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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Getting to the Root of the Central African Republic Crisis
Friday, 10 January 2014 15:25

Getting to the Root of the Central African Republic Crisis

Written by Melissa O'Grady
The face of growing humanitarian crisis in Central African Republic The face of growing humanitarian crisis in Central African Republic photo: bbc

Africa faces a number of challenges entering 2014. Crisis in Central African Republic is perhaps one that a lot of people did not expect. Over 1,000 Central African Republicans have died and almost a million have fled since violence erupted in Central African Republic in December. There are reports of beheadings, rapes and people being burnt to death. Nor have children been spared from brutal deaths. Those who have survived the violence long enough to get to safe camps, such as at the airport in the capital Bangui, are now living in cramped and extremely basic conditions. The country’s interim head, Michel Djotodia, is under pressure to leave his post, as a summit in the capital of Chad, N’Djamena, organized by the 10-member Economic Community of Central African States gets under way.


A religious war?


The atrocities being committed in Central African Republic have shocked the world. Militia have burned down whole villages and massacred entire communities. What triggered such a spectacular and appalling collapse in law and order in this often forgotten country you might ask. There are several layers to the conflict which has broken out in Central African Republic but the first is religious. Central African Republic a predominantly Christian country with a Muslim minority- 50 % are Christian and roughly 15% are Muslim. The trigger for the violence was a coup instigated by a Muslim militia called the Seleka in March. The Seleka ousted the existing Christian president, Francois Bozize, and replaced him with the current Muslim leader, Michel Djotodia. The Seleka then started raping and killing Christians which prompted Christians to start setting up vigilante groups. Since then the violence has tumbled out of control.


Map showing the location of the Central African Republic and the countries that border it


The brutal violence comes just as there were some signs of limited, albeit precarious, economic stability in the country. Growth over 2012-13 was projected to come in at 4% due to better harvests and higher commodity prices. The past few years have seen the mining industry develop and the launch of some major infrastructure projects, including energy projects and the installation of new fiber optic cables. On the back of such improvements and stability, a number of other related sectors prospered. For example, between 2008  and 2012, the insurance industry grew at a compound average growth rate of 9.8% as more Central African Republicans became willing to shell out on extra household expenses like insurance, aware of the fact that if they were to find themselves in trouble in a range of situations ranging from sickness to the need to go to drug rehab (and drugs have often fueled violence committed in Central African Republic) then insurance benefits may cover it. Observers have also become steadily more optimistic about the future of entrepreneurship in the country, as the government has made attempts to ensure that starting a business in the country becomes less expensive and more straightforward to encourage more startups.


A battle for natural resources


Some people argue that a dark battle for Central African Republic’s vast natural resources is at the heart of the militia-led conflict, however. Central African Republic sits on a treasure trove of diamonds, gold, uranium, oil and timber. The Seleka, which means “coalition” in Sango- one of the main languages in the country- is accused of being at least partly composed of people from nearby countries like Nigeria, Chad and Sudan who have their eye on the country’s minerals. Certain observers claim that Chad or even perhaps al-Qaeda could be financing the Seleka army. Furthermore, many Seleka leaders include Djotodia come from the north where the Muslim Gula tribe have failed to profit from the oil which is being lucratively extracted by China National Petroleum Corporation. The Gula tribe feel that they were overlooked under the previous Bozize regime at the expense of Bozize’s own Gbaya tribe.  Moreover, the so-called Christian vigilante groups that have emerged to fend off the Seleka are not motivated by religion. Rather they have formed out of a loose collection of militias whom locals were paying to protect their cattle and farms from looters. Interestingly, many locals do not particularly associate the effectiveness of these militias with these fighters’ Christian identity. In contrast, in line with local animist spirituality, they believe that the the anti-Seleka fighters have magical powers and are immortal thanks to the amulets that they wear.


This battle for resources seems to have been infused with religious tension once the Seleka arrived in Bangui, however. As many of them can speak neither French nor the main local language of the capital, Sango, they took to relying on the local Arabic-speaking Muslim Central African Republicans in Bangui and even stored loot in these Muslims’ homes. Local non-Muslims in Bangui have interpreted this as a sign that local Muslims are in league with the Seleka.


Is Chad the “king-maker”?


The role of Chad in the conflict adds a further, complicated layer the story. Observers accuse Chad of not just financing the Seleka but even claim that Chadian fighters are themselves involved in the massacring of Christians. Although Chad’s president, Idriss Deby, supported the ousted Bozize at first, he soon fell out with him and took his Chadian presidential guard out of Central African Republic in 2013. Moreover, peacekeepers from Chad did nothing when the Seleka came to Bangui. Bodyguards from Chad now protect Djotodia in his palace. There are also ethnic links between the Seleka and Chadian military who form part of the African Union mission in the country. Chad denies being biased or meddling in the country’s affairs by giving weapons to the Seleka, however.

Last modified on Friday, 10 January 2014 15:32

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