Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Crisis in the Central African Republic*

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Crisis in the Central African Republic*

Article excerpt

OVERVIEW

The Central African Republic (CAR)-a landlocked, sparsely inhabited, and extremely underdeveloped country-is in crisis. A fractious rebel coalition known as Seleka (-Alliance" in the local Sango language) seized control of the government in March 2013. Founded by members of CAR's minority Muslim community from the remote northeast of the country, Seleka capitalized on ethnic and regional tensions in CAR and on widespread frustrations with the previous government. Once in power, Seleka ultimately presided over spiraling ethno-religious and political violence and the collapse of an already weak state. Seleka commanders have overseen apparently systematic attacks against Christian communities, with uncertain motivations. Partly in response, Christian-led militias known as -anti-balaka" (-anti-machete") have brutally attacked Muslims.1 Civilians have also taken up arms against each other. Religious differences were not the origin of the crisis, which, rather, reflects a struggle for political power, as well as complex tensions over access to resources, control over trade, and national identity. Yet, many residents now appear to see themselves locked in an existential battle along sectarian lines.

Growing violence has drawn international concern. About 1,600 troops from France-CAR's former colonial power-and some 5,000 African soldiers and police are attempting to stabilize the country. U.N. Security Council Resolution 2127, adopted on December 5, 2013, authorizes the French military, which has long had a presence in CAR, and the African Union's (AU) African-led International Support Mission for CAR (MISCA) to -take all necessary measures" to protect civilians, enable humanitarian access, support the disarmament of militias, and contribute to security sector reform.2 The Resolution also directs the U.N. Secretary-General to provide -contingency preparations and planning" for the possible transformation of MISCA into a U.N. peacekeeping operation, and to provide recommendations within three months. As of mid-January 2014, some 900,000 residents (nearly one in five) were internally displaced, while another 86,000 had fled to neighboring countries as refugees.3 U.N. agencies estimate that 2.6 million people, or half the population, require humanitarian aid, and that 60% of households have no available food stocks.4 Prior humanitarian conditions were already poor, due to past conflicts and a lack of basic social services. Still, violence has worsened dramatically over the past year, constraining humanitarian access and provoking deep communal tensions.

Plans to hold elections in early 2015 (discussed below) face logistical and security hurdles. Seleka figure Michel Djotodia declared himself president after Seleka unseated President François Bozizé, who had himself come to power in a rebellion in 2003. Djotodia, unable or unwilling to bring an end to violence, ordered Seleka disbanded in September 2013, with little practical impact. On January 10, 2014, Djotodia resigned, following pressure from French and African leaders. CAR's -National Transitional Council" then selected as the new interim president Catherine Samba-Panza, a businesswoman and former mayor of the capital, Bangui.

CAR has long been seen as peripheral to core U.S. national interests. However, U.S. policy makers, including in Congress, are now focused on deteriorating humanitarian conditions, ongoing threats to civilians, and the potential impact of the crisis on regional stability. U.S., U.N., and French officials have warned of the potential for mass atrocities and even genocide.5 The Obama Administration has allocated new humanitarian aid for CAR and committed over $100 million in support for African and French stabilization operations. Congress may examine these efforts, as well as the potential for any future U.S. aid, e.g., support for elections, border security, accountability, reconciliation, or efforts to build long-term stability. …

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