The Central African Republic: capital Bangui, population 4 million, landlocked and the size of Texas, home to militant groups and undergoing a brutal civil war. On the surface, these facts are easily looked over. Just another African country dealing with the often depicted stereotypes of rebels, machetes and violence.
Most reports on the Central African Republic garner little public outrage, because we’ve learned not to become invested in issues such as refugees, mass killings and sectarian violence. However, let me urge you, for a moment, to consider this small nation that perhaps means nothing to you.
A quick history lesson before we begin: the CAR has undergone many upheavals since the 1960s. Presidents have been overthrown, instability has reigned and numerous groups feel marginalized. It was in this atmosphere that a rebel group, comprised of numerous factions, called Seleka, ousted the government during a coup in 2013. Seleka, headed by Michel Djotodia, is a mainly Muslim group (although not completely). He ran the transitional government until Catherine Samba-Panza was elected. Meanwhile, Seleka was accused of numerous crimes against humanity, including mass murder, rape and was officially dissolved in 2013 (although organized individual groups remained on their own accord).
Near the end of last year, the Anti-balaka group emerged. A mainly Christian group, they came out protesting Seleka’s many crimes. Anti-balaka went on a rampage through the country that has often been referred to as ethnic cleansing by numerous human rights organizations. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims (unconnected to Seleka) are now fleeing Anti-balaka attacks. The nature and the ferocity of such attacks have been likened to genocide both by France and the UN.
While many like to boil this down to Christian vs. Muslim, itís worth knowing that the majority Christians mainly live off the land while Muslims tend to live pastoral, nomadic lives, Meaning this division has as much to do with land as religion. After all, there are Muslims in Anti-balaka and there are Christians in Seleka. So first we must not stereotype that itís all Ďreligion again,’ but rather it is similarly driven by access to resources.
While of course the situation has far more complexities, thatís the basics of what you need to know for now. Seleka overthrew the government, the government transitioned, Catherine Samba-Panza was elected and Anti-balaka fighters have emerged and human rights atrocities have skyrocketed.
Are you still there? Good. Now hereís why you should actually care about this: we are looking down the barrel towards another atrocity heading towards genocide and ethnic cleansing. Pictures of the breakdown in the capital, Bangui (warning: extremely graphic), depict the lawlessness and suffering this country currently deals with. Despite individual feelings of not wanting to get involved, according to the 1948 Genocide Convention, the international community has an absolute responsibility to get involved and do their best to prevent acts of genocide when they occur.
The UN has developed a mandate for multi-dimensional stabilization mission (MINUSCA) which will include assistance programs, translations, disarmament and reintegration. However, despite the focus on civilians, we also need to focus on drawing peace between the Seleka groups and Anti-balaka movement. While French and AU troops are currently on the ground, far more reinforcements are needed in the country if peace is ever to be achieved.
Itís hard to get people to care about atrocities in another African country. After all, it’s a small landlocked area that the world has few reasons to care about.
However, Rwanda was a small, landlocked African nation that nobody cared about either. Now it is one of the most well-funded power houses in East Africa.†And after 800,000 people were massacred, we finally got around to saying “never again” again.
We donít have to wait until the worst happens to step in. We donít need to stand by as ethnic cleansing destroys another society. You donít have to care, nobody will force you to, but pressuring the international community to deliver results does, in fact, impact how conflicts are dealt with.
Most Muslims have already fled the capital Bangui, and many in the outskirts position themselves closely to the small enclave of French troops that have been deployed. Massacres will continue today, much as they did yesterday. They will likely occur tomorrow. It is up to the UN and the international community to step in, create resources and stop burying our heads in the sand. Likewise it is time for us, the public, to put an end to a culture in which genocide becomes too inconvenient to care about.