Saturday, November 23, 2013

Another African tragedy neglected

Thousands of people are dying at the hands of soldiers and militia gangs or from untreated diseases such as malaria. Boys and girls as young as eight are pressganged into fighting between Christians and Muslims. The number of children recruited as soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) has risen up to 6,000, says an official with the United Nations Children's Fund.
There are reports of beheadings and public execution-style killings. Villages are razed to the ground. The average male life expectancy is 48, The CAR has sucked in thousands of mercenaries from neighbouring countries and, France warned, now stands "on the verge of genocide". Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, noted recently that the situation in the CAR has been referred to as "the worst crisis most people have never heard of". The European Union expressed "very deep concern at the alarming situation" in the strife-torn country. "We are alarmed by the widespread violations of human rights which go unpunished and affect the whole population," said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in the Belgian capital Brussels. 

The US estimates that nearly 400,000 people have been displaced – many hiding in the jungle without access to malaria or HIV treatment.  In Bossangoa 34,000 people have sought refuge at the St Antoine de Padoue Cathedral.In  Bouca, to the east, haround 3,000 people – more than half of them children  are seeking sanctuary at the Catholic mission there. 68,000 have gone to neighbouring countries.

It is a country that stands as one of the most profound indictments of European colonialism, a contrivance that since independence in 1960 has endured five coups, infrastructure run on a shoestring and a self-declared emperor whose lavish coronation was inspired by Napoleon. Rich in gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the CAR has proved irresistible to warlords such as Joseph Kony.

The latest eruption began in March when the unpopular president, François Bozizé, fled by helicopter with five suitcases after being overthrown by a loose coalition of rebels, bandits and guns for hire known as the Seleka, meaning "alliance" in the local language. One of its leaders, Michel Djotodia, declared himself president — the first Muslim to rule this majority Christian nation of 4.6 million people. What Médecins sans Frontières termed "a crisis on top of a crisis" for the population accelerated considerably in September when Djotodia officially disbanded the Seleka. Many of the rebels refused to disarm and leave the militias as ordered but veered further out of control, killing, looting and burning villages. What started as a political movement against the corrupt and autocratic Bozizé is now taking on an ominously religious character. Nearly all the Seleka are Muslim, including mercenaries from neighbouring Chad and the notorious Janjaweed from Sudan's Darfur region. An "us and them" mentality of mutual distrust and paranoia is taking root, with some Christians taking up arms in vigilante militias known as "anti-balaka" — meaning anti-sword or anti-machete — and committing atrocities of their own, giving the Seleka a pretext for yet more aggression. The spiral of violence has become a recruiting sergeant for thousands of child soldiers.

Father Frédéric Tonfio  is pleading for global intervention before it is too late. "I have only been able to count on my colleagues in the church. The silence of the international community is like they are accomplices allowing this to happen. It's almost as if the Sekela is stronger than the international community. Everyone knows what is going on here. Every day that we delay, more people die."

According to Lewis Mudge, a Human Rights Watch researcher on the ground, the Seleka: "These guys are not Islamic fundamentalists. They are Muslim-lite. They are here for prosperity and power; they are not here to change anyone's confession. The world needs to find the CAR on the map and start paying attention on humanitarian grounds. It's still early enough to avert a crisis in this country. It's not a genocide and it's not a civil war but it's certainly trending in that direction."

There are many mineral resources, including gold and diamond, in the Central African Republic.

No comments: