Tuesday, December 14, 2010

LDS Missionaries Evacuated From Ivory Coast And Redeployed To Benin And Togo As A Precaution Because Of Disputed Presidential Election

Due to escalating unrest and political instability in the wake of the Ivory Coast’s contested presidential election, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it is pulling its non-African missionaries out of the small West African nation and redeploying them to Benin and Togo, which are all part of the same LDS mission. Although no threats to missionaries have been reported, the move is considered a precaution. The missionaries who have been moved will likely serve the remainder of their missions in Benin and Togo unless political conditions in the Ivory Coast stabilize.

The evacuation may be good news for Benin and Togo, because it could improve prospects for a new mission due to limited travel and missionary resources in this region, where the people have been highly receptive to the Gospel. LDS Church Growth projects that Benin and Togo may be amputated from the Ivory Coast Mission and organized into a separate mission. Membership statistics for the three nations:

-- Ivory Coast: 14,417 members in 41 congregations
-- Togo: 1,034 members in three congregations
-- Benin: 201 members in one congregation

Map of the area available HERE.

Meanwhile, the LDS temple in Abu, Nigeria, which had been closed in June 2009 after a temple worker reported seeing four gunmen armed with AK-47 rifles shoot holes in the temple’s guardhouse, has since been re-opened on a limited basis.

According to the Guardian, the latest round of political instability in the Ivory Coast was triggered by the fact that the loser in their presidential election has refused to accept the outcome. Following the November 2010 election, the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to accept his defeat by former prime minister Alassane Dramane Ouattara. Gbagbo is using his personal connections to the constitutional court to declare votes from Oattara's northern strongholds invalid. Ouattara was initially declared the winner with 54% of the ballot – and he disputes claims some of those votes were invalid. Subsequently, both men have sworn the presidency oath and presented their cabinets – to the bemusement of Ivorians and the international community. With Gbagbo having the control of the military and the media as well as the Young Patriots nationalist group, the scene seems set for another sad tale that spirals into hostility and violence and splits the country in half.

The Ivory Coast was once firmly united under the rule of Felix Houphouët-Boigny, who ruled with an authoritarian hand from independence in 1960 to 1993. Houphouët-Boigny was actually better than most authoritarian African leaders; he did not stoop to the hideous excesses of Idi Amin in Uganda or Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic. But human rights were a secondary concern to Houphouët-Boigny, and his control over the country was so systemic that his departure left a power vacuum which has yet to be fully resolved. As a result, civil war broke out on September 19th, 2002, at which time the LDS Church first withdrew non-African missionaries from the country, and did not resume sending them there until 2009. Although most of the fighting ended by late 2004, the country remains effectively split in two, with the rebels dominating in the north, and the government predominant in the south.

Despite the electoral impasse, there have been few reports of political disturbances – and the role of civil leaders is apparent in the population's apparent determination to avoid either embracing Gbagbo's nationalism and xenophobia, or being seduced by the international support Ouattara's premiership would bring.

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