Tuesday, November 12, 2019

RLPB 528. Central African Republic: 'Lord have mercy"

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 528 | 13 Nov 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: 'LORD HAVE MERCY'
by Elizabeth Kendal

MAP source: February 2019
Click on map to enlarge

In 2012, a coalition of very well-funded and well-armed local and regional Muslim militias known as Séléka (coalition/alliance) overran Central African Republic (CAR: a French-speaking, predominantly Christian nation). On 24 March 2013 they captured the capital, Bangui, and all hell broke loose [see RLPB 210 (15 May 2013)]. Today, after more than six years of war, more than 600,000 people remain exiled in poorly funded refugee camps across the region, while some 580,000 remain internally displaced within CAR. Roughly 2.9 million of CAR's 4.9 million estimated population require humanitarian assistance, with some 1.3 million suffering 'acute' food insecurity [USAID fact-sheet (30 September)]. Whilst Bangui and much of the south-west has been liberated and the Séléka coalition has collapsed, 80 percent of the state remains under the control of 14 Muslim militias whose fighters are mostly foreigners from Sudan, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and who are backed by regional and international powerbrokers.

Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa (59).
Interview: 30 August 2018
Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa is president of CAR's Catholic bishops' conference. He recently noted, quite correctly, that the conflict in CAR is first and foremost a conflict over resources, in particular the country's rich diamond and gold deposits. As he explains, the Muslim militias comprise 'rebels who are here to exploit, not to convert'. While that is true, it does not mean that religious freedom and Christian security are not gravely imperilled. The militants might be in CAR for personal gain, but they come with an Islamic worldview which discounts Christians as infidels who, though not obliged to convert to Islam, must submit to its rule. Consequently, the crisis in CAR is economic, political, geostrategic and religious. In CAR today, inordinate wealth and extreme violence are being used to secure authority and influence. CAR's future hangs in the balance.

A peace agreement signed in Khartoum in February between the CAR government and 14 armed rebel groups is hugely controversial, ineffective and fragile. Despite receiving 13 ministerial positions and the right to monitor security in the areas they control, the militias are complaining that they have not received enough. (Among other things, they wanted the post of Prime Minster!) Meanwhile, CAR's traumatised and suffering citizens -- who must live with injustice and insecurity -- are complaining that the militias have actually received far too much. Nobody is happy! In violation of the Khartoum Agreement, CAR's rebel movements have continued to purchase weapons, including AK-type assault rifles and grenade launchers, ammunition and vehicles from and through Sudan [UN report, published 14 Dec 2018]. The main suppliers include Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which is under the command of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, commonly known as 'Hemeti'.

Hemeti (c) casts an ominous shadow over the entire region.
source: MEE/AFP/Illustrated by Mohamad Elaasar,
28 August 2019
Once a mere camel-herder in Western Darfur, Hemeti rose to become the leader of a pro-Khartoum Darfurian militia sponsored by President Omar al-Bashir to eliminate Darfurian opposition through genocide. Hemeti's militia was later re-packaged and legitimised as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF effectively served as President al-Bashir's personal paramilitary, with General Hemeti as al-Bashir's personal 'protector'. No longer janjaweed (devils on horseback), Hemeti's RSF comprises at least 40,000 seasoned fighters, most of whom have gained experience in Yemen and Libya. In 2017, Hemeti seized control of Western Darfur's Jebel Amer gold mine; today he is one of Sudan's richest men, his wealth and gold safely stashed offshore, mostly in United Arab Emirates. In April 2019 President al-Bashir was ousted in a military coup and Hemeti became deputy leader of Sudan's Transitional Military Council (TMC). At this point Hemeti undoubtedly had more power than anyone in Sudan. However, on 21 August the TMC was superseded by the half-military, half-civilian Sovereign Council (SC) which is tasked with facilitating Sudan's democratic transition [RLPB 516 (21 Aug)]. Though Hemeti is a member of the SC, the Forces for Freedom and Change want the military ultimately removed from power. Hemeti is doubtless positioning himself to ensure his sources of revenue remain, from gold theft to arms trafficking and fighters for hire -- whatever the future holds. His links to CAR's Muslim rebels run deep; indeed, Hemeti casts an ominous shadow over the whole region. Christians around the world need to get on their knees and plead: 'Lord have mercy on Central African Republic.'


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene in power and righteous indignation to deliver Central African Republic from deadly peril.

For we [Paul and Timothy] were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8b-11 ESV)

* disrupt and sever the supply lines that keep CAR's foreign Muslim fighters paid and armed; may all foreign fighters in CAR illegally be forced to retreat. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted (plea from Psalm 10).

* comfort and sustain his precious Central African Church; may he grant her leaders a double portion of amazing grace and of divine wisdom as they seek to guide the Church, minister as peacemakers, facilitate reconciliation, generate hope and point people to Christ.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: CHURCH TRAUMATISED AND SUFFERING

In 2012, a coalition of local and regional Muslim militias known as Séléka overran Central African Republic (CAR: a French-speaking, predominantly Christian nation). In March 2013 Séléka captured the capital, Bangui, and all hell broke loose. While Bangui and much of the south-west has been liberated and the Séléka coalition has collapsed, 80 percent of the state remains under the control of 14 Muslim militias whose fighters are predominately foreigners. Whilst the militants are in CAR for diamonds and gold, they come with an Islamic worldview which discounts Christians as infidels. CAR's Church is traumatised and suffering enormously. Weapons are flooding in from Sudan. CAR's future hangs in the balance. Christians worldwide need to plead: 'Lord have mercy on Central African Republic and its Church.'

