News / Africa

Seleka Rebellion in CAR Sparks Cycle of Violence

  • A woman reacts near the dead body of her sister who was killed during one of the latest incidents of sectarian violence in the 5th Arrondissement of the capital Bangui February 9, 2014. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
  • Christians loot a mosque in Bangui December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun
  • A mother holds her child while attempting to take cover as repeated gun shots are heard close to Miskine district during continuing sectarian violence in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, Jan. 28, 2014.
  • A man prays while reading verses from the Koran in a hangar at the airport of the capital Bangui January 30, 2014. The hangar is used to shelter internally displaced Muslims fleeing the continuing sectarian violence and those waiting to be evacuated by ai
  • Newly parliamentary-elected interim President of the Central African Republic Catherine Samba-Panza walks into the National Assembly prior to her swearing-in ceremony in the capital Bangui January 23, 2014. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
  • French troops of the Sangaris Operation speak to a member of the Anti-Balaka Christian militia who handed over his arms in Bangui on January 25, 2014. The new president of the Central African Republic Catherine Samba Panza set to work to choose members of
  • A terrified woman walks down from the bush in the hills 15 Kms (10 miles) outside Bangui, Central African Republic, Friday Jan. 24, 2014, as Rwandan troops tell her to calm down during a weapons search operation. No weapons were found. Christian militiam
  • Two women mourn, Feb. 9, 2014, in Bangui the death of two relatives killed in the 5th district, one the of the city's central neighborhoods.
  • An Anti-balaka militiaman poses for a photograph in the capital of the Central African Republic Bangui January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
  • Christian refugees living in makeshift shelters near the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014, as they try to escape from the deepening divisions between the country's Muslim minority and Christian majority. Christian refug
  • Amandine, 7, who found refuge in the Mbaiki cathedral, in Mbaiki, some 120kms (75 miles) south west of bangui, Central African Republic, sits on the ground, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014. Amandine, who lost both parents five years ago, cannot speak nor walk. She
  • At PK12 Chadian troops escort thousands of Muslim residents from Bangui and Mbaiki, fleeing the Central African Republic capital Bangui in a mass exodus using cars, pickups, trucks, lorries and motorcycles on Friday Feb. 7, 2014.
  • A woman runs for cover as heavy gunfire erupts in the Miskin district of Bangui, Central African Republic, Feb. 3, 2014.
CAR: A Country Plunged Into Sectarian, Humanitarian Crisis
Cecily Hilleary
Every day brings reports of new atrocities in the Central African Republic (CAR), where fighting between Muslims and Christians has left at least two thousand dead and displaced more than 800-thousand others.

The crisis began in March 2012 when the Seleka, a loose, untrained coalition of Muslim rebels from the northeast, seized control of the capital, Bangui and installed their leader as president.

Now, as Muslims are being targeted in retaliation in what has been described as “relentless wave of coordinated violence,” there are fears that the violence unleashed by Seleka rebels two years ago may lead to years of regional instability. 

Seleka simply means “alliance” in Sango, the language most widely spoken in the CAR.  It is what the International Crisis Group has termed a “consortium of malcontents,” disparate rebel factions from the northeast of the country, some of which date back to earlier insurgencies against the earlier government of Jean-Bedel Bokassa. 

The Seleka had a laundry list of what many say were legitimate complaints against self-proclaimed “Emperor” François Bozizé and other governments before his, including corruption, nepotism and political marginalization. 

Louisa LombardLouisa Lombard
x
Louisa Lombard
Louisa Lombard
“Their grievances are that they are not considered part of the country,” says Louisa Lombard, a cultural anthropologist and post-doctoral fellow at the University of California at Berkeley’s Department Geography. Lombard says the grievances include “that they’ve been totally ignored and neglected, and that the government has attacked them on a few specific occasions.”

Lombard says there is widespread discrimination against minority Muslims in the country’s northeast “who are seen as foreigners, regardless of where they were born,” and thus they don’t receive “a lot of largesse from the central government.” 

The northeast has an industrial-grade diamond industry, control of which has been somewhat of a factor for the rebels, says Lombard, but the greater issue has been access to the central government.

Additionally, the Seleka accused Bozize of failing to honor a 2007 peace deal which promised aid and jobs for rebels if they would lay down their arms.
 
March on Bangui

At the time they announced their coalition in September 2012, the Seleka numbered only about 1,000-2,000, but they were joined rebel fighters from the Janjaweed in neighboring Sudan, Chad and even Uganda. 

In December, they set off on a three month march to Bangui, which fell in March 2013.  Bozizé fled to Cameroon, and Seleka leader Michel Djotodia assumed the presidency.  The coup was seemingly effortless for three important reasons:

  • Bozizé, kept his army weak and unpaid (to offset the threat of a military coup) so they were no match for the rebels.
  • France, which had sent jets to repel rebels in 2006 and 2007, now said its several hundred troops in the CAR would function only  to protect French nationals, not the CAR government, and thus didn’t stand in Seleka’s way.
  • The rebels were well-armed, which has led to questions about whether they are funded from the outside.  In April, 2013, Bozize accused Eritrea of sending weapons through Chad, accusations both Eritrea and Chad deny.

Weapons aren't hard to get in the CAR.

A 2008 small arms survey by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International and Development estimated that more than 50,000 weapons were circulating in the country, outside of government control—weapons which made their way over porous borders by indirect transfers by defeated or demobilized forces from Chad, Sudan or the DRC.

Weapons were also stolen from military stores during coup attempts, for example, or during anti-poaching operations and weapons were shipped from  France, Chad, Libya and other countries to boost various past regimes, or brought in by refugees from neighboring conflicts.

Role of religion

Some analysts have cast the conflict as a religious war, part of a greater struggle for Islamist domination of the continent, especially in light of reprisals by Christians against the Muslim population of the CAR. 

But most analysts disagree with this view.

John CampbellJohn Campbell
x
John Campbell
John Campbell
John Campbell, a Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), stresses that this did not begin as a religious conflict.

“It started essentially as a rivalry between two warlords vying for political power [Bozizé and Djotodia], and particularly for possession of the city of Bangui.  They, in turn, appealed to religious identities and also ethnic identities in order to bolster their political ambitions, something that in the end becomes very, very hard to stop,” Campbell said.

The Seleka turned against the Christian population that had marginalized them, burning churches, torturing, killing, and looting, in part because they weren’t a paid army.  Subsequently, the Christian population created militias of their own--the anti-balaka, or “anti-machete,” staging equally bloody attacks on Muslims. 

Djotodia gave into pressure and stepped down on January 10 of this year. Ten days later, parliament elected businesswoman, lawyer and Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president

Samba-Panza has signaled her intention to re-unify the country and end the violence, appointing both Seleka and anti-balaka members to her cabinet and charging a newly-reorganized military to protect both Muslims and Christians.  But she will need help.

Muslims now targeted

And there are few signs the violence will end anytime soon. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned this week that a wave of ‘ethnic cleansing” has taken hold and called on French and African peacekeepers to protect Muslims from attack. 

Human Rights Watch emergencies director Peter Bouckaert, who just returned from a three-week stay in CAR, told VOA's English-to-Africa coordinated attacks against Muslims began last September and are continuing.

“Literally, the entire population of the capital Bangui and of cities and villages throughout the northwest and southwest are fleeing terrific violence. I was there for three weeks, and we saw 12 lynchings and attempted lynchings in the capital alone.  An in village after village and town after town, there’s been massacres committed by the anti-balaka militia,” he said.

Bouckaert says the anti-balaka forces and their allies, who he says are well armed, clearly have the upper-hand.

“The future of the Muslim community, who has lived in this country for countless generations, is now at stake as they flee en masse to Chad and Cameroon to try and escape this wave of horrific violence,” he said.  

The way forward

Thierry Vircoulon, who manages the Central Africa Project for the International Crisis Group says in response to the violence the UN will shortly be sending 500 EU troops to supplement 1,600 French and 5,000 African Union troops already there.

“I think the most important thing to do in the short term is first to reconstitute the state security services—the police and the army; and secondly, re-establish the road between Cameroon and Bangui, because this road is not only the road that brings all the supplies to the capital city, but it’s also the main road for trade,” Vircoulon said.

But Vircoulon stresses any foreign troops are only a “bridging force.” 

“The EU says that the mission is a six-month mission, and they’re not going to solve anything in six months. What is expected is that at some stage, the U.N. will actually decide to send peace-keeping troops to the CAR,” Vircoulon said.
 
The UN has extended the CAR mission for a year and has authorized the use of force by EU troops, if necessary.  Earlier, the world body estimated would take another 10,000 troops to end the fighting and will consider the issue in March.

Meanwhile, the African Union has placed a $409 million price tag on bringing peace and stability to the CAR.  Donors have so far pledged only $315 million—but as seen in other global conflicts, funds don’t always come through.

Sadly, says Campbell, it took nine months for the world to sit up and take notice of the bloodshed in the CAR.  Unless and until the conflict spills over into a regional war, the CAR will likely remain “pretty marginal” to the interests of a great many states.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs