Understanding the Drivers of Conflict in the Central African Republic

On 18th February 2015, I attended a talk led by Sarah Covington and Albert Caramés Boada to discuss the ongoing Central African Republic conflict and understanding the actors behind the violence in the regional crisis. Sarah Covington  is the lead analyst on the Central African Republic for the Country Risk Team at HIS which is a specialist intelligence unit that forecasts political and violent risks worldwide. Albert Caramés Boada is an associate researcher at the Groupe de Recherche d’Information sur la Paix (GRIP), working closely with the International Catalan Institute for Peace.

In sum, the speakers argued that it would be an oversimplification in any conflict to assume that sectarian violence is the singular root cause of conflict.

Firstly, Ms. Covington illustrated how there are regional factors which must not be overlooked. The geographical position and size of the Central African Republic emphasises this. It borders numerous unstable and conflict-affected countries including Chad, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and also endures cross-border interference by Ugandan rebel groups seeking to recruit disenfranchised refugees. She argued that the sectarian violence between Christian and Muslim groups in the Central African Republic is therefore not just a domestic conflict, it is a regional problem that should be addressed within a regional context and regional framework.

Next, Mr. Boada went on to highlight that while the focus of the conflict has been predominantly on the ethnic cleansing that took place in 2014, the crisis in CAR is rooted in deep seated economic, social and political issues which remain unaddressed:

“Negligence of development, the population, the lack of democratic traditions (particularly in rural areas), corruption has exacerbated the lack of unity inside the country as early as 2011, if not before then. Basic necessities are lacking and addressing the roots of the conflict means tackling the chronic lack of development in the country as well as solving the current conflict. The lack of political will and intelligence on the ground within the international community and their reaction to the current humanitarian catastrophe has been slow. Whilst the French troops were part of the solution In intervening in December 2013, they are also part of the problem as former colonialists. Preventing all-out war did not solve the underlying issues plaguing the country.”

In these circumstances, the ability to build a civil administration will be undermined in the short-term and long-term. Ms. Covington commented that it is difficult to build an administration if people aren’t being paid. The government’s limited geographical outreach (restricted to the capital Bangui) means that they are unable to restart the economy, especially if rebel groups are fighting each other over the economic resources. Even if a mandated constitution and foreign companies return to kick-start the economy after the elections, hundreds of thousands of Central Africans will still either be disenfranchised or displaced. Simply restarting the economy won’t solve the underlying issues.

At the same time, the U.N is struggling to provide funds to support their own soldiers, let alone to restore order and instigate the development projects which have the potential to provide a sustainable solution to the issues tearing down the Central African Republic. The result is the sectarian violence that we have seen escalating in the past year, which may not be addressed by the international community. If that is the case, the root causes of discontent will not be directly addressed, and as such, the future of the Central African Republic may remain tenuously unstable.

Matthew Williams