Here’s Where the Next Genocide Is About to Happen

Christians and Muslims massacre each other in Central African Republic—and the problems are deeper than that

Here’s Where the Next Genocide Is About to Happen Here’s Where the Next Genocide Is About to Happen

Uncategorized November 12, 2013 0

Rebel in the northern Central African Republic. Flickr user hdptcar photo Here’s Where the Next Genocide Is About to Happen Christians and Muslims massacre... Here’s Where the Next Genocide Is About to Happen
Rebel in the northern Central African Republic. Flickr user hdptcar photo

Here’s Where the Next Genocide Is About to Happen

Christians and Muslims massacre each other in Central African Republic—and the problems are deeper than that

The Central African Republic is in crisis. Since rebels toppled CAR’s authoritarian president François Bozizé six month ago, large parts of the countryside and even parts of the capital city have slipped from government control.

Michel Djodita, the self-proclaimed new president, has lost control over Séléka, the rebel movement that brought him to power. Now elements of Séléka, forces loyal to Bozizé, government troops and self-defense militias are locked in bloody confrontations all over the country.

The violence could reach genocidal dimensions, if nothing is done soon to stop it.

Flickr user hdptcar photo

Worried U.N.

Adama Dieng is the U.N.’s special adviser on the prevention of genocide and was the first to sound the alarm. “We are seeing armed groups killing people under guise of their religion and my feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other,” Dieng said early this month after a session of the U.N. Security Council.

“If we don’t act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring in the Central African Republic,” he warned.

Yes, the term “genocide” is politically loaded and can mean different things to different people. But even if you don’t label CAR’s crisis as a genocide, the sheer scale of the killings in the country represent a dire humanitarian emergency—one of the worst in the world.

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have reported systematic abuses by the various armed factions against civilians and enemy combatants. And Al Jazeera has found evidence of massacres targeting people as young as two weeks old.

Some of the violence is indeed religiously motivated. The Séléka rebels are mainly from the country’s Muslim northeast, while Bozizé has relied on support from Christian parts of the population from the northwest and south.

Still, it would be too easy to reduce the chaos in CAR to religious fanaticism.

Flickr user hdptcar photo

Layers of conflict

Some of the current violence has little to do with religion or even politics and is the result of simple lawlessness. While Bozizé could never claim total control over the whole territory of the Central African Republic, the country’s main populated centers had some form of security presence.

Now not even the resemblance of a central power remains. Even in Bangui, the capital, the reach of the government barely goes beyond the doors of the presidency. The city’s international airport is only open because a contingent of French soldiers are securing it.

Ex-rebels, ex-government forces and plain bandits have taken this as an invitation to prey on the civilian population, which has reacted by forming anti-balaka: local vigilante self-defense groups. For many Central Africans, this is about basic security, not religious hatred.

Similarly, the religious question should not cover up the fact that there is still a political conflict going on, as well. Ex-president Bozizé has declared from his exile in Paris that he wants to return to his former post—and to that end, will sponsor the armed movement the Front for the Return of the Constitutional Order in Central Africa, or FROCCA.

Additionally, and especially in the north of the country, there are frequent localized conflicts over land and water between sedentary farming communities and pastoral animal herdsmen, who are often from neighboring countries and migrate into the CAR for parts of the year.

An internal memo by a respected international humanitarian organization seen by War is Boring describes a high risk of escalating conflict between these groups, which could further aggravate the humanitarian situation.

Rebel in the Central African Republic with religious leather pouches. Flickr user hdptcar photo

Helplessness and unwillingness to help

The problems of the CAR are legion, but it is unclear what, if anything, can be done to counter them. A 2,500-strong peacekeeping mission run by the African Union has had little success in stopping the overthrow of Bozizé or keeping the peace since.

France, the country’s former colonizer, has shown little interest in getting involved militarily, limiting its interventions to securing the airport and the expat community in the capital.

Probably the most pressing matter is to provide some measure of basic security, but this would require substantial numbers of foreign troops, increasing the peacekeeping mission to a strength of several tens of thousands of soldiers.

Even if the international community and CAR’s neighbors could muster the political will and financial resources to start such a massive undertaking, finding countries willing to contribute troops on that level will take months, with even more time passing until the force is operational.

Of course, even such a massive intervention would only alleviate the symptoms of CAR’s crisis, not remove the root causes. Solving these will require an immense dedication on the part of Africa’s and the West’s major powers, as well as the CAR’s political elite.

At the moment, there is little indication of either. Whether genocide or something else, the killing will continue.

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