From the new January-February 2014 issue of News & Letters:
World in View
by Gerry Emmett
Violence between Christian majority and Muslim minority communities has torn the social fabric of the Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries. Over 1,000 people have been killed since Michel Djotodia seized power in March 2013. He was installed by a Muslim militia group, Seleka (“Alliance”), made up largely of Chadian fighters—although many residents of the more populous regions of CAR consider all people from Djotodia’s remote Northwestern province to be Chadian, too.
Reciprocal massacres between these communities have led many observers to see a real possibility of a Rwanda-type genocide being perpetrated here.
BACKGROUND TO A DICTATOR
Despite Djotodia’s having been forced to step down by agreement with the Economic Community of Central African States, and the official disbanding of the Seleka, the situation remains desperate. Seleka remnants and Christian anti-balaka (“anti-machete”) militias have continued to commit atrocities. Fearing for their lives, nearly a million people have fled their homes. Two million people, or half the population, are in need of humanitarian aid.
While some point to religious differences as being at the root of this crisis, it should be noted that Christians and Muslims have a history of peaceful co-existence in the CAR. Indeed, during the current strife the Christian and Muslim clergy have sometimes brought torn communities back together.
Neither can Djotodia be said to have been inspired by religious fanaticism. He is a thoroughly modern bureaucrat who was educated in the Soviet Union and returned to his country, as the imam in his community said, only to seek power. He gained it through an alliance with the sort of political-military entrepreneurs that have prospered through Africa’s civil wars.
There are now 1,600 French peacekeepers in the capital, Bangui, and 5,000 African Union troops charged with peacekeeping. A Transitional National Council has been given the job of forming a new government, prior to elections, by the Central African Constitutional Court. Africa expert David Smith has suggested that a Kosova-style transitional administration might be necessary, considering the historic instability of state institutions.
The crisis here is related to the other regional crises and disasters in neighboring Darfur, South Sudan, and Congo. In Congo alone, over 5,400,000 have died from war-related causes since 1998. Tantalum, tin, tungsten, gold and oil have been a higher priority for the international community than African lives.
The anti-colonial revolutions that inspired humanity in the 1950s and 1960s had the misfortune of taking place in a fundamentally uncivilized world, torn by the competition between superpower blocs. While the African masses aspired to create a new humanism, the world powers were more interested in old resources, and new foot soldiers. Only the fulfillment of the African Revolution will turn this around.