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

RLPB 527. Sri Lanka: Pivotal Elections; Troubling Times.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 527 | 06 Nov 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


SRI LANKA: PIVOTAL ELECTIONS; TROUBLING TIMES
by Elizabeth Kendal

Sri Lankans will go to the polls on Saturday 16 November to elect a new president and in 2020 to elect a new parliament. The outcome of the presidential poll will have profound implications for the 2020 parliamentary poll. Though there are 35 presidential candidates, it really is a 'two-horse race' between the ruling United National Party (UNP) candidate, Sajith Premadasa [manifesto], and war-time Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa [manifesto], the candidate for Mahinda Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP, English = Sri Lankan People's Front, formed in 2016). Sri Lanka is 70 percent Sinhalese-speaking and 30 percent Tamil-speaking. Overall, Christians -- who are Sinhalese and Tamil -- comprise a little over 8 percent of the total population. On Resurrection Sunday 21 April 2019, Islamic terrorists staged a string of near-simultaneous bombings at three churches and three hotels popular with foreign tourists [see RLPB 500 (1 May)]. The bombings -- which claimed 253 lives -- left the Church and the nation deeply rattled. They also served to re-energise the forces of intolerant Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism.

The name 'Rajapaksa' is virtually synonymous with Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. Mahinda Rajapaksa came to fame during his first term as president (2005-2010) when he, along with his brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, crushed the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), ending years of civil war. Both Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa stand accused of war crimes. During Mahinda Rajapaksa's second term as president (2010-2015), corruption, nepotism, human rights abuses and violent Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism all escalated markedly. During this time, President Rajapaksa amended the constitution to remove presidential term limits. He thought Sri Lankans would not object -- but they did! In January 2015, Mirthripala Sirisena won the presidency, pledging to end corruption, nepotism and human rights abuses. Then, in parliamentary polls in August 2015, Sri Lankans elected a coalition cobbled together to break the power of the Rajapaksa clan. The coalition, known as Yahapalnaya ('good governance'), won only narrowly -- securing 51.3 percent of the vote -- and never delivered. Hoping to hamstring the ambitious and authoritarian Rajapaksas, the government amended the constitution to restore presidential term limits and limit presidential powers. Fatally strained, the coalition -- only ever a 'marriage of convenience' -- unravelled in October-November 2018. This is the main reason why, in early 2019, intelligence warning of a terror attack over Easter went unheeded. Sri Lankans feel disillusioned, insecure and angry -- a misery compounded by economic downturn as tourist avoid the island.

Strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa (l) plots his return.
Not talking: PM Wickremesinghe (c) and President Sirisena (r) . . .
 'Yahapalnaya' (good governance)?
Photo by Shehan Gunasekara, http://www.ft.lk/  1 Jan 2019.  

The failure of Yahapalnaya and the trauma of the Easter bombings have combined to set the stage for a Rajapaksa revival. While Gotabaya Rajapaksa is running for president, Mahinda Rajapaksa is eyeing the now more powerful post of Prime Minister, a presidential appointment. The Rajapaksas are running a 'populist' campaign based on Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism and national security. Recognising Sinhalese Christians -- most of whom live on the west coast, north of Colombo -- as a separate constituency, they are promising them security. Meanwhile, the UNP's Sajith Premadasa is campaigning on a platform of development, while promising to rein in corruption, drug-trafficking and 'religious extremism'.

click on map to enlarge

Historically, in the absence of a Tamil boycott, Sri Lanka's ethnic and religious minorities have voted UNP. However, it seems the Easter terror attacks have left Christians so desperate for security that most are indicating they will switch from UNP and vote for Gotobaya Rajapaksa, despite the Rajapaksas' overt support for the militant Buddhist nationalists who have brought them so much grief in the past. Tamils and Muslims fear Gotabaya Rajapaksa and will never vote for him. Consequently, the minorities have been split and, quite possibly, the Christians will be split between those on the Buddhist-dominated west coast and those on the Muslim-dominated east coast. Furthermore, the nation is split vertically, between the pro-Sajith Premadasa (UNP) Tamil north and east, and the pro-Rajapaksa Sinhalese south and west. Both candidates are working hard to secure the votes of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, while offering the minorities promises that are mostly undeliverable. Neither candidate is willing to condemn militant Buddhist nationalist violence.

No matter who wins the elections, Christians will probably face escalating persecution, especially in the strongly Buddhist nationalist south as well as in the rapidly Islamising Muslim-majority towns on east coast. If Christians vote Rajapaksa they will probably attract the wrath of other minorities (Tamil and Muslim). If they vote UNP they will certainly attract the wrath of the Rajapaksas. These are troubling times for the Church in Sri Lanka.


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* bless and sustain Sri Lanka's churches and Christians; may the Lord shield them from deadly and destructive violence and provide all their needs.

* intervene in Sri Lanka so that hearts and minds will be open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

* move in the hearts of those with power and influence in Sri Lanka, to promote unity over division, peace over conflict, and equity, justice and freedom over self-interest.

'First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.' (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PIVOTAL ELECTIONS AND TROUBLING TIMES IN SRI LANKA

On Saturday 16 November Sri Lankans will go to the polls to elect a new president. Sri Lanka is 70 percent Sinhalese-speaking and 30 percent Tamil-speaking. Christians -- Sinhalese and Tamil -- comprise a little over 8 percent of the total population. The current coalition government's failure and the trauma of the Easter terror attacks have combined to set the stage for a revival of intolerant Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. Both leading presidential candidates are campaigning to secure the votes of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority while offering the minorities promises that are mostly undeliverable. Neither candidate is willing to condemn militant Buddhist nationalist violence. No matter who wins the elections, Christians will probably face escalating persecution, especially in the strongly Buddhist nationalist south and on the increasingly Islamic east coast. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com