Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Central African Republic: Africa's Next Rwanda?

Article by Colin Wolfgang

The growing divide between Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic is nothing new, despite not having received the coverage it deserves over the past several months. However, the violence has swelled in recent weeks, and the world is starting to take notice as a full-blow religious war is on the verge of erupting. The Central African Republic has arguably never had it easy – it was a French colony up until the end of the Cold War and remains one of the poorest nations in the world with a GDP per capita of just $900 – but a large conflict between the nation’s Christian population and its Muslim counterpart could have long-term, devastating effects.

Christians destroy a building in CAR. Courtesy AP.

The rapidly evolving conflict began sometime last year, when a Muslim rebel group seized power of much of the country and began calculated killings of Christians. The Seleka rebel group was in some cases accused of destroying entire villages – something not dissimilar to the acts of the M23 rebel group in neighboring Congo. The leaders of the Seleka group have since stepped down, creating a vacuum for the group which has given rise to Christian militia bands that have begun a mass “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in retribution.

The result thus far has been nothing short of catastrophic, and not just for the Muslim population. With hundreds of thousands – potentially millions – of Muslims fleeing their homes, the existing food shortage in the country has been painfully exacerbated. Muslims typically operated many of the food stores in villages throughout the country, and without them, it is becoming harder and harder for others to find adequate food supplies. Meanwhile, the U.N. has begun a food campaign to the region, but thus far has been able to sufficiently feed approximately 10% of the displaced population.

A soldier about to hit a (dead) man with a stone. Courtesy AP.
And with such a limited reaction from the international community, the violence does not seem to be mitigated anytime soon. France has deployed troops, but in limited numbers, and primarily to protect food deliveries. Most roads throughout the country are seen as unreliable and unsafe, making the delivery of food aid much harder. The African Union has supplied troops as well, but nowhere near the number that is needed to curb the violence ensuing. The new President, Catherine Samba Panza, who was elected just this past January, has called for peacekeeping efforts from abroad, noting that the Central African Republic itself is unequipped and incapable of fighting the rebel groups on its own.

Samba Panza remains optimistic, however, indicating that with the proper number of troops, the capital, Bangui, can fall under government control in a month’s time. The ultimate goal is to disarm all militia groups, which will be much harder, especially while resources need to go towards feeding the displaced population. History tends to repeat itself, and while violence in the Central African Republic is not at the level yet of Rwanda, it is worth remembering that these situations get out of hand quickly and are that much harder to resolve. The international community needs to take greater notice and act if it wants to ensure an expedited stabilization of the CAR.

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