By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 243
Special to ASSIST News Service
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- On Friday 10 January Michel Djotodia, the former rebel leader and self-proclaimed 'first Muslim president of CAR', conceded to international pressure, resigned his office and left Central African Republic (CAR) for Benin where he has been granted political asylum. Christian celebrations were short-lived, however, as anti-balaka (literally: anti-machete) militiamen, armed predominantly (and ironically) with machetes, rushed to settle scores. Established traditionally as village defense units responsible for protecting villagers from machete-wielding criminal gangs, the anti-balaka militia are now on the offensive with insatiable fury.
As noted in a Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM) post of November 2013, the Seleka rebels -- Islamists, local and foreign -- did not rape, loot and kill indiscriminately. Rather, Seleka attacked Christians and spared Muslims. Worse still, local Muslims generally supported Seleka, doubtless anticipating that the rebellion would usher in an 'Islamic' order, elevating their status. Many Muslims willfully profited from Seleka's crimes, particularly through receiving goods looted from their Christian neighbors (See RLM May 2013). Consequently traditional community trust totally evaporated, creating a sectarian tinderbox. RLPB 238 (27 Nov 2013) quoted a Christian father whose sons had been tortured by Seleka. 'In the beginning, the relations between Christians and Muslims were good here,' he said, 'but the Muslims followed the Seleka and now things have changed. The Christians feel betrayed by the Muslims and are starting to feel vengeance in their hearts. This is a very big challenge for the Church.'
However, ethnic and Muslim/Christian relations will not be the Church's only 'very big challenge'. Whilst Seleka targeted Christians, causing Christians to suffer disproportionate grief and loss, the anti-balaka -- ignoring the Church's appeals for grace and reconciliation -- are now targeting Muslims. The worst post-Djotodia violence has been in the north-west town of Bozoum. On Monday 13 January the Central African Red Cross reported that, commencing Friday, clashes between ex-Seleka rebels and anti-balaka militias had claimed the lives of 97 people, mostly civilians. Furthermore, 107 had been wounded and 14,000 displaced. At least 912 homes had been burnt.
Identified in the mainstream media as Christian militias, the anti-balaka are 'Christian' only in the broadest sense. These angry young men are mostly 'ethnic Christians' -- i.e. those deemed Christian by virtue of their tribe -- and nominal syncretistic Christians who might attend church on Sundays but otherwise practise occultic African Traditional Religion. In the orgy of violence that followed Djotodia's departure, one anti-balaka in Bangui hacked to death a young man on the grounds that he 'looked Muslim'. The attacker claimed to be avenging the deaths of his pregnant wife, sister-in-law and niece, who were butchered by Seleka rebels. After hacking him to pieces, anti-balaka fighters then cannibalized the body -- on a crowded street in broad daylight -- causing onlookers to vomit and screech in horror. This is demonic behavior routinely seen in occultic violence. Amongst the anti-balaka are doubtless some immature, confused young believers who honestly think they are fighting for the liberty of their country and the security of their families. Most have been thoroughly traumatized by their experiences of Seleka terror through 2013. Not only do these young men carry the burden of having been unable to protect and save their families but they are also resentful of having been betrayed by Muslim neighbors and abandoned by the world. For the Church in CAR -- which has consistently denounced anti-balaka violence -- the challenge of the anti-balaka might actually be the biggest challenge of all.
The head of the 135-member National Transitional Council (CNT), Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, will act as president for the next two weeks before a new leader is chosen later this month. Elections will be held in February 2015. Determined to restore order, Nguendet is recalling CAR's security forces and deploying hundreds of troops issued with shoot-to-kill orders. He said, 'I swear there will be no gunshot in Bangui within a week.' He is also calling for calm and appealing for citizens to forgive each other and reconcile. The humanitarian situation is critical, with around half the population of 2.2 million people in desperate need of basic humanitarian aid. A donors conference will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 1 February.
GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD that rebel leader Michel Djotodia has resigned and left CAR, taking his dreams of an Islamised CAR with him.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --
- give acting-PM Alexandre Nguendet great wisdom and authority to restore order and remove all belligerent foreign elements; may all wicked plots of greedy foreign powers be thwarted -- may the Lord rebuke them (Psalm 2).
- give all Christian leaders -- civil and religious -- great wisdom and authority to lead the masses through their grief, fear and trauma and along the path of healing and peace through grace by the power of the Holy Spirit. 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.' (Matthew 5:8 NIV)
- pour out his Spirit to do a wonderful work in this needy nation; may the citizens of CAR -- specifically those who are not already born again -- learn what it means actually to be a Christian: i.e. a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.