The Central African Republic CAR) has a population of 4.6 million, of which an estimated 2.7 million people have been displaced due to violence, meaning that the majority of the population are barely able to survive, never mind contribute to the functioning of a nation-state. As a consequence, the country does not function effectively and is dependent on outside help for food, medical treatment and security. All three are insufficient to mitigate the consequences of a man-made disaster. The Government maintains control in the capital, Bangui, only and is on its third President since the rebel Seleka took control in 2013. The nature of the violence changed rapidly from a rebellion by the Seleka in 2012 to one in which myriad actors are committing atrocities and major human rights violations. The CAR is landlocked, meaning that opportunists have been able to exploit the situation. The notorious Lord’s Resistance Army was able to operate in the CAR, with Ugandan forces entering the country to tackle them. Others are simply herders, seeking new grazing areas for their cattle.
At the heart of the violence is attacks on civilians and the razing of villages and while there is a distinctly religious element to this, with groups identifying as Muslim, Christian and Animist targeting civilians based on their religion and ethnicity, there is also a significant amount of opportunism. The CAR is resource rich and resources mean money and power, whatever one’s religious and ethnic identity may be, and in a country with no effective central government, armed gangs call themselves groups, and go about their bloody business. Marking people out as different and/or inferior due to their religious status, whether because one really believes it or chooses to pay lip service, and making them guilty of being a threat because they are from the other, ‘dangerous’ and ‘threatening’, Muslim, Christian, or Animist communities, allows for dehumanisation. What follows is inhuman.
The outcomes of this are major human rights violations committed at the local level but combining to make a national pattern of ethnic cleansing. A small scale massacre of a village and its burning to the ground is an atrocity that is one too many, but added together they are a major humanitarian disaster that is occurring in a security vacuum. This is despite the efforts of peacekeepers, allowed in by the Government, who are themselves suffering casualties alongside humanitarian workers. When a conflict involves major armed groups with clearly defined goals there is potential for leverage to reduce violence and atrocities and for mediation and negotiation to break down incompatibilities between combatants. The violence in the CAR is fundamentally different as there are multiple actors, most of whom are opportunists or driven by religious and ethnic hatred (or both), and leverage is much harder to apply, as is identifying the perpetrators responsible for inhuman acts. These acts can be summed up as murder, rape, and torture as communities are wiped from existence.
Next week we take a closer look at the combatants involved in the violence.
For more information regarding this week’s blog see:
Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator