In 2007 two of the main rebel groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) signed a peace agreement with the Government, effectively bringing to an end the Central African Republic Bush War, which had been ongoing since 2004. A peace process began, allowing for regional organisations to lower troop numbers in peacekeeping missions, although clashes continued. In 2012 the last remaining major rebel group signed a peace deal. While the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army constituted a threat, and brought African Union and Ugandan forces into the CAR to combat them, the CAR was on a path to peace with elections being held. Infrastructure, however, was inadequate and the country was notoriously poor and had a poor infrastructure.
Fledgling democracies are generally vulnerable: they attempt to incorporate voting into the selection of governments but are prone to cronyism and subject to violent challenge. Voting implies that the government will be elected by the people and that the results will stand, but the reality is that elections are difficult in former conflict zones and there are challengers willing to take up arms if they feel left out.
Hence the emergence in 2012 of the Seleka rebel coalition, who claimed that there had been a lack of progress since the peace agreement had been signed. This rapidly became a major threat, gaining the allegiance of additional armed groups and becoming a threat to the capital, Bangui. The beleaguered government, led by President Bozizé, had support from Chadian and South African troops, and the Multinational Force for Central Africa (FOMAC), while the US and France deployed forces to protect and evacuate their own citizens. Despite this, the Seleka took the capital in 2013 and its leader, Michel Djotodia, was sworn in as President. He dissolved the Seleka but resigned in 2014, and has since been followed by two elected Presidents. Both sides in the civil war had been accused of war crimes, but these then escalated at the hands of opposing ex-Seleka and ‘anti-Balaka’ vigilantes. The Government controls the capital only, there is no security in the country and sectarian and tit for tat violence is rife. The UN deployed a 12,000 troop peacekeeping mission in 2013, alongside a 2,500 French contingent that has since been reduced. The EU has also deployed a smaller force.
The fighting is no longer a straight fight between the rebel Seleka and the Government. This ended when the Seleka took power. The Seleka were Muslim, their opponents Christian, making the origins of the conflict a sectarian one, but their successors are Muslim (the ex-Seleka) and Christian (anti-Balaka) militias, which are numerous (an estimate gives fourteen rebel groups) and act outside of central control. What was a civil war is now a morass of violence, largely against civilians, by groups that use religious and ethnic justifications for violence. Religious leaders have appealed for calm and reconciliation, with the Pope visiting a Muslim enclave in 2015, but the violence continues. Human rights groups and the UN have warned repeatedly of the danger of genocide and there are accusations of ethnic cleansing. The violence is affecting the capacity of humanitarian organisations to carry out essential work and there has been a large scale displacement of civilians.
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Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator