The Central African Republic is on the brink of disaster. The conflict has a dense history, for violence initially erupted in the Central African Republic in December 2012 when a predominantly Muslim rebel militia, the Seleka, stormed across the country and captured the capital city, Bangui. The Seleka took over the capital and proceeded to organize killing and looting against the country’s non-Muslim population. A group called the Anti-Balaka rose up in opposition to Seleka, and the violence grew more intense. Gold, uranium, and diamonds are also being used to fiance the conflict.

The conflict has dire humanitarian consequences, for both the Anti-Balaka and the Seleka fail to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. There are currently more than 4.6 million people in need humanitarian aid, 440,000 people are displaced, and nearly half a million have fled to neighboring countries. The situation remains highly volatile and is in danger of exploding into further mass atrocities, even genocide, with the approach of elections. A U.N. commission of inquiry recently described the situation in Central African Republic as ethnic cleansing due to the violence perpetrated against the Muslim population. In addition, Human Rights Watch called on the international community to focus on the plight of northern Muslims in December 2014. Sectarian violence has been turned into ethno-religious conflict.

The Central African Republic has been relatively calm over the past year. During the summer of 2015, the country will hold democratic elections to begin to rebuild the government of the country. This is an opportunity for peacebuilders to make a lasting impact on CAR society. An interim president was initiated in January 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza, however the security situation remains unstable. In February 2015, peacekeepers killed at least seven rebels in clashes north-east of the capital, Bangui.

According the United Nations Development Program, parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for July and August. Sixty percent of the required funding has been made available, and voter registration is set to begin shortly. The desire for a stable future, rather than prolonged transition, has fomented domestic support for the elections. This will one of the more involved peace operations, for the United Nations Development Program is not only assisting with elections, but is also rebuilding the national army and police force. The stability of the Central African Republic is truly vital for the security of its citizens, and for the region as a whole.

A successful election in the Central African Republic requires several ingredients. All the groups in the conflict must be present, otherwise the environment will remain volatile. Until this becomes true, groups and individuals are at risk, as evidenced by recent kidnappings of government officials and aid workers. The Forum for National Reconciliation aims to bring together civil servants, government workers, and local populations in order to secure a peaceful election in the area. Through persistence, patience, and partnership, the elections in Central African Republic may be the next example of a positive peace operation!

– Neti Gupta

Sources: Africa Research Institute, The Guardian, Insight on Conflict
Photo: Flickr

The Central African Republic made headlines recently when French troops entered the country on a peace-keeping mission sanctioned by the UN. Violence and uprisings are no strangers to the country that has endured intermittent conflict since becoming an independent nation in 1960. What is different now are the religious undertones of the violence that pits members of the loosely organized Muslim Seleka against the organically formed Christian militias, Anti-Balakas.

Christians represent the overwhelming majority in the country, but the Seleka, meaning “alliance,” have been in control since March through militarily seizing the government. The rebel group has been terrorizing the country for over two years through looting, mass rapes, executions, and abductions. Anti-Balakas, or anti-machetes, are weakly armed militia groups that have sprung up more recently in reaction. Though Seleka rebels are targets for the militias, unarmed civilians have more often been the victim of their rage. Most of those victims are Muslims and Seleka thugs have targeted Christians in reprisal attacks.A dangerous and volatile cycle is thus forming.

History has seen too many cases of violence between an ethnic or religious minority and majority. Most of which end tragically, leading observers to imagine the possibility of genocide when any religious or ethnic battle begins. After all, Sudan is a neighboring country and few have forgotten the atrocities committed in Darfur in the name of ethnic cleansing.

It is welcome news for many, then, that the French so quickly responded with a contingent of 1,600 troops, and the UN unanimously adopted a peace-keeping resolution further allocating funding for the 6,000 man Multinational Force of Central Africa to become under the control of the African Union and deploy in the region. Forces have already begun disarming militants on both sides and gaining ground in the capitol city, Bangui.

New “president” and former Seleka leader, Michel Djotodia, seems to be compliant with the disarming process and even requested humanitarian aid in one of his first moves after assuming control. He dissolved the rebel group and officially formed transitional government organizations almost immediately. These groups lack funding and power due to an absence of majority support and the country being in disarray.

Over 400,000 people are internally displaced and 2.3 million, or half the country, are in need of humanitarian assistance according to the UN. Most local security forces are controlled by Seleka forces that lack any coordination or central leadership. Some are attempting to restore order, actually policing other Seleka rebels, but no one can be sure who to trust and most of the rebels are intent on looting.

Rather than religious motivation, the Seleka power grab seems to be at least partially based on material desire in the mineral rich country. Rebels have consistently looted and Michel Djotodia only appears to want to hang on to political power for at least another 18 months, when he claims he will step down. The religiously motivated violence can be defused if international security forces continue to focus on disarmament and tempering the rebel looting.

Tyson Watkins

Sources: International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, New York Times, The Borgen Project, BBC News, United Nations, Al JazeeraABC News

Since President Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic (CAR) was ousted by a coalition of fighters by the name of Seleka in March of 2013, the nation has devolved into anarchy.  Seleka leader Michel Djotodia declared himself president after the fall of Bozize’s government, but he has little control over his Seleka fighters.

The Seleka is a predominately Muslim, rebel coalition made up of several militia factions from the CAR’s civil war.  The Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, the Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country, the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity as well as other anti-government groups formed the alliance in mid-2012.

Djotodia cut ties with the group after they were blamed for attacks across the CAR.  In an interview with Al-Jazeera in early September, he admitted the Seleka no longer obey his orders.

On October 26, 2013, the Seleka forces of the CAR took part in a massacre a few miles outside Bouar, killing 18 people.  At least 10 people were killed at Bangui’s Amitie hospital after Seleka troops attacked patients.  Executions, rapes and burglaries by Seleka troops in predominately Christian areas have been reported.

A Christian militia called anti-balaka was formed to fight back against the Muslim Seleka.  The United Nations has expressed concern that the CAR situation may develop into a genocide given the historical tension between Christians and Muslims in the area.  With no legitimate governing body or police force there is a great risk of increased violence between the two groups.

As violence has escalated, President Francoise Hollande of France visited the country to evaluate the conflict.  So far, France has deployed 1,600 peacekeeping troops to the CAR with plans to send up to 6,000 if the fighting continues.

The African Union has sent 2,500 troops and plans to send more in the coming weeks. The U.N. has authorized foreign intervention using “all necessary measures” to support the efforts of the African Union and France.  The troops have been monitoring travel in and out of major towns, checking homes for weapons, and policing neighborhoods in an attempt to mitigate violence.

The United States has promised to donate $100 million in aid to the African Union’s efforts.  Al Jazeera reported that the funding will go to training, logistical operations, planning and non-lethal equipment.  State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf says “The United States remains deeply concerned about the horrific violence committed by the armed groups against innocent civilians.”

President Djotodia released a statement saying he will consider granting amnesty for the militia members in exchange for a ceasefire between the two groups.

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera America

In December of 2012 a rebellion group formed under the name ‘Seleka’ marched through the Central African Republic, threatening to overthrow President François Bozizé for failing to follow through with the promises he made in 2007. Since then their reign has been one of terror and abduction, forcing people who are already living in the throes of poverty to adopt a life of fear and anticipation as well. Bozize has since been chased out of the country and the people of the Central African Republic are too afraid to take action against Seleka.

Translated the word Seleka simply means “coalition” in Sango. In January the group was estimated to have between 1,000 and 3,000 members. It is thought that they are made up of a collection of smaller groups allied together in opposition of the former president. However, government officials believe that the core of Seleka may be made up of a more varied cast of people, suggesting that the are harboring foreigners who wish to take control of the country’s mineral wealth. Some even believe that nationals from Chad, Nigeria, and Sudan are involved.

On March 24, 2013 Michel Djotodia marched into the capital Bangui with 5,000 Seleka fighters to seize control of the country. He immediately disbanded the parliament and suspended the constitution. And since then he and the Seleka fighters have waged a campaign of harassment and terror against the very people they claimed to protect. Unemployment has soared to 70% and the rebels take whatever they want, including computers used for education, solar panels, and even goats. Schools have shut down and electricity has become unavailable to the public.

Now the rebel group is no longer simply stealing from the people they claim to help, they are stealing the people as well. On a daily basis people disappear from their homes, schools, and the street itself. They are picked up by men in trucks and never seen again. If they are, they have been tortured or killed. The economy has collapsed entirely, most people are out of work, international aid workers have fled, and farmers are unable to tend to their fields because of all the violence. The country is on the verge of absolute disaster.

The self-proclaimed president of the country seems to be either unaware or uncaring of the reality of the situation. He is quoted in the New York Times as stating, “Peace has already returned to Bangui. When we came, it was like a miracle. It was God that willed it.” But the reality is that 173,000 people have been displaced from their homes since December. The Central African Republic has always been one of the poorest countries in the world and frequently fraught with conflict.

– Chelsea Evans

Sources: CNN, BBC, USA Today, New York Times
Photo: BBC