“In CAR, it is cheaper to buy a grenade than a baguette.”
Will the international community respond to the threat of genocide in the Central African Republic?
As South Africans cheered President Barack Obama’s speech at the funeral of Nelson Mandela and his legacy of tolerance and reconciliation, a nation of 4.6 million people 2,500 miles/ 4000km north was being torn apart by religious hatred.
Escalating violence and risk of mass atrocities in the Central African Republic, where a wave of sectarian killings has raised fears of a coming genocide, is a silent conflict which is claiming hundreds of victims each week.
Before knowing what’s going on…
The former French colony of Ubangi-Shari became the Central African Republic upon independence in 1960. After three tumultuous decades of misrule, mostly by military governments that acceded power by means of three coups (1966-1979-1981), civilian rule was established in 1993, when the first elections were held, and lasted for one decade.
A military coup deposed in 2003 President Patassé after several failed attempts, in favor of General Bozizé, his removed chief of staff, who was “reelected” in 2011 in a doubtable regular election. In March 2013, when rebel groups seized the capital, Bozizé fled the country, becoming rebel leader Djotodia the President, and Tiangaye the Prime Minister. Today, and since January 2014, Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza is chief of state. She was elected by the National Transitional Council to replace Interim President Nguendet, who took over after the resignation of Interim President Djotodia. Prime Minister is, since January 2014, Andre Nzapayeke, as Tiangaye resigned early this year.
After the CAR Bush War in 2004-2007, which began with the rebellion of UFDR rebels, several rebel groups were formed and a number of peace agreements were signed to resolve the conflict between 2007-2012, granting amnesty for any acts perpetrated against the state prior to the agreement, and according disarmament and demobilization. Despite this, violence persists after hundreds were killed and thousands displaced.
What’s the problem now?
Sectarian killings have steadily spread throughout the Central African Republic since predominantly Muslim Seleka (Alliance) rebels ousted the Christian president (Bozizé) in March. Djotodia (UFDR’s leader) largely lost control of his loose band of fighters, which includes many gunmen from Sudan and Chad.
Seleka is a reference to fighters from three rebellious groups, namely; Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), the Union of Republican Forces (UFR) and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), all three becoming integrated into the army in 2007, but many deserted in 2012, accusing President Bozizé of not honoring the ceasefire deal (release of political prisoners and payment for fighters who disarmed) and took up arms again.
They captured many major towns in the central and eastern regions of the country in the end of 2012.
Also, Uganda’s militant group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) destabilizes southeastern CAR, and several rebel groups joined together in early December 2012 to launch a series of attacks that left them in control of numerous towns in the northern and central parts of the country. LRA insurgency is not only operating in the CAR, but also in South Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
As a result of all the instability, illegal weapons proliferate across the country, whose forests and rich resources provide cover and money for armed groups.
Are cleavages the key factor to the current crisis? Yes, but this conflict cannot be described as ethnic-religious alone. The unrest is partly fuelled by ethnic and religious rivalries and poor communities who feel ignored by those in power. There are several ethnic groups coexisting in the country; Baya (33%), Banda (27%), Mandjia (13%), Sara (10%), Mboum (7%), M’Baka (4%), Yakoma (4%). Also, religious cleavage is determinant to explain the situation; the population divides between indigenous beliefs (35%), Protestant (25%), Roman Catholic (25%), influenced by animistic beliefs and practices and Muslim (15%). However, intermarriage between faiths is common, and towns are mixed, with mosques and churches sharing the same streets.
Vengeance is not forever
Even though since the Bangui Agreements under President Patassé in 1997, small inter-African observer mission (MISAB) and UN mission (MINURCA) among others have been monitoring the agreements, an institution with enforcement capacity is needed. The appeals of the population to the international Community must be taken into account. CAR is facing a situation of total lawlessness.
The World took note when last year 1000 were killed in two days of battles between the Seleka and anti-balaka (Christian militias). Given the fact that the Army (FACA) is unable to halt the unrest, is not CAR itself who can do something immediate to solve the security threat, but other regional or international actors.
The unrest in CAR represents a serious security threat to bordering Chad. Mr. Bozizé came to power with the assistance of the Chadian army; Chad has thousand of CAR refugees and Mr. Idriss Deby, Chad’s President wants a close ally to the south.
Some other regional players, such as Gabon, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, South Africa and Uganda (with the help of US military advisers) are also contributing with troops to protect the capital.
The International Community, at its turn, are established in CAR in two peace missions as said; UN Integrated Peace Building Office in CAR and Fomac or Micopax, a EU-funded regional force, supported by France with 250 soldiers providing technical support (Sangari). This is far from enough to solve the situation. UNICEF estimates there are as many as 6,000 child soldiers across the country.
It is urgent to pact a ceasefire and form a government of national unity to restore peace, reform the security forces and organize legislative elections.
Heightened insecurity has serious implications on the government’s ability to protect its sovereign wealth, for which regaining control is a must, and also over the worsening humanitarian situation.
At the same time, several trials are to be held for the crimes committed. Even though CAR has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration, it accepts ICC jurisdiction. Mr. Bozizé has already been indicted in the ICC for crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide (case no. 428/1990). So was Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a Congolese warlord, commander-in-chief of MLC (Movement for the Liberation of Congo) and opposition leader also involved in the Central African Republic’s civil war, charged with counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes and on trial since 2010.
The current scale of violence, detestability, hate, poverty, humanitarian disaster and suffering is so extreme that cannot be ignored anymore, in a country with a history of coups and corruption, and still, with such abundance of natural, human and cultural wealth. Do we really need a “second Rwanda” to be shocked and vow again “never again”?
http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/208342.pdf CAR 2012 International Religious Freedom Report