"Once we take control we're coming for you."
That's the message Christians in the Ivory Coast got from Muslims during a long-fought dispute over the nation's presidency, an election late last year apparently won by a Christian candidate when the government found voter fraud in Muslim regions. But that result was overturned following intervention by the United Nations and the United States, who insisted that the Muslim candidate be given the office.
Which puts Muslims now in "control."
A missionary who asked to be called only Pastor Andrew serves in the Ivory Coast and says that the administration of newly inaugurated president Alessane Ouattara, a Muslim, has shut off the Internet and now likely is tapping the Christians' telephones.
"Just before (the civil war), they were warning the Christians that when we get in power, the first we're going to do is come against the church. We're coming to get you," Andrew revealed.
"And so they did. Right at this moment we've been cut off for over a month. They have shut down the Internet so they (the Christians) can't communicate with the outside," Andrew said.
"Then we were advised not to talk to them by phone because they have phone taps. So to protect them, we're not communicating directly into the country," Andrew added.
There are reports that Ivory Coast authorities have restored Internet service in the country.
Listen to an interview with Pastor Andrew:
The actions of Ouattara's forces since his installation as president point to the issue of why the international community would support Ouattara. Andrew says there is a threefold reason.
"This has been between the predominantly Muslim north and the Christian south. It has been a mandate of the Islam world to take more control of more land, more people, and more resources and that's part of their mandate," Andrew explained.
Andrew also says that the removal of President Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent Christian, was nothing less than a coup.
"I watched that whole process take place and I would say that the whole process of putting in Ouattara into the presidency is a plot. According to what I saw and to what I understand, it's not legitimate," Andrew declared.
"One of my contacts warned me just before the war broke out and they overthrew Gbagbo that it was a coup," Andrew related.
Andrew says that Gbagbo had put procedures in place that would have
guaranteed a fair election in the country.
"He had these forms that everybody had to fill out; it was a way to prove that you're an Ivorian. The put down who their mom and dad were, what tribe they were from, what village you were from, and what year you were born," Andrew described.
"It could be proven by their dialect that they were Ivorian. So, the rebels fought against that. They didn't want to use that form because they said they were not being treated fairly," Andrew further described.
"What was happening was illegal. There was ballot stuffing. Besides the illegal voting, they also disqualified all of the Gbagbo votes, they got rid of their ballots and they killed [Christians], persecuted them and burned their villages," Andrew added.
"I was getting the reports while it was happening, about whole villages being destroyed, so in most of those areas in the north, there was not one Gbagbo vote. That was impossible and it was so obvious that it was a rigged election," Andrew declared.
Heritage Foundation Africa analyst Brett Schaefer disagrees with that assessment and says that Ouattara is the Ivory Coast's legitimate president.
"Ouattara won the election. I think that's been verified by a number of independent observers. Whether there was some question about the fairness or transparency of the election, no doubt there were some irregularities," Schaefer commented.
Schaefer says that France's intervention in the Ivory Coast were pragmatic actions in defense of their economic interests.
"France's interest in supporting Mr. Ouattara was to demonstrate an ongoing French influence over [what] they consider their sphere of influence in the francophone African countries," Schaefer stated.
"Cote D'Ivoire is obviously historically important to France and they simply want to make sure they're involved in the country going forward," Schaefer said.
But Andrew says that France is slowly losing influence in its former African colonies.
"France has been losing its grip on a lot of these nations and they want it back," Andrew asserted.
Andrew also says that Gbagbo's actions in office attracted French attention.
"Gbagbo was building his nation up and said if we're truly a democratic country to do what we want, then we have the right to trade and commerce with any nation in the world," Andrew related.
"They had trade with Canada and the U. S., but that means that over 90 percent of their trade was with France. Even in their independence, France was having control over the Ivory Coast," Andrew continued.
"So when Gbagbo got in power, he wanted to set his people free. He wanted his people to have trade and commerce and he wanted to build his country," Andrew stated.
Listen to another interview with Pastor Andrew:
Andrew says that Gbagbo's search for trade connections outside the French sphere prompted France to intervene. Andrew adds that the French armed the Muslim rebels in the north from the beginning of the Ivory Coast's civil war.
"When the conflict first came in 2002, all of their arms were from France.
From France – all their stuff – because the rebels didn't have anything out there. They were coming in from the Muslim countries like Burkina Faso. They weren't the Ivorian Muslims," Andrew also explained.
"They stirred the Muslim north that they were being treated unfairly and they would promote this takeover and that they would get more freedom and have their families come in from Burkina Faso," Andrew continued. "You'll have your freedom and you have a right to this land and so on."
Andrew says that he received daily briefings during the recent struggle.
"I would get a briefing on what was happening right then, with the bombings, the shootings, the killing of Christians. It was really terrible, and now of course the Internet is shut down," Andrew stated.
The brutality of the recent civil war is one reason the missionary says the French are mistaken if they believe they can control the situation. Andrew believes the French government is going to get a surprise a few years down the road.
Andrew explains that the reason for the coming surprise is that Ouattara is a Muslim, and that ultimately the Ivory Coast's new president's allegiance is to Islam. The missionary says that detail alone makes Ouattara unpredictable.
"We have a cliché that says. 'If you build a monster, you have to feed it.' And I believe they're building themselves a monster. I believe it's going to come back on them," Andrew commented.
Journalist, researcher and Africa analyst Jim Hooper explains the Ivory Coast's present situation by putting it against the backdrop of African politics.
"First, with rare exception, African leaders are loathe to relinquish power
once they have it. Political allegiance has little to do with real or proposed government policies, and almost everything to do with ethnic allegiance," Hooper explained.
He adds that colonial connections still play a strong role in African politics.
"Those countries in post-colonial Africa which have escaped tribal conflict have managed it through a combination of the threat of brute force, blatant patronage – paying off – of any potential opposition, and maintaining close commercial and geopolitical ties with the former colonial powers," Hooper stated.
Hooper explains that the Ivory Coast is no exception to any of these
patterns and that Ouattara's hold on the country is only as strong as his ability to
placate Gbagbo's supporters and France's long arm.
"I have to say that unless Ouattara can placate Gbagbo's tribal elders with money and privilege, armed opposition will continue to smolder and occasionally ignite. The major behind-the-scenes player is the French Foreign Ministry," Hooper observed.
"With elections less than a year away, President Sarkozy is under pressure to ensure there is no diminution of influence in Francophone Africa. Foreign policy emanating from the Quai d'Orsay, regardless of the party in power, has always been ruthlessly pragmatic (amoral by American standards), which probably means a combination of quietly deployed military 'advisers' and an increase in foreign aid," Hooper added.
Besides the fatal attacks in Ivory Coast, there also has been such violence in Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya.
Gbagbo had remained in office after he was declared the winner by the nation's own constitutional election process, which had determined there was voter fraud in the Muslim regions of the nation, and that fraud gave the initial election result that Ouattara had won.
"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 Barnabas Fund reported.
"The country's electoral commission announced Ouattara as the winner of the November poll – with 54 percent 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."
Almost immediately, there was a massacre of between 800 and 1,000 people "who were seeking shelter at a Christian mission compound in Duekoue," according to Barnabas Fund. The attackers reportedly were "descendants of immigrant Muslims … loyal to Ouattara."