In Cote d’Ivoire, Prayers for a Quick Resolution
By Linda Unger*
April 6, 2011—As the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire appeared to be reaching its climax today, United Methodist Church sources there and in the United States called for prayer for a quick resolution and the restoration of peace in the West African country.
“If ever there was a time to pray, this is it,” said the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, head of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). “Pray for a quick resolution, one that can bring peace.”
In Abidjan, the Ivorian commercial capital, an assistant to the bishop of the Cote d’Ivoire Annual Conference also urged prayers. “It is very difficult. We were not prepared for this,” said the assistant, who requested anonymity.
Church personnel, including Bishop Benjamin Boni, and neighbors from the local community have taken refuge inside the building that houses the United Methodist radio station, Voice of Hope, in the Cocody neighborhood of Abidjan.
The building, which lies beside Jubilee United Methodist Church, is just a five-minute drive from the presidential palace, which has been under siege since last week. Forces loyal to president-elect Alassane Ouattara have been firing on the palace in an effort to dislodge incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.
The United Nations and the African Union affirmed that Gbagbo lost the presidential elections in Cote d'Ivoire last November to Ouattara, but he has refused to relinquish power. His intransigence provoked violence between the opposing forces, and fighting has raged for more than four months.
United Nations and news sources indicate that some 1,500 people have died in the conflict and 500,000 have been uprooted in Abidjan. At least 90,000 Ivorians have fled to neighboring Liberia.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs called the situation in Abidjan “alarming,” and reported that “hospitals are not functioning and ambulances have been fired on when they tried to enter the city.”
UN personnel have tried to negotiate with Gbagbo. Yesterday, they sought to deliver a document to him that, with his signature, would permit the UN to take him out of the presidential palace to a safe haven.
“Gbagbo refused to sign the document, and the negotiations collapsed.
Meanwhile, the assistant to the bishop stated, “The people are really suffering. They are running out of food, there is no fuel or electricity. We are under curfew from noon on.
Ouattara’s election victory was certified by the UN and has been recognized internationally.
Relief and reconciliation
Even if Gbagbo turns himself in to United Nations forces and ends the standoff today, the Ivorian people’s ordeal will be far from over.
“Our real work is going to start when this conflict ends,” said Rev. Harvey, who has traveled to Cote d’Ivoire more than half a dozen times in the past three years, most recently in August 2010, when, she said, “the country was totally peaceful.”
In recent days, UMCOR supplied two relief grants of $20,000 each to the Cote d’Ivoire Conference. One is funding relief for displaced people, and the other is being used to feed kindergarten-age children through a program that will continue after the crisis.
Harvey affirmed that UMCOR is standing with the church and people of Cote d’Ivoire, ready to assist as circumstances unfold. “I know the people involved,” she said. “I have preached in churches that today are housing refugees.”
“The church will have to tackle humanitarian assistance,” the assistant to the United Methoidst bishop said. “Because of the crisis, a lot has been destroyed over the past four months. How difficult it has been! We as church have to help the people and we must forge reconciliation.”
Your assistance is urgently needed. You can help the people of Cote d’Ivoire recover and rebuild following this crisis. One hundred percent of your gift to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450, supports the Ivorian people; please earmark your check for Cote d'Ivoire Crisis.
*Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for UMCOR.