Central African Republic: Roots of the Conflict and Actors
Since gaining its independence from France, in 1960, the Central African Republic (CAR) has been the scene of constant coup d’etats and power struggles leading to wars, keeping the country from achieving any level of political stability and social security. At present the landlocked country of CAR is one of the top five poorest countries of the world with short life expectancy mostly due to never ending fights. 11% of the country’s population is HIV positive, it has practically no railroads and electricity is scarce. In 2008 it was the country least affected by light pollution, according to a survey carried out by National Geographic.
In spite of its seeming poverty the Central African Republic is very rich in timber and diamond; it also has fertile soil suitable for agricultural purposes. From the late 1800’s till its independence, CAR has been a French colony with coffee, cotton and tobacco plantations. Even after 1960 France had played a significant role in the country’s political life.
The present conflict clearly seems to be a religious one between Christians and Muslims even though religion-based disputes or fights have never been characteristic for CAR. Roots of the conflict can be found towards the end of Ange-Felix Patasse’s presidency. He was the first of CAR’s presidents to apply unequal treatment of different ethnic groups thus creating tension between them. Due to discrimination people began participating and thinking about politics through the lens of ethnicity.
Even though he was highly unpopular, Patasse was backed up by France till 2003, when-after long fights- Francois Bozize toppled his regime and won the elections in 2005. At the same time a civil rebellion lead by UFDR’s (The Union of Democratic Forces for Unity) Michael Djotodia, who helped Bozize defeat Patasse and now wanted their share of power. The rebellion lead to the Central African Bush War which were ended by a series of peace treatment the most significant of them being the Global Peace Accord. Later Bozize was accused of not respecting the terms of the peace treaty and eventually was turned over in 2013 by Djotodia and the Seleka group.
Officially the Seleka is an alliance of several parties that came together to topple the Bozize regime. These were as follows: The Patriots’ Convention for Justice and Peace (CPJP), The Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), and The Democratic Front of Central African People (FDPC). These were the previously existing groups. Besides these, two newer ones joined Seleka, The Patriotic Convention for the Salvation of Kodro and the Alliance for Renaissance and Reorganization. Seleka has been accused of “harboring foreign provocateurs” (CNN) who are greedy for the mineral wealth of the country. Many argued that rather than being a revolt of CAR’s society the rebellion and coup lead by the Seleka was paid by Chad and has links to al Quaeda (CNN).
The conflict turned from being a power struggle to a religious conflict when-after Djotodia seized power- atrocities against Christians began. The Seleka that was used to living from pillage and robbing suddenly became responsible for the security of the country, and this without being bound to its actions by the government because they were the government. The situation escalated as more and more churches were plundered and Christians attacked. It is known that part of Seleka s an Islamist organization seeking to remove Christians from CAR.
As a response to Seleka and a defense against them the Anti-balaka was formed. Anti-balaka is an umbrella term referring to various vigilante groups created by the former President Bozizé to fight banditry and include some soldiers who served under him in the Central African Armed Forces (FACA). Currently it is inter alia comprised of the Association of Central African Farmers (ACP), an anti-Séléka peasant movement, as well as the Front for the Return to the Constitutional Order in Central Africa (FROCCA). FROCCA is a militia made up of ex-army officers loyal to the former president as well as local vigilantes annoyed with Seleka’s continued violence. Anti-Balaka strength is estimated at 72 000 fighters of which 10 to 15 percent represent former military personnel.
Though Seleka was dissolved by Michael Djotodia in September last year the atrocities continued and culminated in December 2013, when news reported 1000 people dead and about 20% of the population being displaced. Even disbanded Seleka had access to resources mainly because of outside help as many warlords- part of Seleka- came from the neighboring countries of Chad and Sudan. In an effort to stop the killings and the looting the international community pressured president Djotodia to resign, this eventually happened on January 10, 2014. However it didn’t bring the expected peace to the country as the pro-Bozize anti-balaka group and Christian mobs saw it as an opportunity to take revenge not only on the disarmed Seleka members but the whole Muslim community.
The core of the conflict centers around the capital Bangui where not only shops and civilian neighborhoods but also and mosques have been targeted leading to the fleeing of thousands of Muslim civilians in the neighboring countries of Chad and Cameroon. As a response to the multiple attacks the international peacekeeping operations have been reinforced in CAR. in late February this year boosting the number of French peacekeepers to 2000 with an additional promise of 1000 peace fighters from Catherine Ashton, Foreign Policy Chief of the European Union.
Despite the joined efforts of both UN and African peacekeeping forces sporadic attacks and killings are still carried out keeping the country on the verge of an ethnic split worsened only by the large number of people displaced and in desperate need of aid.
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Central African Republic Foreign Policy and Government Guide, Vol. 1 (2011) Washington DC, International Business Publications