The Central African Republic: one of the world’s poorest countries, ravaged by decades of violence, and almost unheard of in the West. Entering into an era of extreme sectarian violence, the silence around the Central African Republic needs to change, fast.
Tensions in the country have been mounting since the Seleka Muslim rebel coalition seized power last March. Under their authority, widespread lootings and killings were waged against the Christian population. The violence reached a new level in December last year, when over 1,000 Christians were killed by ex-Seleka forces in the capital Bangui, the single largest act of violence carried out by ex-Seleka groups. Smaller acts of violence however, continued to occur throughout their time in power.
The recent abdication of President Michael Djotida, founder of the Seleka group, has seen a new wave of anti-Muslim violence spread throughout the country, led by Christian Anti-Balaka groups. Hungry for vengeance and redemption, anti-Muslim attacks are occurring regularly, and with frightening ferocity. In just two days, over 50 Muslims were killed near the capital by Anti-Balaka forces. On the 14th of January, at a checkpoint in Bayali, 10 Muslims, attempting to flee to Cameroon, were dragged from the truck by a Christian militia. Using machetes and knives, the Anti-Balaka forces beat them to death, the youngest victim just 18 months old. 2 days later, in a town north west of the capital, a further 43 Muslims were killed, after seeking refuge in a mosque from Anti-Balaka forces. Darker still, last Sunday 2 Muslim men were burned on a roundabout in the capital after being attacked in the street and dragged from a taxi. There is even a report of human cannibalism, as a man called ‘Mad-dog’ was seen eating the leg of an attacked Muslim victim.
…the Anti-Balaka forces beat them to death, the youngest victim just 18 months old…
These recent, horrific waves of violence have finally shaken the international community into action. Last Thursday, John Ging, director of operations at the UN office for coordination of Humanitarian affairs, told the Geneva conference that the violence “has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia. The elements are there, the seeds are there, for a genocide.” With the prospect of genocide on their hands, the UN and other peace keeping bodies have been acting swiftly. The World Bank donated $100 million to emergency food and health measures, in order to help restore vital government services. The US government have also begun transporting Rwandan battalions to the country to reinforce peace keeping efforts. This Monday, the EU shall finally vote on whether to contribute troops, and it is suspected they shall vote in favour of sending a 1,000 man task force.
But with over 1 million displaced people in the country and a further 2.6 million in desperate need of medical and humanitarian assistance, the international communities’ action cannot be delayed. Their inaction up until now is hugely inexcusable and is in part to do with the ambiguity of the Central African Republic. Land locked, and lacking in the natural resources and celebrity support its neighbours like the South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo have; the Central African Republic has been of low priority to the Western powers. As Joanna Mariner, Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser said, “International peacekeeping forces have been failing the Muslim community”. One hopes, that their recent scurry of action will continue, and the potential genocide facing the country will be averted, saving thousands of potential lives. However, if history is anything to go by, one can’t help but remain sceptical. The violence in the Central African Republic bares all the hallmarks of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and the West infamously turned a blind eye to that atrocity. All that remains is to wait and see, and hope that the Central African Republic doesn’t drift back into obscurity until another surge of violence jolts the international community.