Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What a Difference a Day Makes

Within 24 hours, two very significant yet completely unrelated events occurred which will have an impact on our lives. One event took place in Northern Ireland, and the other in Ivory Coast.

In Northern Ireland, British unionists, who want NI to remain part of the United Kingdom, and Irish republicans, who want NI to unite with the Republic of Ireland, have agreed to share power in the day-to-day governing of Northern Ireland.

This is, undoubtedly, a seminal event in the history of the province.

For about 30 years, starting in 1969, the terrorist organisation, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), conducted a campaign of murder and destruction in Northern Ireland which left about 3,500 people dead, and tens of thousands injured. (Percentage wise, in US terms, that would be around 700,000 people dead)

It took the Irish republican movement, consisting of the IRA and the political faction, Sinn Fein, almost twenty years to come to the realisation that their terror tactics were being counter productive to their aim of a united Ireland. The more they made the unionist people in Ulster suffer, the more steadfast and unyielding the unionists became.

My first recollection of ‘The Troubles’, as the IRA terror campaign is euphemistically referred to, is as an 11 year boy having to flee the Republic of Ireland, where we had been holidaying as a family, and returning to Northern Ireland because serious rioting had broken out between Protestants and Catholics in major cities in N. Ireland, and there was a real fear that a civil war was about to start on the island.

The IRA, which had originally been formed in the early 1900’s, used these civil disturbances in 1969 as a pretext for reorganising and launching a renewed terror campaign against the British ‘occupiers’ of the six counties that made up Northern Ireland. These ‘occupiers’ were the protestants and unionists of British extraction, as well as descendants of French Huguenots, who had lived there since the beginning of the 1600’s, and had made the north of Ireland their home. The IRA’s war against the civilian population of Northern Ireland gathered momentum with indiscriminate murders, and bombings of restaurants, hotels, pubs and bus stations.

Over the next couple of decades the IRA’s armoury was continually replenished by, among others, Libya, eastern European countries and the PLO. These weapons were purchased with finances from well-meaning, I’m sure, but rather gullible Irish-Americans who ensured that the IRA bombers and gunmen never lacked the military hardware they needed as they attempted to restore an Irish Utopia which, believe it or not, has never existed.
So, the meeting last Monday between the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of Northern Ireland’s unionists, and Jerry Adams, the leader of Irish republicanism, reflects a definite watershed in the affairs of the province. Hopefully, this agreement marks the beginning of the end of political and religious violence on the island of Ireland. We’ll have to wait and see if that indeed is the case.

The second important event occurred in Ivory Coast. Guillaume Soro, the leader of the armed rebellion which attempted to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo in 2002, but which instead led to the division of Ivory Coast, has been named as the new Prime Minister of the country.

A few weeks ago the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, helped to broker a deal between President Gbagbo and Mr. Soro, and as a result a new government is in the process of being formed, and elections are being planned.

It is very heartening to see the progress being made, although, it is good to keep in mind that in the past, quite a number of UN sponsored agreements have been signed, but have all failed to break the deadlock.
What makes this agreement different and more promising is the fact that the two main personalities in the conflict, President Gbagbo and Mr Soro, have voluntarily agreed to the mediation efforts led by the president of Burkina Faso, and both men seem to have a genuine desire to bring an end to the political, military and economic stalemate that currently exists in Ivory Coast, especially in the north. A new joint military command centre has already been created, as a first step towards unifying the government and rebel forces in the country.

It will take a few months before we see if this new agreement is really going to work, but the signs are encouraging. Please continue to pray for peace in Ivory Coast, and that life in the country will soon return to some semblance of normality.