Crisis in the Central African Republic

Source: Creative Commons / Flickr / hdptcar

The sectarian and humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic continues to deepen. 

Background

The Central African Republic (CAR), a Christian-majority country with a minority Muslim population, has been marred by violence since early 2013. What started as a coup d’état against a corrupt government in March of that year soon escalated into a bloody, sectarian conflict. Since then, mass violence has caused thousands of deaths, while over a million people have been displaced, both internally and externally.

The CAR’s strife can be traced back to 2003, when President François Bozizé embarked on a ten-year reign that led the country down a path plagued by economic and political corruption. In response, rebel groups united in a bid to seize control. By 2012, a group of these rebels established the Séléka, a Muslim-majority coalition led by Michel Djotodia, who blamed the government of committing abuses in the country’s northeast. After its formation, the Séléka spread terror across the CAR, pillaging, raping and murdering civilians.

In January 2013, the Bozizé government signed a peace agreement with rebel groups, which called for an end to violence that swept across the country. Eric Massi, a rebel spokesman, warned that fighting would continue if the government did not meet rebel demands included in the agreement.

These demands were not met as chaos escalated further. The Séléka, with the help of Sudanese and Chadian mercenaries, overthrew the Bozizé government in March 2013, with Djotodia as the new, self-elected president. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the country’s new rulers were responsible for the deliberate deaths of civilians, as well as the destruction of over 1,000 homes. Thousands protested Djotodia’s rule, and what emerged were coalitions to avenge the chaos that he and his faction had created. In response, the anti-Balaka, an alliance of mostly Christian militias, stepped into the fray.

As French troops, along with the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC), set out to disarm the Séléka and end the violence, the anti-Balaka saw an opportunity to step on the offensive, by looting and killing Muslim civilians as revenge for the Séléka’s actions. By early 2014, approximately 50,000 Muslims had been evacuated by air to Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Senegal, while tens of thousands more had left by road as anti-Balaka attacks continued. Since then, Amnesty International and HRW have both warned of “ethnic cleansing” in the CAR.

A Fact Sheet by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that there are over 615,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) in the CAR, with more than 190,000 alone in the capital city, Bangui. The total number of refugees in neighboring countries amounts to approximately 400,000. 

In January 2014, President Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangay resigned after the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) met at a summit in Chad, aiming to end the violence.

Why is the CAR Conflict Relevant? 

Today, the grave situation has deepened further as thousands have been displaced, with insufficient humanitarian aid. Sectarian violence has turned the conflict into what some have called “genocide,” drawing on fears of another Rwanda.

Fact Sheet by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that there are over 615,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) in the CAR, with more than 190,000 alone in the capital city, Bangui. The total number of refugees in neighboring countries amounts to approximately 400,000. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that over 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Not only are these figures concerning, given the precarious humanitarian situation in the country, but nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and foreign actors have found difficulty in meeting the demand for assistance. While measures have been taken to ameliorate the conflict in the CAR, many NGOs and humanitarian agencies are being reprimanded for not providing assistance to their full capacity.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) wrote an open letter in December 2013 to Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief, condemning the “unacceptable performance of the United Nations humanitarian system” in the CAR. Listing examples of the inadequate performance of the UN, MSF urged it to reinforce efforts on the ground.

Concurrently, Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, visited the CAR in a diplomatic mission, aimed at spreading awareness of the serious humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the country. In a press conference, she stated: “[The US] wants to determine what it can do in order to support the path of stability and the path of reconciliation, and … the path of a return to democracy.”

In April 2014, the UN Security Council (UNSC) approved a 12,000-strong force to accompany the 2,000 French soldiers authorized to provide assistance, just as the African Union classified anti-Balaka militias as “terrorists,” instructing peacekeepers to treat them as enemy combatants.

Meanwhile, it was reported in July that Djotodia had been reinstated as the leader of Séléka, after months in exile in Benin. For Séléka officials, his reinstatement “could be an effort to restore direction to the movement which has seen internal power struggles.” In that same month, a ceasefire agreement was signed by Séléka and anti-Balaka representatives. However, while Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke and his government have stood down, both militias have accused the other of breaking the truce, as violence continues in northern CAR.

While it is imperative that the conversation surrounding the CAR’s current situation remains in the minds of the public, the discourse regarding the lack of humanitarian assistance must be pushed further so the country’s inhabitants can once again live harmoniously in a society unscathed by sectarian tension, violence and an uncertain future.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Hdptcar / Flickr

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