Conditions in the Central African Republic have been volatile since the country gained independence from France in 1960. The country has experienced several coups and armed uprisings. After independence, the administration of the country was outsourced to private companies that used local residents as forced Labor. French experts made the decisions. Power has changed mainly through military coups, often with the help of France.
The influence of France in politics during the period of independence is enormous. The colonialist model of government, where rulers seek to benefit from their subjects rather than serve their citizens, continues. This is reflected in the lack of public services and among other things. In the Central African Republic, people can drive hundreds of kilometres without seeing any sign of the state. Water and sewerage systems are missing. There are few roads. Energy is obtained by burning wood and biomass.
The Central African Republic is an ethnically fragmented country with no common identity among its citizens. At the end of the 1990s, ethnic background became an increasingly important issue in both politics and society in general. This was also evident in the army, where the president’s bodyguards as well as ordinary soldiers began to separate into their own groups. The bodyguards often belonged to the same ethnic group as the president and ordinary soldiers did not. Ordinary soldiers felt that the bodyguards had considerable privileges over them. There have been power struggles between the various factions since independence. This is one of the worst and most unknown humanitarian crises in the world. The corona pandemic exacerbates it.
Despite attempts, there has been no peace in Central Africa. According to the UN, both the military and the rebels have committed serious human rights violations, some of which may include war crimes or crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court has also launched investigations into the events of the Civil War.
In 2015, a referendum approved a new constitution. Peaceful elections with a new president and parliament were also held in 2015. However, the result of the vote was rejected on the grounds of irregularities and the vote was resumed. In March 2016, the former Prime Minister, Faustin-Archange Touadéra was appointed as a president. In February 2019, President Touadéra and 14 rebel groups finally signed a peace agreement led by the African Union at the Khartoum. This was the eighth attempt, which had been made, to bring peace. This peace agreement has not stopped the violence either, as the poor state is incapable of controlling armed groups. After the peace agreement, the violence shortly subsided, but since then the good development has been reversed. Less than half of the country is under government control. Violence also prevents a country from developing and exploiting its rich natural resources.
The Central African Republic has experienced a new wave of violence in recent weeks as an alliance of six armed groups has launched an attack to disrupt the presidential election and take over the capital Bangui. Even before the latest outbreak of violence, one out of four Central Africans had been forced to leave their homes. Those who have left their homes live on the streets, endure in the jungle or seek refuge in refugee camps. Some were already returning home, but recent violence has made return impossible, and the number of refugees is only growing. Many have had to leave everything and start from scratch several times in recent years.
Within the country, about 60,000 people are refugees. An equal number of people have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There have been reports of armed group violence, sexual violence, attacks on voters and looting in the area. Aid organizations and peacekeepers have also suffered from attacks.
The current wave of violence originates from 2013. In March 2013, the Séléka rebels continued their attacks and eventually captured the country’s capital. President Bozizé fled to the Congo and Séléka leader Michel Djotodia declared himself the new president. African leaders declared in April that they should not recognize Djotodia as president and suggested that the country should form an interim government that could rule the country until new elections are held. On April 13, Djotodia, the only candidate elected, was president of the interim government. Djotodia should have been disband the rebel forces, but he did not succeed and the violence continued.
The Séléka rebels are mainly Muslims belonging to a minority in the country, and their attacks are mainly on Christians. The armed Anti-balaka groups of Christians have responded to Séléka’s attacks, thus creating a kind of revenge spiral between the groups. However, religion is not the only cause of conflict, but it is also rooted from poor governance, poverty and inequality.
Civilians, who have suffered brutal violence, pay the biggest price of the conflict. The lives of young people in particular are invisible, and unemployment increases the risk of enlisting in armed groups. More than half of young men and more than a quarter of young women are illiterate. Access to health care is poor and an average life expectancy is only 52.8 years. Violence has serious and far-reaching consequences. Homes, grain crops and livestock have been looted or destroyed. The availability of clean drinking water has declined. Sexual violence has increased. Violence in general is common, and it leaves generation after generation with physical and mental scars. Traumas are so bad that they are almost impossible to forget. The Central African Republic is also one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian aid donors. Due to instability, crime and the wide range of armed forces, it is very difficult to reach some areas and some communities. The more actors there are, the more difficult it is to engage in constructive dialogue and obtain reliable security guarantees.
In order to achieve lasting results, the authorities need to address the problems of insecurity and impunity. Insecurity prevents Central Africans from helping themselves and moving forward in life, and it hampers the relief efforts of organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
For further reading:
Global conflict tracker: https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/violence-central-african-republic;