Since early 2013, the international community has witnessed a horrific ongoing crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR). It is reported that nearly 1 million people have been internally displaced, around 230,000 have fled to neighboring countries and approximately 2.2 million are in dire need of humanitarian aid. The United Nations predicts that around 6000 people have been killed since the inception of the crisis, but the real number unquestionably is higher.
In a press conference held early last year, Amnesty International declared that efforts to mitigate the situation in CAR have caused an exodus on a scale that has never before been witnessed. The organisation also stated that international peacekeeping forces have failed largely to mitigate the situation in the country.
The conflict in CAR began in 2013 after the majority Muslim rebel group, Seleka, decided to overthrow Francois Bozize. Subsequently, within 16 months, Seleka's leader, Michel Djotodia, assumed power in a transition government. Since then, violence has intensified in the country. Seleka perpetrated horrendous delinquencies against civilians. Although nearly everyone was under threat, the Christian community was specifically targeted. In response, anti-Balaka militia was founded which poured out its rancor on Muslims, including those who are not part of the Seleka. This culminated in horrific ethnic cleansing across large swathes of CAR.
The conflict has been exacerbated by the lack of attention from mainstream media, resulting in a lack of attentiveness from diplomatic circles and aid donors; consequently, there has been a slow response.
Despite the ongoing crisis culminating in the divergence of two religious groups, depiction of the ongoing situation as ethnic or religious appears to be overly simplified. However, this is not to say that religious element does not exist. But rather claiming that the conflict is merely religious is too simplistic and would not help recognise the root factors of the crisis, and may lead to inappropriate solutions.
Why did this crisis start?
First, for a long time CAR has been a feeble country with a weak government that has no penetration effect on its populations. The non-existence of a functioning state and security forces has created limited availability of basic service provision, such as education, healthcare and security, for people in large parts of the country.
The lack of security has been specifically astonishing, with both government forces and rebel groups aggregating into a menace to civilians. The security services seem to be neither eager nor capable of offering the people security, leading to the creation of several self-defense guerrillas and insurgent groups.
Secondly, the current conflict is the consequence of the cycle of conflict in the region that has persisted for more than two decades. At the macro level, Sudan, Chad, and CAR have been faced with various proxy wars that have sprouted many armed groups with their respective sponsors. At the micro level, there is a tremendous increase of mercenaries that consist of young people who have known only weapons and violence in their life.
Thirdly, power battles within political aristocracies have caused ordinary citizens from the elite-mobilizing slice of the society to pursue their own personal benefits and gain power. During Boazize's era, the President stiffened his grip on the government apparatus and in the aftermath of the 2011's elections people apart from his immediate retinue began to censure these restrictive politics.
Political tycoons have unwittingly been worsening the situation by maneuvering religious and ethnic identities, a process that is very apparent in the current turmoil. The elite dominance contests are intertwined intimately with the vicious political structure. Nepotism and an insolvent democratisation process have resulted in vehemence becoming the accepted fashion of contest in the country and grabbing power a means to acquire wealth.
Fourthly, the neglected northern regions of the country have been ignored largely since the colonial era, while the north-east has been perceived historically as populated by outsiders. As the Seleka arriving from the north-east, the ingrained angst of outsiders from the north was induced among those in the south.
It cannot be ignored that the northern part of the country has been home to several insurgent movements over the past years. The non-existence of functioning institutions and basic provisions has been very obvious in the north. Moreover, the limited economic fortuities in the north have left a large number of people with no option but to align with the armed groups.
How to end the crisis?
In the short term, I believe that the number of international peacekeeping forces must be increased. Currently, there are around 2000 forces from the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and several French troops. This number is not sufficient and the African Union and the UN needs to deploy more security forces in order to restore order and peace in the country. More importantly, the UN and AU must ensure adept and eager peacekeepers are positioned to safeguard civilians and guarantee peace. Several reports have spread that the international peacekeepers have instead contributed to the deterioration of security situation.
In addition, the UN and other aid agencies should expedite the delivery of aid to those who are in dire need throughout the country, as well as those who have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Furthermore, the current interim President Chaterine Samba-Pansa must try to accommodate Seleka in the country's political sphere. CAR's 80% Christian population considers Seleka as foreigners in their country. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to improve the situation unless without political settlement between the two groups. Moreover, it is vital for Samba-Pansa and other political and religious leaders to support mediation and find a way to reconcile the country and restore peace.
It is also paramount for the international community to support the investigation conducted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) so that those responsible can be brought to justice and to prevent the carnage being repeated in the future.
In the long haul, constructing a functioning state is extremely necessary. The only way to attain long-lasting peace in the country is to rebuild state institutions and basic services that have never actually subsisted. Central to this is the total non-existence of a social contract. If this continues to be absent, any effort to establish state institutions will surely be in vain.
Killing and oppression should be consigned to the past. However, we must all be willing and able to exert any efforts so that we don't see it ever again.