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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid