Fr Nelson Adjei-Bediako, from Ghana, is an SMA priest. During his seminary years he spent time studying and working in his home country as well as in Benin Republic and Egypt before his ordination in 1998. Until 2007 he was on mission in Nigeria. When the SMA decided to create three distinct African units, Fr Nelson was appointed as Superior of the Gulf of Guinea District-in-formation, living in Lomé, Togo. In this capacity he was responsible for SMA priests from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo. As Superior Fr Nelson visited his priests working in many African countries, including the Central African Republic (CAR). One of them is now Bishop of Berberati, Msgr Dennis Agbenyadzi SMA.
Since handing over to his successor, Fr Nelson has been involved in a new parish development in Accra, Ghana (see photo below taken at the first Mass in a temporary Mass centre). He is now heading to a new fulltime parish appointment in Lomé, Togo.
Those visiting our website will be familiar with the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic, where the SMA has both members on mission and members from that country on mission elsewhere in Africa.
In light of his visits and speaking with people in CAR, Fr Nelson has written an evaluation of the situation in CAR and the prospects for peace, as part of his studies in International Relations & Conflict Resolution. This article is based principally on his work.
Today we are witnessing a strong and promising economic growth in most parts of Africa; yet the continent is still struggling with pockets of instability and violent conflicts.
In the Horn of Africa, Somalia’s militant Islamist group al-Shabaab is resisting African Union military forces (AMISOM) and gained even greater notoriety for its terrorist attack on a Nairobi shopping mall.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is still saddled with violent insurgents despite the surrender of its M23 rebel group in November 2013.
West Africa continues to witness attacks by Boko Haram and other armed groups in Northern Nigeria, and the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic has made the United Nations officials recently signed a warning against the potential for another Rwanda.1
In this article I am examining the conflict in Central African Republic and the possibility for peace.
The Central African Republic (CAR) has a population of 4.6 million (UN, 2012) and covers an area of 622,984 sq km (240,535 sq miles) with Bangui as the capital city. Life expectancy is 51 years for women, 48 years for men (UN). The people are Christian [50%], Muslim [15%] and indigenous beliefs [35%]. CAR is surrounded on all sides by conflict-affected countries. The conflicts and insecurity in these countries – DR Congo, Sudan and Chad – have all spilt over the porous borders into the CAR.
The country and its conflict attracted little interest from the media or governments until recently when the UN warned of a possible genocide there. The UN described the situation in CAR as the ‘world’s most silent crisis’.
There is the dire need for international assistance as it ranks as one of the least developed countries in the world and has some of the lowest income and school attendance rates. The Séléka rebels’ coup in December 2012 launched the country into further turmoil which has affected the entire population of about 4.6 million. At least 200,000 families have been forced to flee their homes, and as a result, over 60,000 children and families are suffering from severe food shortages.2
The Central African Republic has experienced instability since its independence from France (1960). It is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 159 out of 169 in the 2010 Human Development Index (HDI) and in United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2012 & 2013 reports on the Least Developed Countries.3
Who is involved in the conflict
The government of President Bozizé of CAR had become quite weak, and so began to lose control over the territory except the capital, Bangui. Three main rebel groups had been operating in CAR over the last few decades: the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP); the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR); and the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD).
There have been also other smaller rebel groups operating in the country, most specifically in the north. The situation is further complicated by a long history of neighbouring militias launching raids on CAR territory, particularly Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who are known for brutal attacks against civilians, and is often pursued by the Ugandan Peoples Defense Force (UPDF).4
When it all started
Before independence the country was called Oubangui-Chari. Post-independence it became the Central African Republic. Since independence, the country has not really known peace due to the fact that military leaders began to stage coup after coup in order to take power from the previous leaders. From 1976 – 1979 CAR had an Emperor, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who gained infamy for his extravagant lifestyle etc. Bokassa had seized power ten years previously and ruled as President until he decided to declare CAR an Empire. He was overthrown by French troops who reinstated David Dacko, the man he had overthrown 23 years previously.
But this did not bring peace and power struggles between competing factions in CAR continued. In 1993 the first fair and democratic elections were held with Ange-Felix Patasse being elected as president. Unfortunately, his terms in office witnessed several mutinies and a series of riots by civil servants and soldiers over the non-payment of salaries. In 2003 Patasse was ousted by Francois Bozizé, who was backed by the UFDR, and took over the control of Bangui.
As a result of this coup, together with the overspill from the Sudanese war, a civil war began involving the UFDR, who took control of several towns in northern CAR. As fighting between the UFDR and CPJP in the north intensified, Bozizé lost control of some parts of the country. This crisis continued well into 2007, with nearly 300,000 citizens displaced. 5
In 2008, the UFDR and APRD signed a peace agreement with Bozizé’s government, and promised to disarm and demobilize rebel fighters. However, the CPJP remained active, mainly in the north of the country where it was constantly attacking the Central African Army, as well as the civilians in the region.
Clashes between government forces and rebel groups continued despite peace agreements and ceasefires that were being signed by most rebel groups in the country. The LRA also continued to step up its attacks on CAR territory, and terrorized much of the area. The Presidential Guard and the Central African Army were being accused, as the same time, of committing serious violations against civilians, reportedly burning schools and homes. In January 2011, Bozizé was re-elected for a second term but was forced into exile by rebels in March 2013.
The ongoing conflict and years of political instability has adversely affected the economy of CAR, and over 20% of the population has fled their homes. CAR relies heavily on international aid and NGOs for money, and for services which the government cannot provide for its citizens.6
Séléka (also called the Séléka CPSK-CPJP-UFDR) means ‘alliance’ in Sango, the national language of CAR. It is an alliance of militias7 in CAR that overthrew the government on March 24, 2013.8 Séléka leader, Michel Djotodia, proclaimed himself President. Nearly all the members of Séléka are Muslim.9
The rebel coalition brings together factions of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and the Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country(CPSK), two of the CAR’s many anti-government militias. CPJP in this case refers to the “Fundamental” splinter group of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, one of many militias involved in the CAR’s long-running civil war. A different faction of the CPJP signed a peace accord with the government on 25 August 2012.
The Séléka first emerged on 15 September 2012 under the name CPSK-CPJP Alliance, when it published a press release taking responsibility for attacks on three towns that day. It was the last of the major rebel groups to do so. The Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country (CPSK) was previously hardly known.
On 15 December 2012 the group published its first press release using the full name “Séléka CPSK-CPJP-UFDR“. Two groups that do not appear in the title, the long-standing militia Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) and the newly minted Alliance for Revival and Rebuilding (A2R) were reportedly part of the alliance.
In September 2013 Michel Djotodia announced that Séléka had been disbanded. The group dispersed into the countryside and, since then, has been committing mass atrocities according to Human Rights Watch. Executions, rape and looting by ex-Séléka fighters after the coup and disbanding have fomented religious tension where the population is over 50% Christian. Christian militias, using the name anti-balaka, have been formed to fight the Muslim Séléka. The United Nations considered sending troops to stop the atrocities. On 26 November 2013, France indicated that it would boost its presence by deploying a further 1,000 troops to augment its existing 400 troops if it receives UN backing.10
Anti-balaka denotes the Christian militias formed in CAR after Michel Djotodia came to power. Anti-balaka means “anti-machete” or “anti-sword” in the local Sango and Mandja languages. Michel Djotodia was the leader of the mostly Muslim rebel coalition known as Séléka that overthrew François Bozizé in March 2013. Djotodia became the first Muslim leader of the country. The increasing violence in the country is largely reprisal attacks on civilians from ex-Séléka’s mainly Muslim fighters and the anti-balaka. As many Christians had sedentary lifestyles and many Muslims were nomadic, claims to the land were yet another dimension of the tensions. In November 2013, the UN warned that the country was at risk of spiraling into genocide, was “descending into complete chaos” and France described the country as “…on the verge of genocide” On 2 December, anti-balaka militiamen were suspected to have killed 12 people, including children, and wounded 30 others in an attack on the mostly Muslim Peuhl ethnic group in Boali, according to the government.11
Civil War Turning Religious?
The conflict is escalating daily into a religious war that’s hampering the effectiveness of international aid, according to a chief UN envoy. “As a result of its predominantly Muslim composition, Séléka abuses against the Christian populations in the CAR were quickly interpreted as a religious conflict pitting Muslims against Christians,” UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, said in a statement.12
The worsening strife in the country with its Muslim-Christian overtones risks escalating into sustained violence along religious lines and this could spill beyond the country’s borders, further destabilizing the entire region.
“Killings in Bangui (the capital) and in the rest of the country continue every day, and the population remains divided along religious affiliation,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council in a briefing on 6 January 2014. He said that thousands of people are estimated to have been killed, nearly 1 million driven from their homes, and 2.2 million (about half the population) need humanitarian aid.
“Access to residential neighbourhoods in Bangui is controlled either by ‘anti-Christian’ or ‘anti-Muslim’ checkpoints, manned by armed civilians. Similarly, places outside Bangui like Bossangoa, Bouar, Bozoum and Paoua, among others, witness atrocities on a daily basis, including direct clashes between the Christian and Muslim communities.”13
Political not Religious Conflict
The situation in CAR is critical because it’s beginning to confirm the notion that people have on the African continent because of what’s happening in Nigeria where there seems to be practically a schism between Muslims and Christians who have existed together in many African countries for years with no problem. The horror that is going on particularly in the capital, Bangui, is terrible.
People watched in horror as militiamen rush through houses and looked for Muslims to shoot them dead or hack and club them to death. The two-day frenzy of violence in Bangui in December, in which militia killed 1,000 people according to Amnesty International, brought fears that the Central African Republic was about to descend into religious warfare on a level comparable to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
The heinous attack was a vengeful response to months of atrocities committed mostly by Muslim fighters from the Séléka rebel group who seized power in March, which compelled the prompt intervention of France who deployed 1,600 troops under a UN mandate to protect civilians.14
Religious leaders had sounded the alarm over abuses by the Séléka after they burned churches, looted and killed during their march from the north towards the capital in early 2013. Many in the country will strongly disagree with the view that the origins of the bloodshed have something to do with religion, because Muslims and Christians in this country have long lived together in peace. They blame rather a political struggle for control over resources in one of the weakest states in Africa.
The militia, known as anti-balaka, carried out these reprisal attacks mainly because according to them the country has been invaded by foreigners, especially from Chad and Sudan. For them the group’s aim was purely political: they would fight on to oust the Séléka leader, Michel Djotodia, installed as interim president.15
Rich in diamonds, timber, gold, uranium and oil, the Central African Republic has been racked by five coups and numerous rebellions since independence as different groups fought for control of state resources. That, and the spillover from conflicts in neighbouring DR Congo, Sudan and Chad, has disregarded the rule of law, leaving a phantom state with an ill-disciplined army, corrupt administration and a lawless interior.
Djotodia and other Séléka leaders launched their uprising to gain access for northern peoples to the nation’s wealth, particularly oil, found in their northern homeland and now under the control of the China National Petroleum Corporation.
Djotodia says his northern Gula tribes people, Muslim pastoralists neglected both under French colonial rule and post-independence governments, were betrayed by former President Francois Bozize, who sought their aid for a 2003 coup but surrounded himself with his Gbaya tribe once in power.16
With support from battle-hardened Chadian and Sudanese fighters, many of them also Gulas, Séléka swept southward, overrunning not only Bozize’s poorly equipped troops but also a South African peacekeeping force in March 2013.
Once in Bangui, unable to speak French or the local Sango language, Séléka fighters sought out Arabic-speaking Muslims and stayed with them, often hoarding looted goods in their homes.
Non-Muslims equated this with complicity, said Archbishop of Bangui Diedonne Nzapalainga, with the devastating effects seen in the early December violence until today.
“To non-Muslim locals, Muslim now equals Séléka and Séléka equals Muslim,” said Nzapalainga, who for months has worked with Muslim clerics to try to calm rising religious tensions. “We came out early and declared that this conflict was not a religious conflict but a political one.”17
The Role of the International Community
It is always impossible to describe the scale of international failure when you look at the conflicts in Rwanda, in Darfur and today in Syria. Prominent commentators and writers have therefore commented that “in general at the UN, conflict prevention is preached more often than it is practiced.” 18
To prevent such atrocities the international community must tackle the root causes of these conflicts. For example, groups are often labeled as inhuman by describing them as sub-human – this includes terms such as inferior races and animals. Tutsis were called cockroaches in Rwanda during the genocide in which more than 800,000 people were slaughtered in a three month period. Some citizens are not considered citizens but foreigners in CAR and in other states. Once the other has been delegitimized, no longer considered as fellow human beings but rather something less and not worthy of life and liberty, the end result is often brutal with the best case being the suppression and violation of human rights and the worst case being mass atrocities and genocide.19 In the case of CAR groups such as Séléka and Anti-Balaka should either be disbanded completely or be made to reconcile with each other.
The International Community’s seemingly inaction, in the face of violation of human rights, is due to the UN Charter under Article 2.4 which states that “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” There are two exceptions to this blanket prohibition.
First, as provided by Article 51 of the Charter, states may act in self-defense.
Second, under Articles 41 and 42, the Security Council can authorize enforcement actions and allow for the Security Council to take measures by air, sea, or land forces to maintain or restore peace and security.20
So with the authorization from the Security Council, French and African Union (AU) troops are presently in CAR to protect lives and property and to curb the atrocities taking place there.
In 2000, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in response to the atrocities in Rwanda and troubled by the “confusing legal justifications surrounding NATO’s intervention in Kosovo… asked the General Assembly the following: ‘If humanitarian intervention is, indeed an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond… to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity.’” The government of Canada, in response to Kofi Annan’s inquiry, brought together the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) to develop a report on the a range of moral, political, and legal issues concerning humanitarian intervention. The final report produced by the ICISS and endorsed by the UN Secretary General in 2005, introduced the concept now widely known as “the Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) – a comprehensive framework for diplomatic and economic sanctions and finally military interventions as a last resort to prevent gross human rights violations21, the latter being applied in the CAR today.
The most difficult and controversial principle to apply is that of “right authority”. When it concerns authorizing military intervention for human protection purposes, the argument is compelling that the United Nations, and in particular its Security Council, should be the first port of call. The timely intervention of France in northern Mali and Central Africa Republic (CAR) has saved so many lives and has avoided another imminent and catastrophic genocide especially in the CAR although the situation is not fully contained. In the case of Syria, the silly nature of the guerrilla fighting and the growing sectarian ties of both the rebels and government forces make a potential military intervention extremely difficult.22
Prospects for Peace – Way Forward
Despite the concerted, determined efforts of the UN and the AU backed French forces, no peace has emerged yet. Despite the resignation of the coup leader, Djokoto, and the setting up of an interim government headed by Catherine Samba-Panzathere is still no peace in the country.
This “civil-turned-religious conflict”, compared to other conflicts, has not lasted too long but has had a huge amount of devastating consequences, human and material, that many no longer believe that a solution can be found. However, with the assured commitment of the interim government, prospects for eventual peace can be guaranteed.
The key to resolution is very easy to state, but extraordinarily difficult to achieve.
It needs the total commitment of all Central Africans and the government, with the active participation of the International Community and the many other NGOs and entities that want to help.23
It’s not a conflict between Christians and Muslims. The Central Africans feel they are undivided one nation, but it was discrimination that led to the coup. Muslims were viewed as foreigners in the capital but they have rights as well.
Resolution to this conflict, if all parties agree, is this: commitment to the task of reconciling all, especially Muslims with Christians. Security is what the Central Africans don’t have for themselves, even though security for all is in the general interest for all.24
Present indications are that hostilities are likely to continue, unless all the parties involved in the previous agreements, their guarantors and the Central African civil society re-dedicate their commitment, deciding to find a lasting solution to the political problems in CAR, re-engage in dialogue on outstanding issues and develop a clear implementation plan that includes
(a) representation from all sections of the population,
(b) commitment to a longer term peace process and
(c) setting up of an independent monitoring mechanism to track progress and agree on a joint and peaceful path to recovery.25
The people of CAR must take the decision themselves, with the help of the International Community. It must not be imposed from beyond. They must understand by now that the destiny of the country rests in their own hands.
The style of dialogue that needs to be adopted should be inclusive (all Central Africans) and they must dialogue on the key issues that have caused a succession of rebellions in their country: centralized governance; political exclusion; persistent failure to implement previous peace agreements; lack of development projects; poor public services, and cross border conflict dynamics.
Thus the existing problem is due to a dispute over who should be in power and be in charge of the country’s resources. Yet all sides thus have a strong incentive to resolve the problem. Central Africans want peace and an end to the conflict, to regain the country’s peaceful existence, and enjoy the benefits that would accrue as a result of promoting normal relations among themselves and with their neighbors. The ordinary people are suffering from poor living standards and violence. Their lives are miserable. Naturally they want to find a way out of this situation as quickly as possible.26
Like George Mitchell who talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am optimistic that there will be a resolution sooner or later in the conflict. But it cannot be imposed externally. The parties themselves must negotiate directly, with the active and sustained support of the UN and the AU.
All recognize and acknowledge the need to settle their differences, dialogue and move on. To succeed, they will have to engage in compromise and be flexible without preconditions. But most of all it will take political leadership by all concerned, leaders who are willing to take some risks for peace. I believe that though this conflict is escalating it can and will be ended, in part because I believe that the pain from negotiating and implementing an agreement, which will be substantial, will however be much less than the pain that the people will endure if there is no agreement.27
The heart of the conflict is the struggle for power or control over the country’s resources. The Somalia conflict, for example, is centered on the tremendous oil that Chevron has found in Somalia, and since Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, the country has been in crisis. The chaos in Sudan over Darfur and the conflict raging within South Sudan presently is centered on the tremendous resources that are in Darfur. The former colonial masters have to find a way back in, and the way back in is the conflict on the continent that evidently the Africans can handle themselves, so it opens the door for the former European colonial masters to get back into Africa.
So the question now is how the conflict can be resolved or does the resolution require the participation and mediation of the international community. The international community is needed but not directly. The problem can be solved if the AU can be strengthened and supported in terms of finance and other logistics. Africans must also have the moral and political will to deal with the problems of Africa and gather the resources needed for a standing army, for a peacekeeping force. Given the chance, with the necessary financial support from the Western and Eastern nations, Africans have the capacity to solve their own problems, in this case the CAR conflict.28
If this is not done the turbulent situation in the country will spill over and affect the neighboring African states and the impact will be devastating. A good example is the DR Congo that is surrounded by 8 countries. Every one of them, because of the conflict in the Region, is affected by what takes places in the DR Congo – Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, CAR and the rest. Conflict within those countries will cause an influx and spillover of refugees and internally displaced people. What has to be done is try to contain it so that it doesn’t become the kind of problems that we witness in Kenya with Somalia that ended up in the tragic Nairobi Mall bombing. So Africans and those who live in the continent have a responsibility to make sure there is an effective conflict resolution mechanism in place so as to ensure the well-being of the people.29 This should be the fundamental focus of the AU, not who should own the resources and how they are to be exploited.
Hugo Reichenberger in Bangui, Central African Republic: Emergency evacuation from a crucible of violence http://www.unhcr.org/52e24b0c6.html
By David Smith in Bossangoa, The Guardian, Friday 22 November 2013 15.14 GMT http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/22/central-african-republic-verge-of-genocide#start-of-comments
http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/jul/27/the-central-african-republic-a-country-abandoned-to-its-fate-video – link to a video: The Central African Republic: a country abandoned to its fate
- Ibrahim, Alkhali; Abdraman, Hassan (2012-08-20). RCA : Protocole d’accord militaro-politique contre le regime de Bozizié:http://cpjp.centrafrique.over-blog.org/article-rca-protocole-d-accord-militaro-politique-contre-le-regime-de-bozizie-109416289.html
- Francis Kpatindé: http://web.archive.org/web/20130122132420/http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20121229-centrafrique-roule-Séléka-bozize-faca-cpjp
- David Smith in Bossangoa, The Guardian, November 22, 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/22/central-african-republic-verge-of-genocide
- John Irish, Reuter, France says Central African Republic on the verge of genocide,November 21, 2013. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/11/21/uk-centralafrica-france-idUKBRE9AK0WU20131121
- David Smith, ibid
- Daniel Flynn and Peter Graff, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/131226/central-african-republic-conflict-political-not-religious
- Daniel Flynn and Peter Graff, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/131226/central-african-republic-conflict-political-not-religious
- Fen Osler Hampson and David M. Malone, “Introduction: Making Conflict Prevention a Priority,” in F. O. Hampson and D. M. Malone, eds., From Reaction to Conflict Prevention: Opportunities for the UN System (Boulder: Lynne Rienner,2002), p. 4
- Peter Ronayne, IRLS610 D001 Fall 13 Lesson: Identity: The Foundation for Genocide, Us Versus Them.
- Akshan de Alwis, Does the Doctrine of R2P Apply in Cyria, 2013, p. 168 http://www.turkishpolicy.com/dosyalar/files/vol_12-no_2-alwis.pdf
- Ibid, p.171
- George J. Mitchell, ‘Negotiating in Business, politics and Peace http://www.sandiego.edu/peacestudies/ipj/programs/distinguished_lecture_series/biographies/SenatorGeorgeJ.Mitchell.php
- Kennedy Tumutegyereize and Nicolas Tillon, Conciliation Resources, March 15, 2013 http://africanarguments.org/2013/03/15/central-african-republic-peace-talks-without-the-talks-%E2%80%93-by-kennedy-tumutegyereize-and-nicolas-tillon-conciliation-resources/
- Rubin, Barry. 2012. Is the peace process dead? Middle East Review of International Affairs 16, no. 2: 30-36.
- George J. Mitchell, ibid
- Akbar Muhammad, http://voiceofrussia.com/2013_12_08/How-critical-is-current-situation-in-Central-African-Republic-9354/