Ethnic Cleansing in the Central African Republic

(Originally published 20 February, 2014) 

A nation burns upon itself, belching forth fire and vengeance, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, are dead. You cannot be sure how many have died, how many homes have been destroyed, how many have fled in the wake of vengeance and inhumanity. 8th January 2014: Boyali, a small town about 130 km northwest of Bangui (the capital of the Central African Republic) is in the line of sight of the anti-balaka. Seleka forces have departed, the killing begins. Thirty civilians are massacred and Dairu Soba loses twelve members of his family. Here is the description, one of many acts of sheer revulsion in the Central African Republic as reported by Amnesty International’s report.

“My father, Soba Tibati, could hardly walk because of bad rheumatism and could not run away when the anti-balaka attacked. They decapitated him in front of my eyes…twelve members of my family were also massacred in the same attack; among them were three of my father’s brothers, four sons of one of my uncles, my aunt, and three of my little cousins. The youngest was a baby girl who was just six months old.”

Ten days later over 100 Muslims were slaughtered in Bossemptele in similar fashion as the violence escalates and blood stains the ravaged country. Mutilation, a mass-grave, corpses left in the open, incineration, the disfigurement of survivors, execution at close range with axe, handgun, rifle, or noose. Simply put the physicality of the violence is appalling and spreading, the machete once again the favoured weapon with clubs and knives used in equal measure to hack down innocent men, women and children.

Amnesty International‘s report on the ethnic cleansing and sectarian killings in the Central African Republic reveals and hits home the extent to the horror and violence that has engulfed the country. The international community’s must at the very least be aware of the intensity and scale of the violence as the anti-balaka fill the power vacuum left by their equally grotesque predecessors.

Control of the capital did not guarantee the peacekeeping forces of France and the African Union’s International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) authority over the militia. Picture just about 5,000 – 6,000 troops attempting to control a country  about the size of Germany or France in a complete state of collapse. It is an ominous if not impossible task. The humanitarian assistance in parts is failing to put down the militia, disarm them, and provide protection to both Muslims and Christians in the path of vengeful militia and civilians on both sides in the countryside as ethnic cleansing is perpetrated.

Entire Muslim communities have been forced to flee, and hundreds of Muslims who have not managed to escape have been butchered by the Christian anti-balaka with hundreds of thousands displaced.  The anti-Seleka bitterness and hatred has expanded to the wider Muslim community. Not to mention the non-community is similarly exposed to Seleka (the former government under Michel Djotodia abuses. A Christian community is massacred or burned to the ground, the Seleka retreat which is then followed by the anti-balaka launching a gruesome killing spree on the Muslim’s who have no time to flee or are halted at roadblocks unmanned or unprotected by peacekeeping troops. Ambushes on convoys are frequent and ruthless.

It is routine, everyday work for disenchanted, unemployed young men with no prospects of education or future, in a country staggering under the weight of absolute poverty and economic stagnation. The opportunity for loot and financial gain is obvious for many of the anti-balaka as thousands of Muslims leave behind their cultural heritage, their homes, their agricultural land behind to be exploited by the militia and civilians in the anarchy.

While politicians are currently engaged by the serious crisis in Syria and Iraq, the Ukrainian civil war, Nigeria and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria focus must remain on the problems in the Central African Republic to contain a national tragedy from becoming a regional catastrophe. Nonetheless change must be affected within the country’s government as they reconstitute the basic government structures and institutions. Only then can the FACA (Armed Forces of Central African Republic), French forces, and the overwhelmed and outnumbered MISCA restore order and supersede the existing power of the milita, de-mobilize them and restore order to the Central African Republic. The British government and European powers must to more to facilitate a peace transition of power, the return of refugees to their homes, and deescalating tensions between Muslim and Christian.

This is not the Rwandan genocide, nor are the events of CAR and Rwanda comparable, nevertheless on both sides of perspective of African and Western onlookers the lessons are, frustratingly, never being learned.

Will order be restored? Perhaps the violence will cease in time, the damage however could be irreparable for the communities consumed by sectarian violence. The future is grim as the likelihood of violence reemerging in countries split by war is more likely.  Nor is it aided by, as Chatham House’s Ben Shepherd summarizes, ‘a desensitized Western public merely shrugging at what is presented to them as yet another display of atavistic ‘African’ violence.’ 

Matthew Williams