Africa, a continent known for its large Christian population, has seen a sharp increase in Christian persecution over the last year. On a list released by Open Doors USA that ranks the worlds worst persecutors of Christians, many African nations saw a spike in persecution. Many countries already on the list have risen higher and some countries that were never on the list before have now found themselves among the worst of the persecutors. Mali, a country once known for its tolerance of Christians, has probably seen the sharpest increase in Christian persecution. Since the government collapsed, Christians have been targeted by radical Islamic groups now in control of Mali’s northern regions. Pray that next year countries in Africa will see an even sharper decrease in Christian persecution.
1/9/2013 Africa (ChristianityToday) – Persecution of Christians is rising in at least eight African countries, according to the latest Open Doors USA list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
“Africa, where Christianity spread fastest during the past century, now is the region where oppression of Christians is spreading fastest,” the group noted.
On the 2013 World Watch List (analysis and Top 10 country summaries at bottom), which ranks the 50 countries where Christians face the most religious persecution, Mali has skyrocketed from being unranked to No. 7 this year, joining Somalia (No. 5) and Eritrea (No. 10) among the top 10.
“Mali used to be a model country. … Christians and even missionaries could be active,” said Jerry Dykstra, spokesman for Open Doors. “[But] currently the situation in northern Mali is somewhat similar to Saudi Arabia. Christians are simply no longer allowed to be there.”
Other African nations new to the list include Tanzania (No. 24), Kenya (No. 40), Uganda (No. 47), and Niger (No. 50). Ethiopia was one of the countries that rose the most on the list, from No. 38 to No. 15. (Africa has 17 nations on the list in total, including Sudan (No. 12) and Nigeria (No. 13).
But other news-making nations made significant jumps. Syria leapt from No. 36 to No. 11 (the largest increase of any country other than Mali), thanks to jihadist rebels fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Iraq moved up from No. 9 to No. 4, and Ethiopia from No. 38 to No. 15 (also one of the largest increases).
Mali, a west-African country never before included in World Watch List, was No. 7 in the 2013 rankings. Predominantly Muslim, Mali had long accommodated Christians peacefully until March 2012 when groups linked to al-Qaida seized power in the northern half of the country and imposed a regime based on sharia, or Islamic law. Open Doors said its contacts in the country reported that most Christians fled the north, abandoning homes and churches that later were confiscated or destroyed.
“If you stayed, you were killed,” said Ronald Boyd-MacMIllan, who directs Open Doors strategy and research. “All the churches were closed. There were house-to-house searches. It was pretty clear they were looking for Christians to kill.”
Two other African nations, Somalia and Eritrea, are included among the World Watch List top 10. In all, 18 African countries are included on the list of 50 nations. Five are ranked closer to the top than they were in 2012. Five others — Mali, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Niger — are on the list for the first time.
The addition of new African countries, and the ascension of several already on the list, can be traced to Islamist parties gaining power in places where regimes had fallen, or where a hard-line, Wahabi version of Islam made inroads against more tolerant, Sufi forms, according to Open Doors. In some cases it was linked with gradual expansion of Islamist influences in local governments or societies; or plain terrorist violence; or a combination.