ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Simmering
political tensions erupted into deadly violence Dec. 16 on the streets of
Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s main city, as Christians called for prayer and unity.
Up to 30 people were killed by government security forces, according to
witnesses and news reports, as marching protesters tried and failed to reach
the state television building. Heavy gunfire was heard near an upscale hotel
currently occupied by former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, one of two men
claiming to be the duly elected president of the West African nation.
Clouds of tear gas rose from other neighborhoods where Ouattara supporters
confronted government security forces. An Ivorian human rights group said
police were firing on people in the city “with the intention to kill.” Troops
loyal to competing presidential factions reportedly clashed in Abidjan and
other cities and towns.
By Dec. 17, Abidjan’s streets were mostly deserted — except for heavily armed
police — as more fighting loomed.
Ivory Coast, a once-stable nation torn apart by civil war in 2002-03, plunged
into a new national crisis following a disputed presidential run-off election
Nov. 28. Ouattara ran against incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo. The
Independent Electoral Commission declared Ouattara the winner with 54 percent
of the vote. He has been recognized as president by the United Nations, the
African Union and much of the international community.
But the national Constitutional Council invalidated the electoral commission’s
results, citing fraud, and Gbagbo refuses to hand over the reins of power to
Ouattara. Both leaders have set up competing governments, each with armed
forces. Gbagbo occupies government buildings. Ouattara sits in the cross-town
hotel, guarded by U.N. peacekeepers and former rebel fighters.
“We are still in a deadlock and are praying to the Lord to intervene and bring
peace and stability in the country,” said Seydou Toure, an elder at Treichville
Baptist Church in Abidjan. “We have now two presidents and two governments, and
people are trying to do the mediation and solve the political issue.”
Special prayer meetings are being held in Baptist churches across the country,
according to Toure. There are 106 Baptist churches in Ivory Coast; 50 of them
are in Abidjan.
“The people are discouraged. They are very discouraged and are affected by the
situation we are going through,” Toure said. “The churches and pastors are
still praying for the Lord to stretch His blessed hand upon Ivory Coast so that
peace, tranquility and stability can come.”
Every day the standoff continues, Ivorian people suffer.
“Many Ivorians live day to day, meal to meal in a good week,” an Abidjan-based
Christian worker said. “If one day’s work is interrupted, it can dramatically
affect their lives. We know that many of our African friends are struggling
because of the immediate impact this conflict has already had on their lives
The violence, he added, reflects longstanding divisions.
“It is interesting that there seems to be the north/Muslim versus
south/Christian element, but there also seem to be other dividing opinions as
well, especially concerning the economics of the country,” he observed. “Overall,
the Christians I know are reaffirming that ‘God is in control.’ They know there
is nowhere to go and nothing else to do but trust in His ultimate will and
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy was one of several calling for its citizens to
leave the country. Some missionaries have been advised to stay indoors by local
village leaders until tensions ease.
The election was intended to unify the country after the civil war divided it.
The opposite appears to be happening.
“We are praying that God will give us a solution and choose the person that He
desires,” said a Christian worker who lives in the north. “Since the civil war
here back in 2002-03, the hearts of the people are deeply divided. The people
in the north feel like they’ve never had a voice and the ones in the south have
been the ones to have all the power and voice.
“This (crisis) is indicative of the divided opinions in the country. Pray for
peaceful hearts, for people to accept the results, and for them to be able to
voice their opinions peacefully, and that they would agree to work together in
the government however it is resolved, for them to accept it and work with that
government in a peaceful way.”
The worker also asked Christians to pray for open hearts.
“People are not as openly friendly right now … What we have seen here in the
past 10 years that we have been working here is a surface welcome, which is
very characteristic of the region, and underneath a pretty strong resistance.
Pray for God to open hearts and open doors for the Word to go out, and for
people who know the truth to have the courage to speak out. Pray that there
will be freedom to proclaim the Word and that people will be free to hear it.”