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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid