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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs