THE CURRENT STATE OF THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
While never quite eradicated, civil war in the Central African Republic (CAR) recently re-erupted after French, American, and Ugandan troops completed their planned withdrawals. Without a policing force to calm the flames, smoldering resentments between the country’s many militant groups exploded in a hail of gunfire. The people of the CAR received a brief respite when 14 rebel groups signed a temporary ceasefire. It lasted less than 24 hours. Greed (involving local mining rights) and gunfire shattered the short-lived peace and left at least 100 people dead. Rebels currently control more than half of the CAR’s territory.
CHILDHOOD IS ANYTHING BUT SWEET IN THE WAR-TORN C.A.R.
But, now, it’s not the rebels bearing the brunt of the atrocities; it’s the children caught in the crossfire. A recent press release released by UNICEF offered this sobering conclusion: “Months of renewed fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR) have led to an increasing number of violent acts committed against children.” Modern day children in the CAR live in fear of forced recruitment, abduction, murder, and rape.
Christine Muhigana, a UNICEF Representative for the CAR, said, “Children in CAR have suffered disproportionately from the waves of violence that have swept the country over the past three years.” Some groups go so far as to specifically target children.
Militant soldiers raped fourteen girls between nine and 16 in Bria between May and June. These attacks continued when girls left the safety of displacement sites to return home for personal belongings. In the Southeastern CAR, meanwhile, five children seeking refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were brutally slain. During that same month, eight boys aged 13 to 17 were kidnapped near Berberati. Due to reduced access to humanitarian aid in the CAR, it’s thought that these three incidents are merely the tip of the iceberg. Children currently suffer across the country. Even those outside the war zone feel the consequences of the lingering violence.
THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THE WAR EXTEND FAR BEYOND THE GUNFIRE
Children are being deprived of their rights to health and education across the nation. UNICEF estimated that regional insecurities deprived more than 94,000 primary schoolers of their final exams. Furthermore, many area hospitals and health centers have been forced to close due to security concerns. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), “More than two-thirds of the country’s health facilities have been damaged or destroyed by the violence since 2013.” This fact, coupled with mass displacement, resulted in malaria outbreaks that hurt children and adults alike. Worst of all, children face far more than angry militants on the streets of Bangui and Bria. Only eight prisons out of the country’s original 35 continue to function. Large-scale prison breaks rendered the others useless, according to VOA News.
Children are not the only ones affected by this “forgotten” war. The Council on Foreign Relations estimates this conflict to be directly responsible for up to 6,000 deaths, displacing 412,000 people and leaving more than 2.3 million in dire straits. With the temporary ceasefire shattered, it seems likely that this conflict will continue to escalate.
KEY GROUPS IN THE WAR FOR THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
While many militant groups are involved, there are four truly vital to understanding the current CAR conflict
A rebel alliance formed in 2012. This group claims to fight due to a lack of satisfactory progress following the Central African Republic’s Bush War. They secured at least half-a-dozen cities before signing a short-lived ceasefire agreement on January 11, 2013. They would later go on to gain control of the nation’s capital. The group’s elected president, Djotodia, disbanded the coalition on September 13, 2013.
A CAR militia group composed primarily of Christians. They committed various atrocities against Muslim groups and served as the main resistance against Séléka. Before becoming a unified force, anti-balaka served as local police forces for various villages across the CAR. They added a religious element to this war that was previously nonexistent.
The Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic (FPRC):
The new name adopted by Seleka in 2014. Most of its members are Muslims of the Runga or Gula ethnic groups.
The Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC):
A splinter of the Popular Front for Rebirth composed mostly of Muslims of Fulani origins. This group broke away from FPRC in 2014.
ORIGINS OF THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC’S “FORGOTTEN” WAR
The Central African Republic gained independence from France on August 13, 1960. The newly independent country was one brimming with diverse religious and ethnic groups. An intolerance of this diversity, and a dissatisfaction with the results of earlier wars, sparked the long-term conflict that rages to this day. Much of the current conflict finds its roots in the Central African Republic Bush War of the early 2000s. As the government began to crumble, various militia groups sprung up across the CAR.
What followed was an intensive power struggle which left thousands of dead and the country’s infrastructure in shambles. Leadership changed hands multiple times. Seleka, for better or worse, eventually gained control of the capital of CAR (Belui) in the March of 2013. Seleka elected their former leader, Michael Djotodia, as the country’s president before April rolled around. His short-lived tenure was fraught with difficulties. In September of 2013, hoping to legitimize his power, Djotodia disbanded Seleka. This led to an Anti-balaka attempt to overthrow Djotodia that left 1,000 innocent people (mostly Muslims) dead. Prompted by a peacekeeping mission, Michel Djotodia and his staff resigned from office on January 10, 2014. The violence did not stop.
EVEN DEMOCRACY FAILED TO BRING THIS COUNTRY TOGETHER
After years of religion-based warfare between Christian and Muslim fighters, the country came together to elect Faustin-Archange Touadera president of the CAR. Outside of the capital, however, the warfare continued. Driven by differing ideologies, the former members of Seleka began to splinter into other armed groups. Attacks based on ethnic lines, instead of religious-ones, became more common. By 2017, more than 14 separate militias fought for control of the CAR. Taxes, gems, and mining rights keep the former allies at one another’s throats. To date, no ceasefire has lasted more than a few months.
You can view a full timeline for this tragic conflict on the BBC website.