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Storm over the Ivory Coast

April 2003 | by Jean-Claude Souillot

Who would have thought it? The September uprising in the Ivory Coast took many by surprise.

The Ivory Coast has for a long time been something of a role model in terms of its stability and development. Even in Africa, where political stability is not necessarily regarded as a virtue, the country was heading in the right direction.

Yet now it faces months, maybe years, of conflict and unrest.

Everyone knew there was unrest following the disappearance of the former president, Félix Houphouet-Boigny in 1993. Politicians found it very difficult to fill the shoes of the ‘Old Man’.

But recently, especially after the election of President Laurent Gbagbo and the forum for national reconciliation, things seemed to have calmed down.

Shock

It was a shock, therefore, to learn that the uprising had been brewing for a long time and that internal conspiracies had contributed to the general deterioration of the situation.

Profiting from a mutiny, the rebel forces deployed their troops rapidly and cut the country virtually in two.

One must bear in mind that the north of the country is much poorer and less populated than the south, and this is what underlies the biased approach of the foreign media. The situation is far too complex – and the result of far too many different circumstances – to be explained away by a few lines in a newspaper.

The international community does not really know how to react. Many are sitting on the fence until they see which faction will prevail. Others have too much to gain from the destabilisation of the country to want peace, but dare not let their ambitions be known. It is difficult to see how matters will evolve. At the time of writing, more French peace-keeping forces are being deployed, but no one can say what will be happening by the time this article is read.

General decay

Even if great things are happening on the international scene – as with the negotiations taking place in Lomé, Togo, or on various frontlines – the future of the country is really in the hands of its inhabitants.

However, it is precisely here that fear comes to the forefront. Some think that because negotiations are under way, everything will sort itself out. There is at last an experienced man, President Gbagbo, at the helm, who may be capable of extricating the country from its crisis (having had many years to learn his craft while in the opposition party).

However, there is a widespread decay in the very fabric of the nation. This is not so much evident in the corridors of power as in the streets of the capital, which have steadily become less safe with the continual disturbances that break out.

The man in the street does not seem to believe in anything any more, and everyone concentrates on looking after himself. The rebels are well armed and organised, but their success is largely attributable to the lack of spirit in a nation whose moral fibre is fast disappearing.

What do we deserve?

In the end, the truth is that none of us deserves stability or prosperity. These are gifts granted by God to a nation that they might live aright (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

But what do nations do with peace and prosperity when they receive it? It is the same story the world over. Each country uses these gifts for its own glory and greed, and to feed all the vices of which man is capable.

We are surprised at the destabilisation of the Ivory Coast, simply because we have forgotten one fundamental truth. It is a truth that no governments ever take into account, but which the Bible makes plain – there can be no stability in an ungodly world. The best political and social systems in the world become crooked and corrupt as soon as you place a single human being in them. The problem lies not in the system but in man’s heart.

A new person

Only the gospel of God’s grace in Christ can provide the answer. Some may be tempted to stop reading at this point, saying, ‘Oh, no! Here comes the sermon!’ But, just look!

Go back through history – travel the world from end to end, analyse all the different scenarios you find. You will see that there is one common denominator. Even the best solutions never provide lasting answers.

The greater part of the world has a certain stability, but only because of a constant but controlled instability. It is like flying an aeroplane, where many forces come together to hold everything in equilibrium. If just one of these balancing forces fails, the plane crashes.

But the gospel proclaimed in the Bible is different. It recognises the futility of everything that man can provide. That is why a simple morality of good works can never bring peace and harmony to society.

As God has proclaimed throughout the centuries, only the work of his Holy Spirit and his Word that can change human nature.

Pluralism

Some will say that this idea is outdated. We live in the days of pluralism, when all faiths and religions are of equal worth. We agree – except with regard to the gospel!

All ‘religions’ are of equal worth because, in the final analysis, they all rely on man’s efforts to reach God. Biblical religion is completely different.

The former say, ‘Do this and you will reach God, and live in harmony and brotherhood’. But this can never succeed, for mankind is fundamentally flawed.

The Bible says that no one can ever reach God. But God himself has reached down to sinful man. Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, revealed in Scripture and applied by the Holy Spirit, God creates new men and women – people the world desperately needs.

What about divisions?

No doubt some will point out that all is not well even among those who believe in the gospel. This is a painful truth, but let us begin by saying that there are ‘Christians’ and Christians.

Many profess to believe who know nothing of God’s grace in their hearts and lives. Light cannot fellowship with such darkness. It is not our task to judge one another, but God’s own infallible Word must be the final yardstick to distinguish between true and false professions of faith.

But quarrels and divisions still remain at the heart of the Christian community, among true believers. What of these problems?

They are to be deplored, of course. But when we remember that the old sinful nature is still present with us, we can understand why they exist. This ‘old self’, as the Bible calls it, is opposed to the gospel, but will be completely destroyed when all things are made new.

It does not change the fact that God makes ‘new creatures’ who desire to live henceforth in conformity with God’s will and who love God’s law in their inner being.

The works of the flesh

The works of the old nature produce warfare, suffering and chaos among men and nations. The fruits of the new nature are of another sort altogether.

They are in harmony with the perfect will of God and give rise to changed lives and changed communities. The true church – composed of those who through the centuries have lived this new life – has borne witness to this.

Its fruit is the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). The fruit of the Spirit (or light) consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth (Ephesians 5:9). Here we have the answer both to our objectors and to human conflicts.

How can we curb and subdue disagreements, and thus give hope to the world? Simply by bringing forth these spiritual fruits, enabled by the Spirit who gives them, and learning more of the will of God as it is revealed in his Word.

The hope of the nation

This is also the solution for poor, troubled nations – whatever their particular situations.

Yes, we can hope that politicians will find real solutions. But, above all, our desire and prayer is that the good news of Jesus Christ will have an impact on the hearts and minds of men, and thus all of society.

The Christian who devotes himself to proclaiming this truth – whatever his sphere of activity – is worth more to his country than any other person. He wields the only weapon that is capable of bringing lasting peace. When someone comes to the Lord and his inner being is transformed, is it not like the end of a war?

This is the Christian’s vocation. However, let no one think that everything rests on his shoulders – of himself he can do nothing and convince no one. ‘Without me’, said Jesus, ‘you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).

The answer lies in God and in him alone. Only his Spirit can transform the hearts of those to whom the truth has been proclaimed. Let us therefore look to him and pray; let us look to him and toil; let us look to him and hope.

 

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