News / Africa

    CAR's Sectarian Divide: What's Behind It?

    Workers from the Central African Red Cross bury 13 victims of sectarian violence in a mass grave, in Bangui, Central African Republic, Jan. 5, 2014.
    Workers from the Central African Red Cross bury 13 victims of sectarian violence in a mass grave, in Bangui, Central African Republic, Jan. 5, 2014.
    Nick Long
    People in the Central African Republic say they had never seen anything like the violence between Muslims and Christians that has shaken the country in the past year.  Analysts are looking into how this religious divide emerged and what can be done to overcome it.

    "Kilometre Cinq" is one of the neighborhoods in Bangui where Muslims have congregated since violence between Muslims, Christians and animists exploded in early December and at least 750 people in the capital were killed. Last week the violence flared again and a mob demolished the mosque in this district.

    Local resident Eloge Alokaya says he saw them doing it.

    He says they were from this neighborhood, they were angry and they started by looting the imam’s house and finished by destroying the mosque.

    Asked if Muslims and Christians could live together again in this neighborhood, Alokaya said they could if the government wanted it. Another neighbor wanted to make the Muslims’ return conditional on them giving up their weapons.

    A Catholic priest, Abbe Albert Tungumale-Baba, agrees that disarmament will be necessary.

    He tells VOA the army needs to go into the neighborhoods where arms are hidden and find them. He says it could do this with the population’s help as people know where the weapons are.

    Mixed neighborhoods

    Until recently, Christians and Muslims lived in mixed neighborhoods in Bangui, and they still do in the daytime, which could be an advantage for security forces trying to disarm sectarian gangs.

    Since December 5, however, Christians and Muslims have preferred to live separately at night. Hundreds of thousands of Christians sleep at a camp at the airport or in the yards around churches.

    Christians fear the largely Muslim Seleka militia, which they say has been killing and looting since it took control of the capital in March, while Muslims fear the anti-Balaka militia which killed many people in December.

    So how did this country, which was never known for sectarian violence, suddenly divide along religious lines?

    Sudden divide

    University lecturer Mondesir Oualou Panouala has this to say about the history of Islam in the Central African Republic.

    He says that Islam first arrived in the country in the 16th century, whereas Christianity did not arrive until the 19th century, but the Muslims remained a minority, mainly in the north but also in part of the west. People who suggest the country should be divided into a Muslim north and a Christian south are forgetting about the Muslims in the west, he says.

    And he adds CAR’s Muslims have never been known for radical Islamism.

    "What’s different about Muslims and Christians in the CAR is that they resemble each other in every way," he said. "They eat all the same things, drink all the same things, study in the same conditions, here and abroad and even physically it’s difficult to tell them apart."

    It seems clear that although there have been interfaith conversions, people’s religion here largely depends on which ethnic community they belong to.

    Images from the Central African Republic

    • 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.

    Getting to the root of the problem

    So how did the communities turn on each other?

    Brice Kevin Kakpayen, a member of the transitional parliament, spoke to VOA outside a church in Bangui.

    Kapeyen says there had long been conflicts between ethnic communities in CAR that till the land and others that herd cattle, and in the north the cattle herders have tended to be Muslim. These conflicts have often been settled hastily, he says, without tackling the roots of the problem.

    But, he says, the communities could generally settle those problems in a traditional way. He dates the increasing hostility between Christians and Muslims to an army mutiny in 1996 which gave Muslims more political power but also made them unpopular, particularly as many of the mutineers were of Chadian origin.

    The Seleka rebellion

    Many CAR citizens see a similarity in the Seleka rebellion which took power in Bangui in March last year.  The Seleka are mainly Muslims, and many are from Chad or Sudan.

    According to Human Rights Watch, after taking power the Seleka continued to pillage the country and commit atrocities.  But Human Rights Watch also stresses that the Seleka were taking revenge for atrocities committed in their areas.

    The CAR’s senior Muslim cleric, Imam Omar Kobine Layama, says that for reconciliation to happen people must look back at a long history of injustice and violence.

    "Since independence, Central Africans have suffered injustice and the fight against injustice should be a mechanism for putting the country back on track," he said.

    You May Like

    Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Wilhelm from: Zambia
    January 21, 2014 12:51 AM
    Thanks for this report, I've listened and read reports from other leading news organisations but non have gotten down to the real root of the problems as has been brought out in this article. A concertive effort must be made by all countries not just African though as an African that would have been my wish but the reality of the situation and urgency requires help immediately from all quarters (hence the EU's action to send 500 troops is indeed a good start) to arrest this situation. The local and international media must also begin to identify and mention individuals who are leading others to commit these sectarian attacks, this could help in preventing an increase in more deaths and will provide justice to the victims once calm returns.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.