Country Profile: Central African Republic
As one of the least developed, poorest countries in the world, the Central African Republic (CAR), ranked 217 out of 225 nations in GDP per capita, at $800 per year, in 2014. The CAR suffers from a permanent humanitarian crisis. It has the world’s eighth highest rate of maternal deaths in childbirth, and the fifth highest infant mortality rate before age five. Until it erupted into genocide in 2012, it was a forgotten country, a nation consigned to perpetual neglect.
Since its independence from France in 1960, the political situation in CAR has always been unstable. The first President, David Dacko, established a one party state. Jean-Bedel Bokassa seized power from 1966 until 1979, renamed the CAR the Central African Empire, declared himself Emperor for Life, and ruled with cruelty and barbarity. A military coup, backed by the French, restored David Dacko to power in 1979. After two years, Dacko was overthrown by André Kolingba, who announced a move toward parliamentary democracy in 1991.
When the country’s first democratic elections were held in 1993, Ange-Félix Patassé became president. In March 2003, the French-backed General Bozizé launched a surprise attack against Patassé, who was out of the country. Libyan troops and some 1,000 soldiers of Bemba’s Congolese rebel organization failed to stop Bozizé, who took control of the country and thus succeeded in overthrowing Patassé. Bozizé was reelected in the 2011 elections.
Since 2003, Bozizé’s government was challenged by several rebel groups in a so-called ‘bush war’. Because of the unstable situation, there has been massive displacement of people, both within the country and into neighboring countries. According to the 2012 UNHCR country operations profile, an estimated 130,000 CAR refugees have sought refuge in Cameroon, Chad and Sudan, while an estimated 176,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain within the CAR, most dependent on UN assistance.
Some progress towards ending the bush war was made in 2008, when two rebel groups, APRD and UFDR, signed peace accords with the government and a peace process of disarmament, demobilization and social reinsertion (DDR) was launched. In 2011, another rebel group CPJP signed a ceasefire agreement. However, the peace process in CAR remained unpredictable: in January 2012 the APRD said it was pulling out of the peace process because of the arrest of its chief, Jean-Jacques Demafouth.
The CAR has also become a refuge for the Lord’s Resistance Army, led since 1987 by the mass murderer, Joseph Kony of Uganda. Kony is notorious for abducting child soldiers and girl sex slaves. Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005. His forces have dwindled to around 150 men. Kony is currently being hunted by a US backed African Union commando unit. The CAR has become Kony’s haven because of its ineffective police and lack of infrastructure. More information about the LRA can be found on the website of the Enough Project. Genocide Watch supports the work of the Enough Project and the US and Ugandan governments and advocates the arrest and trial of Kony and his henchmen by the ICC.
Another pressing security threat in the CAR is the Front Populaire Pour le Redressement (FPR), a Chadian armed rebel group backed by Sudan that has carried out sporadic attacks in northern CAR since 2008. In January, an offensive by armed forces of both CAR and Chad was launched to oust the FPR from its stronghold in CAR and to capture its rebel leader. According to humanitarian officials, this campaign has displaced thousands of people within the CAR and has increased widespread insecurity.
Another rebel group, the convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, laid down their arms and signed a peace deal in August 2012. Peace was to be very shortlived.
Violence erupted again in November 2012. Seleka rebels, a mainly Muslim coalition of rebel groups led by Michel Djotodia, started an offensive against governmental forces in the northern and central parts of CAR. Djotodia and his Seleka rebels captured the capital, Bangui, and seized power after several months of intense fighting. President Francois Bozizé fled the country.
Following the Seleka armed takeover, Christians were targeted for their religious beliefs and loyalty to the former president. Bodies were strewn through the streets of Bangui on the day after the coup d’état. The Seleka coup was condemned by many nations, and the CAR was expelled from the African Union. Djotodia tried to disband his rebel fighters after his inauguration but lost control over them and the Seleka began an anarchic killing spree against Christians.
Christians formed self-defense militias called Anti-Balakas (anti machete or anti sword in local Sango) and began to slaughter Muslims and Seleka rebels. The conflict sank into a vortex of savage revenge massacres. Non-combatant civilians became the majority of the victims. The country became a totally failed state, with no law, order or functioning institutions. Both Muslim and Christian communities were subjected to mass killings, rape and looting. Thousands of Muslims fled into neighboring Chad.
In December 2013, French troops intervened with a 1,600 strong force that quickly began to disarm militias, especially the Selekas. President Djotodia resigned under extreme pressure because he could not stop the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country. He was replaced by Catherine Samba-Panza as Interim President. Widespread mass killings of the defenseless Muslim population escalated. Still armed Seleka militia groups remain near Bangui. Entire sectors of Bangui are now abandoned.
Local Anti Balaka leaders fanned hatred against Muslims, saying they do not belong in CAR and should be driven into the Muslim countries to the north. Muslim populations who have lived in the CAR for generations, lack any security, and are faced with the difficult decision of staying, which might result in their deaths, or fleeing to neighboring countries.
630,000 people out of the country’s 4,5 million people have fled their homes. Out of the 100,000 Muslims formerly living in Bangui, fewer than a 1000 remain. Christian civilians are also targeted in revenge killings. In one incident, Chadian AU “peacekeepers” opened fire in a market in Bangui, which killed 30 and injured over 300 Christians. There is no doubt that the killings on both sides are genocidal because they are targeted on the basis of religious identity. The CAR’s Muslim minority faces total extinction if the genocidal violence is not stopped.
With authorization of the UN Security Council, the African Union now has 6000 peacekeepers in the CAR, together with a 2000 strong French intervention force. The peacekeeping force has been unable to stop the killings, and are only protecting ad hoc displaced persons camps and strategic locations like airports and governmental buildings.
The UN Security Council approved a 12,000 strong peacekeeping force, but it will not arrive until September 2014. The EU has also promised to reinforce the French troops with a 1000 man strong European Union force with a strong mandate that not only allows it to protect civilians, but also gives it the mandate to help authorities arrest those responsible for atrocities. As of May 2014, the crisis in Ukraine has now shifted the EU:s attention away from the CAR.
The sectarian violence in CAR led Genocide Watch to issue a Genocide Emergency Alert in 2012, which remains in effect. The Central African Republic is currently at stage 9, genocidal Extermination.