The Central African Republic (CAR) is a landlocked nation in the centre of the African continent. Previously a French colony it gained it’s independence in 1960. Although little known, it has struggled with instability and violence ever-since having been ruled by numerous presidents and emperors who have taken power by force.
CAR’s story is sadly familiar. A country rich in minerals – including diamonds, gold, and uranium – it has rarely benefitted as fully as it should from these resources. Sharing it’s borders with Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan, DR Congo, and Congo, it’s numerous internal troubles and aid needs have often been superseded by the greater needs of its neighbors. It is a country vast in size but with a country plagued by disease, lack of infrastructure, sporadic violence and little defense against natural disasters and droughts.
The world now appears to be taking more notice of the Central African Republic – tragically for an all-too-familiar reason: Genocide.
In March this year, the Seleka rebel alliance seized the capital and overthrew President Francois Bozize. It could be argued that this coup would not have resulted in the terrible, widespread violence it now has if it wasn’t for one simple factor. Michael Djotodi, the rebel leader who has replaced Bozize, is Muslim. The first Muslim leader of CAR.
What this has created is, what some have described as, a “religious tinderbox”. More worryingly, the UN special official with responsibility to advise the UN on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, stated recently,
“We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion…My feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other which means that if we don’t act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring.”
Originally the escalation of the violence was reported by Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) who said its workers had witnessed horrific scenes of violence, murder and attacks. As far back as last month it reported that there were around 30,000 displaced people in Bossangoa (a town 150 miles from the capital, Bangui) alone, with over 1,000 more seeking shelter in the nearby airport and schools. The more recently recognized religious element to this violence deepens, darkens and potentially elongates this crisis. It has been shown that the majority-Muslim Seleka rebels are directly, and violently, targeting Christian communities and institutions. Djotodi has attempted to reassure the international community that the violence will not last and that it is not religiously motivated by stating that the majority of the Seleka group has been dissolved, disarmed and detained. Reports clearly suggest, though, that anarchy all but rules and that Djotodi has lost control over the rebel group. What is more, revenge has now become a motivator in this war with a BBC interviewee stating, “I want to become a rebel and kill members of Seleka. We suffered too much. Muslims are our enemies.”
The overtures of genocide and religion that are emanating from CAR suggest that a humanitarian crisis similar to Rwanda in 1994 is imminently possible. However, with problems in a developed stage in the countries neighboring CAR, and aid money already directed their way, and Western fixation on North Africa and the Middle East, hope of a different outcome seems small. The world community knows, as it did then, but it seems for the moment that excuses will be found to not intervene, and innocent people in CAR will be left to their fate.
Let us hope that is not the case.