Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Caring about C.A.R.

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, ranked 180th of 187 countries on the 2013 U.N. Development Program human development index. Illiteracy and unemployment is high and perhaps higher in the north after years of neglect.

War in the Central African Republic is usually understood abroad as a grinding religious conflict. Of the 4.5 million people who live in the remote, landlocked country, only 15 percent are Muslim; the rest are either Christian or animist. These communities have lived together peacefully for centuries. The latest explosion of violence, though, has succeeded in pitting them against each other. Victims on both sides have suffered, but the minority Muslim population appears to have borne the brunt of it. Two years ago, there were nearly 700,000 Muslims in the country. Now, according to some counts, fewer than 90,000 remain. Like many wars around the world that are perceived as religious in nature, and where the narrative of communal strife is used by warring sides to fuel hatred, the sectarian aspect of the conflict may be a result of the fertile soil it grew from. A legacy of weak state institutions, the failure of multiple governments to implement promised reforms, competition over natural resources and the unadorned political opportunism of militia leaders gave rise to the fighting and fed it. Religion coils around these dynamics, increasing the pressure. Militia leaders on both sides use the narrative of religious war to mobilize fighters in the pursuit of their narrow political objectives.

“The crisis here is not at all a religious crisis. It’s military, and it’s political. Quite simply, people have their interests in the crisis, and this suits them to use this ideology, this idea that Muslims and Christians can’t get along,” said Beni Youkaté, a Guinean man who works in the country as an informal mediator between Séléka and anti-Balaka groups.

The country is now divided, de facto partitioned into zones where militias hold total sway. Anti-Balaka militias control the west. The Séléka have fled north and established a new headquarters in Bambari, 300 miles from the capital. International forces, meanwhile, back an interim government in Bangui that has little influence over the rest of the country. A cease-fire signed in July has had little effect on the ground. The Central African Republic remains flush with weapons, a tinderbox ready to reignite.

Experts say the rebellion in Darfur, beginning in 2003, spread seeds of revolt across the region, scattering notions of insurrection into areas that were fertile for revolution.“The rebellions in the north were basically something that came up because of the war in Darfur,” said Roland Marchal, a senior researcher at political science university L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris. “People got ideas, contacts, weapons and ammunition from there. Even the discourse on marginalization came from Darfur.”

“They take up arms because it’s an easy solution,” said Kassara Aziza, the president of the Association of Central African Women.

When they took everything, I had nothing,” Adam said, speaking of the bike and fish confiscated by state police years earlier. But after fighting with the CPJP and the Séléka, he said, “I still have nothing.”

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