Stakes are high for the final round of African Union-led peace negotiations on the Central African Republic (CAR) ,with millions of civilian lives hanging in the balance. But failure is avoidable if the negotiating parties are patient and stop repeating past mistakes.
Muslim and Christian, men and women, young and old, urban and rural. My colleague Mark Yarnell and I have spent the last two weeks meeting with internally displaced people (IDPs) across the Central African Republic and with those living across the border as refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’ve visited those living in both formal camps and in informal sites, including churches, mosques, urban centers, and with host communities. Speaking with dozens of IDPs and refugees, we heard unconscionable stories of suffering and horrific accounts of violence. Many felt hopeless about their futures after living in terrible conditions for years. But others were more optimistic, and told us of their hopes to return home and rebuild their lives.
The Central Africa Republic has been embroiled in civil conflict since a rebel movement from the north descended on the capital, Bangui, and overthrew the government in December 2013. While stability has since improved in some parts of the Central African Republic, the situation in the town of Bambari remains volatile. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that more than 80,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are in the city and surrounding region.
Periodic violence, reprisal attacks, recent displacement – the town of Bambari, almost right in the middle of the Central African Republic (CAR), is emblematic of the continuing crisis in the country. In 2013, many areas in CAR descended into intercommunal violence following the overthrow of the government by an amalgamation of rebel groups from the north known as the Séléka. Christian militia groups, known as anti-Balaka, started fighting against the Séléka (composed primarily of Muslims). The conflict quickly pitted neighbor against neighbor in a brutal cycle of attacks and reprisal attacks, even as the Séléka were disbanded and an augmentation of international peacekeepers was deployed to restore order
The political struggle underway in Burundi has thrust that tiny Central African nation into the global spotlight. Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is seeking a third term despite being limited to two by Burundi’s constitution, and by the terms of a peace deal signed in 2000. Nkurunziza’s supporters maintain that his first term did not count because he was appointed by parliament rather than elected. His political opponents disagree.
More than two years since a rebel movement launched a violent campaign against the Central African Republic government, the country is continuing to experience a major humanitarian crisis. In March 2013, the Seleka group (an amalgamation of rebel groups from the north) overthrew the central government in Bangui, and since then sectarian violence between Christian militia groups, known as anti-Balaka, and former members of Seleka, who are mainly Muslims, has permeated the country. Further, inter-communal violence has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and the political conflict has also exacerbated simmering tensions between pastoralist and agriculturalist communities, resulting in violent clashes.
With so many humanitarian crises around the world, priority humanitarian and peacekeeping accounts need increased support from Congress now more than ever. This includes the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) and the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) humanitarian accounts, along with the core peacekeeping accounts including Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and Contributions for International Peacekeeping (CIPA).
The Central African Republic (CAR) has been in turmoil since the Seleka rebel group overthrew the government in March 2013. Both during the coup attempt and in the months that followed, Seleka rebels (most of whom are Muslim) terrorized non-Muslim villages, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. In response to these attacks, the anti-Balaka, a primarily Christian militia, took up arms against the Seleka. Hundreds of thousands more people were displaced as a result of the fighting between the two groups, and many reprisal attacks were carried out against the country’s minority Muslim communities. An intervention by African Union and French forces is attempting to mitigate the violence. However, the country remains highly unstable, with many people still living in fear for their lives.