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Christians targeted in Ivory Coast and Nigeria in post-election conflicts

Project(s): 00-345, 10-971

Country/Region: Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria

Help Christian victims of the violence in West Africa today

We living in great penury and fear to be looted or even killed like hundreds or even thousands of families in Abidjan. What is going on is beyond imagination: a pure genocide is currently performed right in the eyes of the French and UN troops and the international humanitarian NGOs, targeting entire ethnic groups, as well as a category of people based on their political affiliation or work... In some extreme cases, people are killed only because they are not from the north and not Muslims.

Christian family trapped in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

The intense and hostile divisions between Christians and Muslims in West Africa have once again exploded into anti-Christian violence. The latest outbreak, triggered by discontent over recent presidential elections, has been most severe in Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire), where the political crisis is being fought out along ethnic and religious lines. But since yesterday Christians have also been targeted in similar attacks in Nigeria.

Crisis in Ivory Coast

At least 1,500 people have been killed and a million forced from their homes as forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, who is widely considered to have won the November poll, fight against supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, who has been president since 2000. Gbagbo has refused to relinquish power, saying that voting in the north was rigged. Gbagbo was captured last week, but fighting between the two sides continues.

Burnt out U.N. vehicle in Ivory Coast
Burnt out vehicle in Ivory Coast
Image: CC Stefan Meisel

Supporters of the two men are split broadly along the country's geographical, ethnic and religious divide. The predominantly Muslim north largely backs Ouattara, a Muslim from that region, while support for Gbagbo, a Christian, comes from the mainly Christian south. As forces loyal to Ouattara have fought to install their man, Christians, who are associated with Gbabgo, have been particularly targeted; imams have reportedly called on Muslims to attack Christians.

The country's electoral commission announced Outtara as the winner of the November poll - with 54 per cent of the vote - and this result was backed by the United Nations. But Ivory Coast's Constitutional Council, the body that certifies election results in the country, declared Gbagbo the winner based on valid votes cast. It annulled results in seven northern regions amid reports of electoral irregularities.

Rising tensions in West Africa

Both Islam and Christianity have been growing in Ivory Coast over recent decades, with the north and south becoming increasingly marked out along religious lines. The country's Muslim population has increased from 5 per cent to around 42 per cent in the last hundred years. The large-scale immigration of Muslims from surrounding lands has been a significant factor; the post-independence economic boom attracted a massive influx of people seeking jobs. Today, around 70 per cent of the foreign population is Muslim. Ouattara has sought the naturalisation of all immigrants, which would immediately create a Muslim majority in the electorate.

The number of Christians has also increased, threefold over the last 30 years, to nearly 34 per cent of the population. Christians and Muslims had lived relatively peacefully with each other, but tensions have been building.

Many immigrants were bitter that because they lacked full citizenship they were unable to vote in the 2000 election, won by Gbagbo. In 2001, Gbagbo established a Forum for National Reconciliation with the aim of fostering better dialogue between the country's Muslim and Christian communities. Here, Muslims accused the government of Christianising the country. Then in 2002, Muslims in the north rose up against Gbagbo's rule and attempted to take over the country. The ensuing civil war effectively split the country in two with Gbagbo holding the south and the rebels taking the north. The presidential elections last November were intended to end the civil war for good after a peace deal in 2007, but the disputed result has intensified the divide.

Like Ivory Coast, Nigeria is divided along religious lines with a strongly Muslim north and a mainly Christian south. It has a long history of tensions between Muslims and Christians, and the simmering hostility has been repeatedly brought to the boil in recent years by the presence of radical Islamist groups. There have been many outbreaks of savage and large-scale anti-Christian violence, with hundreds of Christians being killed and dozens of churches destroyed.

Christians in the firing line

Since late March churches in Ivory Coast have been torched, with Christians being kidnapped, beaten and killed. As a result of the violence, tens of thousands of people have been taking refuge in churches, where they lack adequate food, water, sanitation and medical care. Between 800 and 1,000 people who were seeking shelter at a Christian mission compound in Duékoué were killed, reportedly by descendants of immigrant Muslims from Burkina Faso loyal to Ouattara, at the end of last month.

As servants of God, what can we do to face the sudden poverty into which are plunged our populations?

Then yesterday further violence broke out in Nigeria following the re-election of Christian President Goodluck Jonathan over Muslim rival Muhammadu Buhari. Barnabas Aid has been told that three churches have been burned in Zaria, two in Wusasa, and five in Katsina. There are also reports of several churches being torched in Kano as riots broke out in the north following Saturday's poll. The Red Cross is reporting that many people have been killed, hundreds injured and thousands displaced.

A Barnabas Aid contact in Ivory Coast, the director of a Christian training centre 340km from the capital Abidjan - told us that their building had been targeted by Ouattara fighters on 30 March. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but the building was badly damaged. As gunmen rampaged through the surrounding area, people from a nearby village sought refuge at the centre, which accommodated around 185 people in classrooms.

In an update on 15 April the director told us that the security situation in the area remains precarious and normal life has ground to a halt; shops, banks, schools, and offices remain closed, transport has not resumed and food is scarce, causing prices to soar threefold in the space of two weeks.

He appealed for prayer, saying:

As servants of God, what can we do to face the sudden poverty into which are plunged our populations? How to continue our ministry of training the servants of God when the churches which provide the financing of the training have nothing more?... Our prayer is that the Lord restores the climate of serenity in the country to allow us to work.

Barnabas Aid is sending financial support to help Christian victims of the conflicts.

Give Today

If you would like to help Christian victims of the Ivory Coast and Nigerian conflicts, please send your donation to 00-345 (Victims of Violence). Please click to donate online using our secure server.

If you prefer to telephone, dial: 0800 587 4006 from within the UK or +44 1672 565031 from outside the UK. Please quote project reference 00-345 (Victims of Violence).

If you prefer to send a cheque by post: Click this link for the address of our regional office. Please quote project reference 00-345 (Victims of Violence).

For a quick donation of £3.00 by SMS (see terms and conditions here) text Barnabas/345 to70007 (Please note: This facility is presently only available to UK supporters).

Please Pray:
  • That peace and stability will soon be established in Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
  • That all those who have lost loved ones and/or been forced to flee their homes will be comforted and given practical help to meet their needs.
  • For the governorship and local elections in Plateau State, Nigeria, which have been rescheduled for Tuesday 26 April. This date coincides with the Easter season, a time when Christians are already vulnerable to increased attack. Pray that they will not be subjected to further violence.
  • For Christians throughout West Africa, that the Lord will give them courage and empower them to stand firm in their faith and to respond to the attacks in a Christ-like way.
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