News / Africa

CAR Residents See Crisis as Political, Not Religious

  • Soldiers from the AU peacekeeping mission prepare to leave at the end of a speech given by Alexandre Nguendet, the head of Central African Republic's transitional assembly at the Gendarmerie headquarters in Bangui on Jan. 13, 2014.
  • Central African transitional parliament chief Alexandre Nguendet gives a speech in Bangui, Jan. 13, 2014.
  • People react to a speech given by Alexandre Nguendet, the head of Central African Republic's transitional assembly in Bangui, Jan. 13, 2014.
  • French soldiers man a street beside in Bangui, Jan. 12, 2014.
  • An anti-balaka soldier in Ouengo district in Bangui, Jan. 12, 2014.

Images from the Central African Republic

TEXT SIZE - +
Anne Look
— The Central African Republic is in the grips of unprecedented conflict that pits Muslims against Christians and Christians against Muslims. But as new transitional authorities try to restore order in the capital, residents say this crisis is political, not religious and the solutions to country's problems lie in the political sphere.  

"There is no religious crisis," said Bangui resident Brice Ngagoui. "It's just political manipulation because the rebels that came to power, [President Michel] Djotodia, are majority Muslim. Politicians took this community affiliation to give a religious connotation to this crisis. But in reality there is not an inter-religious crisis."

He and others told VOA that violence in the capital over the past month stemmed from opposition to ex-rebel leader turned interim president, Djotodia.

Djotodia resigned Jan. 10 under regional pressure, something residents said could be a step toward easing tensions. The country's National Transition Council will elect a new interim president.   

Year of abuses

As rebels pushed south toward Bangui in early 2013, the president they would oust, Francois Bozize, was making speeches referring to "mercenary-terrorists" and "foreigners" coming to "Islamize" the country.

In the months before Bozize was ousted, there were reports of abuses by rebels in the provinces, along with reports that young armed Bozize supporters in the capital were attacking Muslims perceived to be from the north.

The Seleka coalition of rebels didn't profess an Islamist agenda.  But they did want power, and things got worse when they took it in March.

Rebels and armed men, some of them Chadian or Sudanese, destroyed villages and killed civilians. Rebel leaders had little or no control.

Militias comprised mainly of Christian men rose up to fight back but were accused of taking their revenge against Muslim civilians, not rebels.

Things came to a head when anti-Seleka fighters attacked Bangui on Dec. 5. That spun out into weeks of inter-communal slaughter in the city that prompted the deployment of French and regional peacekeepers.

"This crisis has its origin in abuses, the theft, the rapes, the looting orchestrated by Seleka fighters since they took power," said Bangui resident Paul Namsene, adding that people are associating all Muslims with Seleka.

"This crisis comes from the suffering endured by the population at the hands of Seleka," he said. "The bigger Central African crisis, it's a problem of governance. So the new authorities that will be chosen need to work in the interest of the people. It is only then that we will be able to find a real solution."

Leadership vacuum

Regional analysts say the Bozize government sowed the seeds of its own overthrow.

Bozize took power in a coup in 2003 and then, fearful of another coup, proceeded to further hobble an already weak army.  He, like his predecessor, consolidated power in the hands of his relatives and supporters, breeding resentment.

The government signed peace accords with rebels in the north in 2007 and 2008 but then failed to follow through on the terms.

Analysts say the rebel leaders weren't much better - they put personal gain from those deals over development for the north, thereby contributing to a continued sense of regional marginalization.

A national historian at the University of Bangui says Bozize mismanaged the country but there's blame to go around.  

"Who asked Seleka to come? Nobody," Henri Yenzapa said.  "Nobody asked Seleka to come. And when they did come, they should have done what Mr. Bozize didn't do, what his government did not do, but they came and plunged the country into crisis, into grief. When you replace someone you are criticizing, you have to do better than him…but the country has fallen and that is why I say that the blame is shared."

The solution is to restore order in the short term and then hold elections as soon as possible, Yenzapa said.

Thousands have been killed since the Seleka takeover last March. On Monday, the U.N. refugee agency said more than one million have been displaced from their homes.

Jose Pouambi contributed to this report from Bangui.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid