BANGUI, Central African Republic- The root of the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) can be traced back to the Bush War of 2004 to 2007, a repercussion of the seizing of power by former president François Bozizé in the CAR. This caused rebellions and violence to breakout in the republic. At the end of the conflict in 2007, the government and the various rebel groups reached a peace agreement.
However, there were accusations that Bozizé was not following the terms agreed upon in the peace treaty. Subsequently, in 2013, Michel Djotodia replaced Bozizé as the new president. Djotodia also became the first Muslim president in the history of a country whose population is overwhelmingly Christian (80.3%.)
The violence currently perpetrated in the CAR right now comes from the use of a predominantly Muslim militia group known as the Séléka by Djotadia. The current president employed them in his overthrowing of Bozizé and later disbanded them.
Despite the order to dissolve, many members refuse to disarm and further went on to kill, loot and burn villages. The atrocities committed by the Séléka group—of which Djotodia was the leader—incited a sector of the country’s Christian majority to violently retaliate. The Christian militia group that was formed as a response is call themselves the anti-balaka, meaning anti-sword in the local Sango language.
As CAR’s situation spiraled out of control, regional and international pressure forced Djotadia out of office in early January due to his inability to mitigate the circumstance. Currently, Catherine Samba-Panza acts as the interim president of the conflict-torn republic. Although herself a Christian, she is seen as neutral. Highly educated and trained as a lawyer in Paris, the president is able to speak Arabic, an ability that many see as useful in her endeavor to alleviate the ethno-religious killings in her republic.
In the conflict that is taking place, anti-balaka members—on the pretext of vengeance and self-defense—are brutally pillaging Muslim villages and communities slaughtering their inhabitants. It is estimated that the militia group has more than 50, 000 members. For instance, in the town of Bouar, 8,250 Muslim Central Africans are besieged inside the town’s central mosque by the anti-balaka forces. Now their lives are being put at ransom—they must pay to be spared. Consequently, this “retaliation” by the anti-balaka has contributed greatly to the escalation of the Christian-Muslim tension in the bloody crisis in CAR.
In the battered capital Bangui alone, more than 500 casualties have been reported. The death toll elsewhere in the country is unknown. In the capital’s Grand Mosque, hundreds are trapped. Many Central African Muslims are now fleeing for their lives to neighboring countries as refugees.
At present, the conflict in the CAR has drawn in foreign and international forces from France and the African Union to disarm the parties involved in the conflict. There are even unfounded rumors that groups from neighboring countries such as the Nigerian Boko Haram and the Somali Al-Shabab might be involved. With the end of the conflict still elusive, order yet to be restored and looting rampant, Samba-Panza has requested the presence of the French army—currently 2,000 strong—to be prolonged in the Central African Republic. She has also declared that the violent disarmament of the anti-balaka militia group remains an option if necessity arises.
– Peewara Sapsuwan
Sources: Lemonde, LA Nouvelle Centrafique, LA Nouvelle Centrafique, LA Nouvelle Centrafique, BBC, Jeune Afrique, BBC, Lemonde, The Guardian