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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community 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.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid