the Trump White House was aware that the evidence to support the claims of Syrian Government use of chemical weapons was questionable, tainted, and based on mere allegations. However, domestic political pressures in the US – coupled with a US media outcry at the reports – gave the President a chance to calm his critics at home by appearing strong internationally. . .”

Having covered asymmetric warfare and the August 2013 Ghouta false-flag chemical attack in my book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, I was not remotely surprise to see experts declaring the April 2017 Khan Sheikhoun attack a false-flag; indeed, as noted by D&FA, the pattern was "virtually identical".

After viewing the White House Intelligence Report (WHR) on Khan Sheikhoun, chemical weapons expert Theodore A. Postol (Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) penned a cursory assessment: “A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report, Issued on April 11, 2017, About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria”. [Full Text - Addendum]

The photo that launched 60 cruise missiles 
In his report, which makes fascinating reading, Prof. Postol is scathing about the US assessment.  He comments that both the cratering and the way the munition was exploded indicate that, rather than being delivered from the air (in which case it would have exploded outwards, and above the ground) it is clear that the munition had been placed on the ground and that an external explosive device was detonated on top of it, crushing it inwards, and leaving a crater. This is just one of Prof. Postol’s many cursory observations.

Postol writes: “It is hard for me to believe that anybody competent could have been involved in producing the WHR and the implications of such an obviously predetermined result strongly suggests that this report was not motivated by a serious analysis of any kind.

“This finding is disturbing.  It indicates that the WHR was probably a report purely aimed at justifying actions that were not supported by any legitimate intelligence. . .

“On August 30, 2013, the White House produced a similarly false report about the nerve agent attack on August 21, 2013 in Damascus. This report also contained numerous intelligence claims that could not be true. . .

“I therefore conclude that there needs to be a comprehensive investigation of these events that have either misled people in the White House, or worse yet, been perpetrated by people seeking to force decisions that were not justified by the cited intelligence.”


If the Trump administration has decided to enter the Syrian war on side of the regime change coalition (Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia), with the aim of pushing back against Iran, in defense of US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel, then it should stop playing games and just say so.

However, before the US Government starts firing missiles into Syria, it should also look forward and be open about the likely costs: Hezballah and Iranian Quds Force terror will surely strike back against US interests; Syria (presently secular) will become a potentially hostile Islamic state; and Syria’s Christians and Alawites will most surely face genocide.

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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).


Trump in Riyadh: a Message to Tehran


By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring

On Saturday 20 May, US President Donald Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia for what was to be the first stop on a nine-day tour of the Middle East and Western Europe. The tour included visits to religious centres Jerusalem (Judaism and Christianity) and the Vatican (Roman Catholicism), but not Islam’s Mecca, as infidels are not permitted there.

During his two day visit to Riyadh, President Trump participated (albeit uncomfortably) in a ceremonial sword dance, and delivered a 34-minute speech to an Arab Islamic American Summit attended by the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations.

transcript 
In his speech, President Trump praised Sunni Arab leaders for their fight against terrorism, as if unaware that Saudi Arabia is not only one the world’s leading sponsors of international Islamic jihad, but the engine-room driving the “Wahhabisation” of Sunni Muslims worldwide.

He applauded Turkey for its hosting of refugees, as if unaware that Turkey’s President Recip Tayyap Erdogan – who is also one of the world’s leading sponsors of Islamic jihad – bears much of the responsibility for creating most of the refugees he is hosting, refugees he uses as pawns in foreign policy.

But the trump card in Trump’s speech was his singling out of Iran, which he lambasted as the cause of all regional instability through its sponsorship of international terrorism and fuelling of sectarian conflict and chaos. In this regard he made specific mention of Tehran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who alone stood accused of “unspeakable crimes”.

While in Riyadh President Trump also brokered a deal to sell Saudi Arabia some $460 million worth of precision-guided munitions: nearly $110 billion immediately, and $350 billion over 10 years – as if unaware that Saudi Arabia is funnelling arms to all manner of Sunni jihadists in Syria, and is responsible for the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Yemen. [On Tuesday 13 June, the US Senate voted -- 53 to 47 -- in favour of supporting the arms deal.]

If President Trump thought his Iran-bashing would engender and consolidate Sunni unity, then he was gravely mistaken, and in truth, should have known better. Irrespective of whether the report that the Emir of Qatar had questioned the wisdom of isolating Iran was “fake news” or true, it detonated the tension in the Saudi-led bloc, exploding any pretense of unity.

[See also: “A Brief Guide to Middle Eastern Alliances”, by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 28 June 2017.]

President Trump’s performance, speech and weapons deal in Riyadh might not have engendered Sunni unity, but it did send a message to Tehran: that the US will stand with its allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel) to resist Tehran, whom it will fight -- albeit indirectly -- even by toppling the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

It seems the conflict in Syria is about to move to a whole new level, and with it, the Christian crisis in the Middle East.

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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 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Brief Guide to Middle Eastern Alliances


By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring

The complex, volatile and exceedingly fragile alliances between the Middle East’s powers and sects are unpacked in detail my book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

What follows below is but a brief (and consequently simplistic) guide to the tangled web that is the Middle East.

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A BRIEF GUIDE TO MIDDLE EASTERN ALLIANCES
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Map by Elizabeth Kendal
click on map to enlarge
click here for pdf

At the heart of the Middle East is Mesopotamia: the land between the two rivers (the Tigris and the Euphrates). Comprising modern-day Syria and Iraq, this resource-rich Fertile Crescent has long been regarded as the cradle of civilisation. The homeland of ancient peoples – Armenians and Assyrians (also known as Syriacs and Chaldeans) – Mesopotamia is today (after numerous invasions, conquests and occupations) both a buffer zone and melting pot. Terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky has labelled it, “the fertile crescent of minorities”.

The Mesopotamian heartland is surrounded by the region’s three imperial powers: TURKEY, ruled today by the Neo-Ottoman, Sunni Islamist regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan; IRAN/Persia, ruled today by its revolutionary Shi’ite clerical regime; and the Wahhabist Kingdom of SAUDI ARABIA representing the Sunni Arabs. Today, as a century of Western hegemony comes to an end, these three imperial powers are struggling not only for hegemony over resource-rich Mesopotamia, but for leadership of the Muslim world.

The Middle East is divided along sectarian lines: between Islam’s two mains sects, the Sunnis (who follow Arab tradition/sunna in being led by a strongman) and the Shi’ites (who maintain that only a blood relative of Muhammad can lead the Muslims). Because Shia doctrine deligitimises all Sunni Caliphs, Sunni Islam has long sought to deligitimise Shi’ism as heresy, and demonise Shi’ites as rafida/rejectionists to be killed. Like the three imperial powers, these two Islamic sects are fighting for hegemony over resource-rich Mesopotamia and for leadership of the Muslim world.

The Middle East is divided along political lines: the north-south Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis comprising NATO-member Turkey and the US-allied Sunni Arabs; and the east-west, Iran-led, Shia-dominated Axis of Resistance (often called the Shia Axis) comprising Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Lebanon’s Hezballah, along with various Sunni “resistance” groups such as Hamas and even al-Qaeda. These powers and groups are united by their commitment to “resisting” America’s and Israel’s presence in the Middle East. ISIS would be in this axis too if ISIS were not so inflexibly takfiri (anti-Shi’ite).

But nothing is ever that simple. Within these political axes the allied states routinely display widely diverging interests -- including economic interests -- and this is where it gets complicated.

Regarding the east-west Iran-led, Shia-dominated Shia Axis / Axis of Resistance.  This axis is not as united as it seems (or is made to seem). The interests of the Alawite-dominated secular government of Bashar al-Assad do not fully align with those of sectarian, revolutionary Shi’ite Tehran. The relationship between the Alawite-dominated government in Damascus and the clerical Shi’ite regime in Tehran is purely strategic. Like Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas, Alawites revere Muhammad as the founder of Islam, but follow as subsequent (and indeed more pacifist) prophet. Alawites follow Abū Shuʿayb Muḥammad ibn Nuṣayr (who diverged from Shia Islam), which is why they were historically known as Nusayris. The French convinced them to change their name to Alawites so as to hide their link to Nusayr while emphasising their link to Ali (Muhammad’s son-in-law, and the fourth Rightly Guided Caliph of Islam). A century on, the name Nusayr is being revived by fundamentalist Sunni jihadists.

Fundamentalist Islam regards those who follow a subsequent “prophet” as heretics deserving of death. Consequently, when the long-persecuted minority Alawites came to power in Syria (1971), they knew they needed allies. Cognizant of this and sensing an opportunity, Shi’ites in Lebanon and later revolutionary Tehran, proposed an alliance. Since then, the Alawite-led government in Damascus has provided Shi’ite forces with strategic depth, while Lebanese Shi’ites and Tehran provide Syria's minority Alawites with legitimacy and protection. For the Alawites this alliance is about little more than surviving as an existentially imperilled religious minority in a hostile region. For Hezballah and Tehran this alliance is all about geo-politics; they would sacrifice Assad in a flash if he resisted them. Of course Assad knows this, which is precisely why he is looking more to secular Russia (which happens to be pro-Israel) than to sectarian Shi'ite Tehran, which is not merely fighting in Syria, but working to Islamise and “Shi’itise” the Syrians, much to their horror.

Regarding the north-south, US-allied Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis.  This axis contains both pro and anti Muslim Brotherhood (MB) factions. Qatar and Erdogan’s Turkey are strongly pro-MB; while Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, along with President al-Sisi’s Egypt, are strongly anti-MB.

Over recent years the anti-MB faction has grown increasingly frustrated with Qatar, due to the way Qatar uses its state-owned media company, al-Jazeera, as a tool of foreign policy and as a weapon with which it interferes in the affairs of other states. Indeed, al-Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood were central players in the misnamed “Arab Spring” which commenced in Tunisia in December 2010, and either toppled or threatened anti-MB regimes across the region throughout 2011 until it finally met its match in Damascus.

Even within the anti-MB faction, tensions exist between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Not only has Egypt steadfastly refused to send troops into Yemen in support of Saudi forces, but Egypt has also steadfastly rejected Saudi calls to send troops into Syria to help overthrow the Syrian government (which, like al-Sisi, is strongly anti-MB). In October 2016, Egypt voted in favour of a Russian resolution in the US Security Council which called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, particularly in Aleppo, and demanded that all parties prevent material and financial support from reaching groups associated with Al-Qaida including Jabhat al-Nusrah, or  ISIS (ISIL/Da’esh). While the resolution failed (4 in favour, 9 against, 2 abstentions), Saudi Arabia was furious with Egypt. Labelling Egypt’s support for the Russian resolution a “betrayal”, Saudi Arabia immediately suspended its monthly shipments of discounted oil to the cash-strapped state. [Shipments resumed in March 2017.]

Q) Why is anti-MB Saudi Arabia working alongside pro-MB Turkey and pro-MB Qatar to topple the anti-MB government in Syria? As usual, the answer is money, pipelines, oil and gas! In 2009, Damascus rejected a proposal to have a Qatar-Saudi Arabia-[Syria]-Turkey pipeline traverse its territory, thereby stifling Sunni plans to sell gas from the Persian Gulf to Europe. Then, in 2010, Damascus approved a proposal for the construction of an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline that would transport gas from Persian Gulf to the Syrian coast for export to Europe. Can anyone think of a better reason for the US and NATO-backed Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis to covet regime change in Damascus?

Q) Apart from the threat Shia doctrine presents to the monarchy, why does Saudi Arabia feel so existentially threatened by Iran?  Again, the answer is money, pipelines, oil and gas, along with refineries and the status and power that comes from wealth!

