Mali (MNN) — Mali, a poor West African desert nation, has been ruled by a makeshift, unelected government since March 2012.
They’ve had no parliament, little infrastructure and a weak president. Jerry Dykstra is a spokesman with Open Doors USA. He explains, “In March of 2012, fanatical Islamism forces set up a provisional government in the north and that set off tremendous repercussions throughout the country.”
In an effort to get billions promised in international aid, the country had to present a semblance of a democracy. Enter: elections. Seven months ago, Mali was in chaos. On Sunday, July 28, the country held its first presidential elections since things began unraveling last year.
Mali’s year in review: a Tuareg rebel takeover in the north in spring of 2012; the military coup in the capital, and France’s military intervention against Islamist advances. The election was crucial to restoring the country’s stability after more than a year of turmoil that sent over 200,000 people fleeing to safety. Dykstra confirms, “Christians were killed. Many people were forced to leave the country. Many had to flee to the south. Many Christians who came to Christ from Islam were especially caught in the crosshairs.”
HOW the elections were held was another answer to prayer. Threats of violence darkened the skies above polling stations. Security was tight. Yet, voting proceeded peacefully. That’s one hopeful step. Another is the high voter turnout. “There are 13 million people in Mali. 90-percent of them are Muslim, and about three-percent are Christian. In prior years, they’ve had low voter turnout: 40-percent. But, they’re saying that this year they’re saying it’s probably near 60-percent.”
In fact, Dykstra goes on to say, “They’re still counting the votes. There were 27 candidates. We probably won’t know the results until Friday. There could be a run off, (or) an election in early August, depending on what happens with the vote count by Friday.”
Whoever comes out ahead could also set the tone for the longevity of stability, he adds. “The frontrunner is Boubacar Keita. He’s the former Prime Minister. He did tell the press that whatever the results, he would accept the outcome, and he said that only Mali would win.”
There’s still a long road ahead, though. Mali now ranks seventh on the Open Doors’ World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is the most severe. Up until last year, the country had always been a typical West-African state with a moderate version of Islam and a secular constitution. In the north, the situation has been more difficult than in the south, but international missionaries used to able to work there.
That changed with the capture of the north of the country by Tuareg separatist rebels and Islamists fighters, and the creation of the independent state of Azawad in northern Mali. The Islamists soon established an Islamic state with a stern Sharia regime in the north. Christians couldn’t stay, says Dykstra.
They were also very hard on traditional Muslims, killing people, amputating limbs and destroying Sufi sanctuaries. As a result, over a million Malians fled to the south. “We need to keep on praying. Many of the Christians fled from the north to other countries that took them in.” Open Doors co-workers assessed the emergency and began responding. Dykstra explains, “We’re involved primarily with many of the displaced people. We work with some of these people that were in these other countries: housing especially, food, and getting them reunited with their families.”
Acting in the name of Christ, there are opportunities for these workers to share the hope that they have. Pray that the seeds they’ve sown would start to take root. Pray that God’s love would transform the communities they’re working in. Thank the Lord for His grace in allowing elections to proceed peacefully, and please pray for continued calm as votes are counted.