This is a make-or-break moment for the Central African Republic. After years of conflict, a small window of opportunity is open to make real progress toward peace. Alexandra Lamarche offers three key steps the international community must take to consolidate hard-won gains and improve conditions on the ground.
Last week, intercommunal fighting in the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, resulted in over 40 deaths and caused more than 40,000 people to flee to various displacement camps sites around the city. The violence erupted following the murder of a Muslim taxi driver, pitting armed Muslim and Christian groups against each other. The streets also filled with protesters calling for the ouster of interim president Catherine Samba-Panza, who was in New York at the time for the United Nations General Assembly.
The civil conflict that has engulfed the Central African Republic for more than two years has displaced nearly 20 percent of the 4.6 million population, both internally and in neighboring countries. In the past year, certain parts of CAR have stabilized, including the capital, Bangui, and international donors have begun to turn their attention toward early recovery programs and planning for national elections. But the crisis is not over. Areas of conflict and volatility have simply shifted as rebel groups and militias relocate throughout the country. Strong humanitarian support from donors is essential to mitigate the impact of continuing violence, and aid agencies must take steps to ensure that the aid systems in place are as effective as possible.
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
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.
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.