Who will heal the wounds of vengeance and retribution in the Central African Republic? [Read part one here.]
Moving on from part one, another ingredient in the Central African Republic (CAR) crisis has been the porous borders between the country and some of its unstable neighbors, and the impact that has had on two important areas: transnational livestock migrations and the massive flow of weapons.
In the first case, as documented recently by Crisis Group, tensions and violent clashes between Fulani (Peul) herdsmen from Chad and local farming populations in the CAR occurred even before the current crisis was underway — a result of competition for essential resources like water and pastureland. Since Fulani herdsmen are Muslim, they became a very easy and swift target for the Christian anti-Balaka as soon as the tide turned with Séléka’s quick downfall, which created a power vacuum in towns across the CAR. More so than other Muslim groups in the CAR, Fulani are easily identifiable due to physical features, language and other characteristics. As reported by Amnesty International, in towns across CAR they, along with other members of the Muslim population, were slaughtered or driven away by the anti-Balaka.
The flow of weapons into the CAR had been a concern before the current crisis began in December 2012. Although there is a lack of comprehensive examination of this topic, a 2008 study produced by Eric Berman and Louisa Lombard for the Small Arms Survey brought to light the issue of small arms in the CAR. It called the situation “a regional tinderbox,” and drew attention to the fact that non-state actors have been receiving arms internationally since 1982.
Arms have flowed into the CAR through Libya, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan. Although UN Resolution 2127 instituted an arms embargo requiring member states to immediately take “the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the CAR, from or through their territories or by their nationals,” there is no doubt that arms are getting around this embargo due to porous and inadequately secured borders. Even though security will be increased when the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) is deployed in September, arms will likely continue to flow into the country and end up in the hands of militias, until the borders are adequately secured.
Economic and Agricultural Impact
The combination of all the above ingredients created a cocktail for disaster when Séléka began their march to power in December 2012. The numbers today are staggering: 4.6 million people, the country’s entire population, have been affected by the crisis and more than half of those are in dire need of assistance and humanitarian aid. In April, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that one-third of the population is in urgent need of food.
A quarter of the population has been displaced, either internally or as refugees in neighboring countries. More than 6,000 children have been recruited into armed groups and less than 20% of the country’s medical facilities are operational. Aid workers have been affected, as seen in the tragic loss of three national staff members from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), who were killed during an armed robbery on MSF hospital grounds in the northern town of Boguila on April 26. It is also estimated that 85% of Muslims in the CAR have fled the country or have been killed.
The impact of the crisis on the agricultural sector is devastating. The FAO and WFP report sounded the alarm that 1.6 million people are in dire need of food due to reduced supplies, trade disruption and loss of purchasing power created by the conflict. Livelihoods have been destroyed, while food, cash crops, livestock and other crucial productive assets have all been casualties, resulting in a severe loss of dietary diversity and raising concerns about nutrition and health, particularly among children.
A quarter of the population has been displaced, either internally or as refugees in neighboring countries. More than 6,000 children have been recruited into armed groups and less than 20% of the country’s medical facilities are operational … It is also estimated that 85% of Muslims in the CAR have fled the country or have been killed.
The impact of the crisis and the resulting Muslim exodus have extended beyond the agricultural sector and into all areas of economic life. The FAO and WFP report documented that the CAR’s 2013 gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 28.3% in comparison to 2012, while the agricultural sector contracted by 36.9%. The absence of the Muslim population, who made up the vast majority of traders and merchants in the country, has meant that simple commodities, including soap, salt, cooking oil and sugar, are either difficult to acquire or are so over-priced that they are out of the realm of possibilities for many average Central Africans.
The Future for Refugees
Hundreds of thousands continue to struggle in internally displaced people (IDP) camps throughout the country and in refugee camps in Chad, Cameroon and the DRC. The removal (with MISCA’s help) of the last remaining Muslims in the capital, Bangui, has effectively compounded a de-facto partition of the CAR, with the Muslim population confined to the north or located outside the country. Civilians in refugee camps in southern Chad are not faring much better, if at all, when compared to their counterparts still in the CAR.
An Amnesty International mission to some of these camps in March documented that thousands of people have been neglected by authorities and humanitarian agencies. Many are suffering from severe malnutrition, with no shelter other than the shade of trees. Among them are a large number of children — many were separated from their families in the chaos and are in urgent need of assistance. Refugees now find themselves in a foreign land without their possessions or livelihoods, facing an increasingly unknown and hazy future. Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno announced on May 11 that Chad was closing the southern border with the CAR, further endangering the lives of the displaced.
The Road Ahead: Recovery and Reconciliation
Many in the CAR, and in the international human rights and humanitarian community, pushed for the UN to approve the peacekeeping force, MINUSCA, and celebrated its authorization on April 10 as a ray of hope for the reversal of the deepening crisis in the CAR. However, September is months away, and the violence between Séléka and anti-Balaka continues daily in the capital and the countryside. Will MINUSCA be a case of “too little too late”? History will tell.
What is urgently clear, however, is that the timetable for elections must be readjusted to take into account the massive cleansing of the Muslim population and the de-facto partitioning of the country. The original timetable for elections as determined by Article 102 of the Transitional Charter, which took effect on August 18, 2013, and called for by the N’Djamena Declaration, would see voting take place in February 2015.
But the situation in August 2013, when this timetable was adopted, was grossly different from the one on the ground today. This decision was made before the mass killings in Bangui in early December 2013 and before Séléka relinquished power, leaving a vacuum violently filled by anti-Balaka. This timetable was made before one-fourth of the population was displaced and the deep wounds of violence against civilians created a thirst for vengeance and retribution. To hold elections in just a few months time would be a recipe for further disenfranchisement of the CAR Muslim community, and would only pave the way for future instability between communities.
First, the killing must stop. Then, plans for a national reconciliation and human rights conference must begin immediately. Such a conference must be held as soon as possible after MINUSCA is deployed. The process must bring together community members from all corners of the country, as well as those from the refugee populations. The role of civil society and religious leaders in the reconciliation process will be crucial.
Without such reconciliation, CAR towns, including Bouca, will never fully recover and their families and futures will be lost forever. The wounds in the CAR run extremely deep. But while they wear the cloak of interreligious violence, they are not Christian wounds or Muslim wounds. They are the wounds of a population that has experienced decades of neglect and harm, from both their own political leaders and the international community.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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