By: Jake Mansfield, CIB Africa Desk
Analytical Question: Will a civil war erupt in the Central African Republic in 2017?
According to rebel deputy commander Azor Kanite, on Saturday February 11, a United Nations (UN) helicopter fired upon and killed Popular Front for the Renaissance (FPRC) top commander Joseph Zonduko, during his Muslim rebel faction’s advance on the Central African Republic (CAR) town of Bambari (Gaffey 2017). The UN’s mission is to uphold peace without resorting to violence, but under the circumstances in CAR today, the overall mission has been altered from passive to active peacekeeping. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the African Union, and the European Union’s French Mission have all participated in efforts to prevent armed conflict between Muslim and Christian rebel groups in the country. However, it can be stated with high confidence that a civil war will flare up in the CAR in 2017.
Since its independence from France in 1960, the CAR has witnessed constant conflict in various forms. In 2013, the Muslim majority FPRC rebel group, known at the time as the Seleka, staged a coup against the government and took control of the Christian-majority country for about a year. After leading the successful coup, rebel leader Michel Djotodia assumed the presidency but reluctantly stepped down after failing to contain sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians. Following attacks and atrocities against Christian populations, the anti-balaka (which translates to anti-machete) group formed to orchestrate reprisals against Muslims. Thousands of people were killed and about a million were forced to flee in just a year of civil war. In early 2015, the Christian rebel group was accused of ethnic cleansing by the the UN. The EU reported that Seleka factions were illegally obtaining firearms from Iran and China. All rebel groups are said to have committed, and still carry out, heinous war crimes such as rape, pillaging, and mass killings (Dembassa-Kete 2017).
While the UN continues to stand between factions in a possible civil war, the MINUSCA mission has itself undergone scrutiny and allegations of rape against CAR citizens. All accusations were investigated but no UN members have been found guilty thus far. Peace has been pledged by President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who won the 2016 election. President Touadera continues to pledge unification for the country. But the government does not have control of the country outside of the capital of Bangui, and there would likely be thousands of more casualties if the UN was not heavily present within the CAR.
Clashes between two ex-Seleka coalitions, the FPRC, and the Union for Central African People (UPC), have increased the complexity of the situation by intersecting ethnic violence with religion. Like his opponents, ‘General’ Ali Darassa of the UPC has been accused of killing sprees that have prompted rival groups, such as the FPRC, to target his Fulani ethnic group in towns like Bria. Bria is one of many hotspots of violence in the country. Recently, when the FPRC rebels crossed a UN ‘red line’ 70-miles outside of Bambari, a MINUSCA helicopter rained down and successful stopped the advancement. A three-faction civil war could develop if the FPRC reaches Bambari, given that the only barrier between the UPC and anti-balaka districts of Bamabari is the Ouaka River. Therefore, thousands of internally displaced people in and around Bambari could be in great danger. Anti-balaka warlord ‘General’ Gaetan Boade asserts that there is still little to no confidence in the UN blue helmets, and he has “28,000 men who are ready to protect [his] people” (Keane 2017). All factions at play appear to strongly see themselves as protectors of their people against any and all sectarian violence in the CAR. The question is, of all these self-described defense forces, which will be the aggressor?
The flareup of ethnic sectarian violence has complicated the MINUSCA task of preventing armed conflict in the CAR. Even though rebel groups lack uniforms and blend in with society, the UN has been able to pinpoint where the different ethnic and religious sects are located throughout the country. In doing so, the mission has been able to create safe zones marked by ‘red lines’, that elicit armed action by the UN if crossed by opposing groups. This type of active peacekeeping approach has previously managed to prevent fighting before it escalates.
The ongoing situation in CAR has lead to Adama Dieng, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, to work closely with MINUSCA. He has recently accused the FPRC of “carrying out house-to-house searches, killing, looting, and abducting residents” (Gaffey 2017). This scenario, if it involves the participation of hundreds or thousands of assailants, runs the risk of altogether skipping the stage of civil war and leading directly to genocide. There is currently a low possibility of genocide taking place, due to the UN and several armed rebel factions willing and ready to defend their people. Regardless, the situation still needs to be watched and analyzed closely. Given the growing violence and rising tension in the country, it can be stated with high confidence that there will be a civil war in CAR in 2017, and that it is only a matter of time before it happens.
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Keane, Fergal. “Peacekeeping, African Warlords and Donald Trump” BBC News. BBC, 15 Feb. 2017. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
Dembassa-Kete, Crispin. “U.N. Air Strikes in Central African Republic Kill Several: Militia” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 12 Feb. 2017. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
Gaffey, Conor. “The U.N. Is on the Offensive in Central African Republic” Newsweek, 13 Feb. 2017. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.