THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLICIntroduction
Central African Republic (CAR) remains one of the poorest countries in the world and is one of the ten poorest countries in Africa despite large gold, diamond and uranium deposits and other natural resources, such as lumber and oil . CAR was named a “development disaster” at the end of 2012 when the Seleka rebels who are Muslim marched on the capital Bangui. Law and order disintegrated and administration and basic services ceased to exist. By March of 2013 the government under the presidency of Michel Djotodia had been overthrown.
Crisis & Casualties
The crisis reached a watershed moment in the final months of 2013 when fighting between Seleka, who were officially disbanded, and Anti-Balaka Christian militias led to arbitrary killings and looting. The ethnic war quickly took on a sectarian face and by the end of 2013 Bangui saw major clashes and the resignation of the country’s interim President.
The violence has affected the entire the population. Nearly 1 million people are internally displaced. Some 2.6 million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The numbers of dead are unclear and rural areas have become far too dangerous to travel into making it impossible for aid to reach those most affected by the violence. Over 3500 child soldiers are being used in the conflict. Most schools and hospitals outside the capital have been looted and are no longer functional. Approximately 70% of children no longer attend school. 115 makeshift camps are now home to more than 900,000 Central Africans and approximately 250,000 refugees from the violence live in neighbouring countries.
Efforts to restore order have so far proven to be fruitless. The effect of Mr Djotodia’s recent resignation under pressure from CAR’s neighbours is not clear. Some hoped it could take the heat out of the religious tensions, while others feared it could unleash a new wave of revenge attacks. Adding to an already explosive mix is the presence of the notorious Ugandan rebel movement, the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Currently some 4000 AU and 1600 French troops have been deployed in the country osetnsibly to restore order. France’s interests in CAR, however, are questionable in view of its many recent interventions in former colonies. Early last year South African troops on the ground were returned home. This was clearly not in favour of the people in CAR.
To date, most people in the country live in constant fear, as lawlessness has overtaken the country. Armed men from rival groups scour areas looting, killing, and burning crops and homes. Many villages are empty, as inhabitants have taken to hiding in the fields for safety. According to eyewitnesses , “Muslims are being butchered like sheep.” The resignation of the president has exacerbated the problem and Muslims now feel totally at risk, since neither the police no longer have any authority.
Disturbing new evidence of the slaughter of women, children and the elderly, gathered by Amnesty International, underscores the extreme dangers faced by the vulnerable Muslim minority in the Central African Republic. The organization has been calling for a more robust peacekeeping effort to protect civilians outside of the capital. According to Amnesty, more than 50 Muslims were killed in two attacks in villages north-west of the capital, Bangui. The victims include at least six children, five women, and three old men. Two girls, aged seven and 18 months, were among the youngest victims. The oldest victim was 70. Both attacks were carried out by Christian anti-balaka militias, which now wield effective power in many of the towns and villages northwest of the capital. According to Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s senior crisis advisor in Bangui, “International peacekeeping forces are failing the Muslim community. Scores of people were left unprotected from vicious anti-balaka reprisals at a time when such attacks were entirely predictable.”
Amnesty International observers found that houses in Muslim neighbourhoods in both towns had been looted and burned. Some anti-balaka members in the area were wearing looted Muslim caps and clothing. They had mounted checkpoints in a town where a truck was stopped carrying a large group of people to Cameroon. The Muslim passengers – eight to ten people in all – were forced to get off the truck, which only then was allowed to leave. Using machetes and knives, the anti-balaka hacked up the Muslims in the street, directly in front of the local mosque. The dead included three women and three small children, aged one-and-a-half, three, and five years old. Large bloodstains were still visible on the tarmac. The only survivors of the slaughter were a 12-year-old boy, who managed to slip away during the melée, hiding overnight with sympathetic Christian villagers, and a seven-month-old baby girl, who was left on the truck with a Christian woman.
In January, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned the recent escalation of violence in CAR and the reported mass murder of civilians. The OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani, expressed his hopes, that the election of Catherine Samba-Panza by CAR’s parliament as interim president, would lead to a restoration of peace and stability in the country. Furthermore he urged all parties to put an end to the violence and cooperate with the head of the transitional government to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance. He called upon all parties to live up to their African heritage and tradition of tolerance and to act according to the true spirit of forgiveness that is found both in Christianity and in Islam.
In the past months the UN has repeatedly warned CAR that it is fast approaching a humanitarian disaster with people fleeing their homes and having no other option but to head for poorly equipped, unprotected and already overpopulated camps. In recent weeks, the UN has issued warnings that genocide may take place, if drastic measures are not taken against the ongoing sectarian violence. John Ging, director of operations for the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a news conference in Geneva: “It has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia. The elements are there, the seeds are there, for a genocide. There’s no question about that.”
At the beginning of February the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes. The international community as a whole must live up to its responsibilities and urgently take steps to avert the threat of genocide. The AU for its part must be more vocal and pro-active on the issue: peace keeping forces are not enough. All the people of CAR must be protected and peace must be enforced. It is imperative that the transitional government must firmly assert its authority and make clear that there are consequences for committing human rights abuses. The government and all available troops must see to it that there is more and better monitoring of the situation on the ground. Prompt and decisive action is necessary if further killing is to be prevented.