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Enough 101: Crisis in the Central African Republic: What You Need to Know Now

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Enough 101: Crisis in the Central African Republic: What You Need to Know Now

Posted by Enough Team on November 12, 2013

Enough 101: Crisis in the Central African Republic: What You Need to Know Now

This blog is written by guest-bloggers Mohammed Adawulai and Evan Anderson. 

Since Central African Republic President François Bozizé was deposed in March 2013 by a conglomerate group of rebels known as Seleka, information about the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country has been murky at best. A Seleka leader, Michel Djotodia has claimed the Presidency, but he has little control over areas beyond the capital of Bangui. The abscence of law and order coupled with a seemingly slow international response prompted the Economist to warn of a “failed state.”   Here’s the situation in context.

1) What is CAR?

The Central African Republic is a landlocked country of just under 5 million people. Located exactly where its name suggests, CAR borders countries such as Chad, the Sudans, DR Congo, Cameroon, and Congo Brazzaville. As a former French colony, Central Africans speak French as their official language as well as Sango and several other tribal languages. The Central African Republic is also home to the Baya, Banda, Mandjia, Sara, Mboum, M’baka, Sande, and Yakoma ethnic groups. Religiously, the country is diverse, with a predominantly black Christian majority in the South and an Arab Muslim minority in the North. Despite the country’s quantity of arable land and mineral deposits, CAR is ranked among the poorest countries in the world, and is currently home to what is being called “the worst crisis you’ve never heard of."

2) What is Seleka?        

Since independence in 1960, Central Africans have struggled to find peace at home. Former President Francois Bozizé first came to power in 2003 through a military coup, and after a decade of rule marked by corruption, underdevelopment, and unfulfilled promises, he too has now been ousted in similar manner as all those before him: ousted by force. The group behind the overthrow of president Bozizé was the Seleka Rebel Coalition, a group whose origins stem from the CAR Bush War. Lingering tensions from that three-year conflict ended with a power-sharing deal in 2007. The deal was compounded by criticisms that Bozizé has not held up his end of the agreement, and led to the resurgence of the conflict in late 2012.

Seleka, which means coalition in the Sango language, is composed primarily of two units from the northeast of the country; the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, or CPJP, and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity, or UFDR. Though there are a number of other armed groups who joined Seleka on their march towards the capital – their numbers are estimated to have swelled from 5,000 at the beginning to 25,000 at the end of the campaign – the International Crisis Group describes Seleka as a “heterogeneous consortium of malcontents” whose alliance is one of pure “convenience.” Their ranks have been strengthened by fighters from Darfur and Chad whose opportunistic motives were called into question by the former President. Though the rebels signed a peace agreement with the central government in January, it was only a few days before clashes began anew. In March of this year, the rebels seized the capital Bangui and leader Michel Djotodia claimed the Presidency for himself. Bozizé was forced into exile in Cameroon, leaving the country in a state of chaos.

3) What’s the situation now?

According to the United Nations, 1.6 million people are targeted and vulnerable to ongoing violence, 394, 900 people are internally displaced, with a 54 percent increase since August 2013, and there are 214,020 refugees who have fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Congo, and Cameroon.

Acting President Djotodia maintains little grip on power outside of the capital. Since he and Seleka rebels marched south to the nation's capital of Bangui, the security situation has rapidly deteriorated. Competing rebel groups now rule areas outside Bangui, a rule that is marked by mass killing, looting, and destruction of civilian properties. Reports claim that some fighters are using the diamond and illegal ivory trade to fund their continued operations. On the border with Cameroon, supporters of the former President have reportedly begun to organize into the Front for the Return of Constitutional Order in CAR (FROCCA). There is also an increase in religious-based violence as tensions between the Christian majority and the Muslim rebels continue to rise.

On September 13, Djotodia dissolved Seleka, but their indiscriminate violent attacks against civilians are yet to cease. As the security and humanitarian situation grows grim, the country has in effect become a failed state. Due to the lack of governance, home-grown militias are not the only armed groups to seek refuge in CAR. The Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, has been terrorizing the southeast region of the country for several years now. Additionally, a complete collapse of the central state could lead to CAR becoming a safe haven for other rebel groups from the region.

4) How has the international community responded?

The African Union plans to deploy a 3,600-man peacekeeping force, but that is unlikely to be operational until 2014. The African-led mission in Central African Republic of the African Union, or AFISM, will replace the Peace Consolidation Mission in Central African Republic, or MICOPAX, of the Economic Community of Central African States which has been charged with protecting civilians and securing the region since 2008.

Meanwhile, as the situation continues to escalate, the U.N. Security Council approved a proposal by the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on October 29 to send a “250 military personnel to the capital Bangui and then increase the strength of the force to 560 troops so they can deploy to areas outside the capital where there is a U.N. presence.” Last month, the 15- member U.N Security Council adopted a resolution encouraging the United Nations to consider the establishment of a full-fledged U.N peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic.

The presence of relief organizations has helped provide much needed basic assistance to those affected but insufficient funding and the rise in displacements, leaving over half of the population in need of humanitarian aid and over 1.6 million people in need of food assistance, has strained capacity to provide adequate relief. The $11.5 million emergency appeal by UNICEF for the year 2013 has tripled since the beginning of the crisis, but the organization has only received a third of the $32 million requested. The director of operations for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, John Ging, described the humanitarian crisis as “among the worst in the world and it’s getting worse.”

Today, November 12, 2013, UNICEF demanded that the interim government of the Central African Republic investigate renewed violence and massacre of civilians including children, following the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights’ call on November 8 for an investigation into illegal arrest and torture of civilians in secret detention centers in the country. Both demands come after armed groups killed eighteen people, one of the victims said to be only two weeks old, on October 26 near the town of Bouar in western Central African Republic.

Rights groups in the United States, including the Enough Project, Invisible Children, Search for Common Ground, and others signed a press statement calling attention to the crisis and urged for swift international action to protect civilians.

Next Steps

With a collapsed central government, competing warlords vying for power across the country, alleged pro-Bozizé  forces amassing power along the Cameroon border, LRA rebels still loose in the bush, and the threat of religious-based violence on the rise, it is hard to imagine a worse situation in this nation in the heart of the African continent. Immediate international intervention and humanitarian aid is urgently needed to save human lives, curb the spread of violence and allow the country to start moving forward.