Since the end of 2013 the international press has devoted a lot of attention to the Central African Republic. Many claim that it is currently the stage of an ethnic cleansing of the Muslim part of the population. After some reading we discovered that what is happening in the Central African Republic is quite complicated and is inherently linked to the country’s historic background.
The Central African Republic is a former French colony that, due to being landlocked, was never at the forefront of France’s interests. Nevertheless, the country is extremely rich in natural resources such as uranium, of which France is a great consumer, as well as diamonds, oil and gold. When it became independent in 1960, France had left little to no infrastructures that could be of use for the future of the country.
With independence came the first president, David Dacko, who quickly created a one-party State. His ruling did not last long as in 1965 Jean-Bedel Bokassa, his army commander, made a coup d’Etat backed by French forces. With a bankrupted State, Bokassa first proclaimed himself “President for life” and then “Emperor” of the “Central African Empire”, starting a brutal and eccentric ruling that would last until 1979. In 1979 came a backlash as David Dacko himself – supported by France – made a coup to dethrone Bokassa.
The Central African Republic continued to suffer from a series of coups, fraudulent elections and military rulings for years, which ultimately turned it into a failed State not able to provide for its population’s basic needs. Besides this, several rebel groups, driven by the most diverse motivations, have raided the country in the past decades.
The current crisis is the result of this history of instability and weakness of the State. In 2003, the country suffered another coup by François Bozizé, who would become Central African Republic’s president. Through fraudulent elections in 2005 and 2011, he was able to maintain himself in power, but with a corrupt government he was unable to do any good for his country. That is how the latest coup d’Etat and rebellion came to be.
Michel Djotodia, who had been part of the administration of the country, had also participated in several rebel groups. Then, in mid-2012, he founded the Séléka alliance, a coalition of several political parties and rebel forces that opposed the ruling of Bozizé. What is particular in this alliance is that it was mainly composed of Muslims (some of them being ex-rebels from Chad), in a country where almost 80% of the population is Christian.
Believing that pushing Bozizé out of power would be the best for the country, Djotodia and the Séléka alliance rapidly took control of part of the country. In March 2013, Djotodia was proclaiming himself President of the Central African Republic (the country’s first Muslim president), in the midst of international condemnation, and promising to integrate the rebels of the Séléka into his government.
However, the Séléka was a multi-faceted group, with members with different interests and aspirations. Not having anything else to fight for, or at least a common cause, many of the rebels started to attack villages, looting, killing and raping people. Since most of the population in the Central African Republic is christian, it seemed that Muslims were attacking Christians during the second half of 2013. Although Djotodia proclaimed that Séléka members should drop their weapons and proceed to peace, most of them no longer took orders from the President, and continued with the violences.
This is how the Anti-Balaka militias took arms. These civil militias have existed since 2009 in the Central African Republic, as a means for the population to defend itself from aggressors. Yet, in 2013, they started to organize themselves to fight against Séléka members, something that ultimately degenerated into an open onslaught of the Muslim part of the population.
All these conflicts have led to the displacement of at least 950,000 people. The State administration has not enough power to protect the people or put an end to the violence. In October 2013, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution allowing for a UN peacekeeping force to be deployed to the country, where French and African Union’s forces were already present, in order to try to pacify the situation. Eventually, Djotodia resigned in January 2014 giving way to an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza.
Yet, the violence continues. Nevertheless, one should be careful while analyzing the conflict. It goes beyond an ethnic conflict. The Central African Republic was never known for having problems between its Christian and Muslim communities. Now, as it does, some say that international intervention should be careful to be impartial in this civil war. Privileging a group or another will be negative for any peaceful outcome. The violence against the Muslim community can become very problematic if Islamist movements start to take advantage from this; present in Nigeria and Chad, neighboring countries of the Central African Republic, they will be quick to gather new recruits for their cause.
Mostly, the international forces, specially French, must be ready to do the hard work that comes after peace: rebuilding a true State, able to enforce law and order and to provide for its population.