Though Shi’ites comprise only around 10 percent of Muslims worldwide (Sunni Islam having been spread worldwide by nomadic peoples), in the Middle East they comprise around 50 percent. More critically, in the lands around the oil and gas rich Persian Gulf – and that includes Saudi Arabia’s resource-rich Eastern Province – Shi’ites comprise around 80 percent. If Iran ever decided annex Eastern Province – ostensibly on the pretext of rescuing/liberating its persecuted Shi’ite majority – the Saudis would be back in the desert with nothing but camels and sand. And while the Saudis would still be custodians of the Two Holy Mosques (a profitable business indeed!), it is doubtful they could hold that position for long if Iran was in control of all the oil and gas in the region. When we consider all this in the light of the fact that Saudi Arabia’s military is no match for Iran’s, it is easy to understand why the kingdom will do virtually anything to retain its US security umbrella. [See composite map at the top of this article.]

Q) What about the jihadists/terrorists? The jihadists – be they allied to al-Qaeda (which co-operates with Shi’ite Tehran) or ISIS (which refuses to; hence the split) – are all nothing but proxies. All jihadist groups of any significance are totally dependent on state backing, be it from NATO-member neo-Ottoman Islamist Turkey, US-allied Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, or Revolutionary Shi'ite Iran. Cognizant of this, Russia – which has been supporting the government of Syria, at its invitation – has been appealing from the very beginning for an end to the funding and arming of all Islamic militant groups; to no avail.

Q) What about the Christians? In Iraq, the displaced and destitute Assyrian remnant currently has security and liberty in Iraqi Kurdistan, for which they are phenomenally grateful. However, as they watch the Kurds occupy their lands -- remembering, as they do, the long history of massacres and genocides -- the Assyrians cannot help but harbour deep suspicions as to what Kurdish ambitions and intentions might actually entail.

Bishop Moussa enjoys Palm Sunday
parade outside the
Church of Saint Elias in Damascus.
9 April 2017
In Syria, Christians  in government-controlled areas (including many thousands of IDPs) are not only protected, but they enjoy full religious liberty meaning they are free not only to worship but to minister to the wider community. In August 2015 the situation looked dire and had Russia not intervened then the government would surely have fallen. While Hezballah and Tehran are fighting in support of the Assad government, their foreign Shi’ite fighters have no love for Christians. Russia on the other hand, which not only has a long history of relations with and interests in secular Syria, also has an even longer history – a history of which it is very proud – as a protector of Eastern Christians.

Right across the Middle East it is overwhelming the case that Christians, feeling themselves betrayed and abandoned, are no longer looking to the West for help.

Q) What is the US doing in Syria? Having facilitated the rise of Iran (through the removal of Saddam Hussein and the “democratisation” of Shia-majority Iraq) the US is now desperate to rein it in, for an ascendant revolutionary Iran poses an existential threat to America’s allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel) and interests in the region.

Though still officially a US ally, Iraq is in reality lost, and is now little more than an Iranian vassal. Consequently the battle against Iran must be fought in Syria. Indeed, for the US, the war in Syria has always been about Iran.

Initially the US-Sunni strategy was to affect regime change in Damascus. Failing that, plan B has been to hammer a north-south Sunni bloc through the east-west Shia Axis to serve as a bulwark and base of operations against Iranian ambitions.

US troops patrol with fighters from
Maghaweir al Thowra (MaT)
(Revolutionary Commando Army) in Tanf.
Long War Journal (14 June)
Having established a garrison in Tanf (near the Syria, Iraq, Jordan border triangle) -- which is now protected on account of its being deemed a "deconfliction zone" -- the US-Turkey-Arab Axis is working with its Sunni militant proxies to establish a Sunni bloc that would stretch from the Gulf states and Jordan to Turkey through eastern Syria severing the Baghdad-Damascus Hwy, ostensibly under the guise of fighting Islamic State.

Of course this is something the Axis of Resistance powers will not tolerate. . .
. . . meaning this conflict is about to move to a whole new level.



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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 


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.

---------------
additional backgrounders: 

CAR backgrounder by GlobalSecurity.org 

Central African Republic: What’s gone wrong?
UN IRIN, 24 Feb 2017
----------------

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.  

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

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.

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

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.”

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

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