In March 2013, the Central African Republic (CAR) experienced a coup carried out by a coalition of armed rebel groups. Since then violence, displacement, and anarchy has become the norm. With internally displaced persons reaching nearly one million and foreign nationals being pulled from the country, the international community’s “wait and see” stance has been replaced by growing alarm. Here’s what you need to know about the mounting crisis in CAR.
Seleka Takes the Capital
Seleka was a loosely affiliated coalition of armed rebel groups, predominantly Muslim, that captured the capital city of Bangui in March 2013. Michel Djotodia was named interim president, but the transitional government was unable to maintain central authority as looting, raping, and murder continued. In September Djotodia officially disbanded Seleka, resulting in the formation of another coalition going by the name ex-Seleka. These groups have continued carrying out acts of at time extreme violence, sowing unrest and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Some news outlets, including Al Jazeera, have been informed the president plans to step down soon, although this has not officially been confirmed by the CAR interim government as of time of writing. Whether such a move would open the way to a negotiated peace or create a power vacuum is unclear.
Ex-Seleka vs. Anti-Balaka
In response to the unrest, the population has formed a number of militias to counter ex-Seleka. Predominantly Christian anti-balaka is an offshoot of an anti-banditry initiative brought about by the government prior to the coup. The group, along with other militias, have targeted ex-Seleka strongholds.
But the creation of predominantly Christian groups to counter the primarily Muslim ex-Seleka has led to a troubling religious element in the violence. The result has been large scale attacks on civilians rather than fighting between militias.
Violence Against Civilians
According to a U.N. report in May, “indiscriminate and often targeted killings, rampant rapes and assaults on the innocent population, flagrant recruitment of children as soldiers, looting of homes, not just of the rich but even of already struggling citizens” became common after the Seleka coup.
Although a total number of casualties in unknown, Amnesty International reported the murder of 1,000 men and a number of women and children during a two day period last month. The group believes the death toll is much higher than originally believed, particularly in light of simultaneous reports of door-to-door killings across the country. UNICEF has also voiced concern in regards to what they call “unprecedented levels of violence against children.”
Meanwhile, 935,000 civilians have been displaced by the violence. Many have sought shelter in schools and churches, while a makeshift refugee camp has developed around the Bangui International Airport. Others have sought safety in the bush outside of the cities, where a great deal of the violence is taking place.
The International Community
The global community has been belittled by activists for failing to recognize the potential for such large scale violence following the Sekela coup. Now the question of how to effectively provide humanitarian assistance and bring the conflict to an end vexes organizations and neighboring countries. The African Union plans to increase peacekeeping forces from 2,500 to 3,500 troops, while France has provided 1,600 troops with United Nations support. Nigeria has promised 800 troops to be sent next week.
Neighboring countries, including Chad and Nigeria, have begun evacuating nationals. Thousands remain in embassies and throughout the country waiting for assistance. The fear of cross-border conflict has increased as it was learned fighters from Darfur and Chad are present in CAR. This consideration makes it critical for the African Union to contain and end the violence, lest it become a regional security concern.