Watching and waiting in Africa

Will peace or war fill the vacuum in the CAR?

Where now for the Central African Republic?

After many months of mismanagement and outright lawlessness at the hands of the predominantly Seleka rebels, a new and uncertain chapter opened up last week with the departure of their leader and ‘interim’ president, Michel Djotodia.

Having watched his rag-tag army flee ahead of December’s UN-mandated intervention by French troops (to support those already present from Cameroon, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo) Mr Djotodia held his nerve until January 10 when other African leaders, gathered in N’Djamena, the capital of neighbouring Chad, to discuss a resolution to CAR’s woes, convinced him to go in the interests of peace. A leading opposition leader, former prime minister Martin Ziguele, was quoted as stating of the departure: “This move will now lead the country to peace and reconciliation.”

One can only hope this is accurate, as, it appears at this point, sides are being chosen post-Djotodia and the sides are ready for a fight.

Having seized control of the nation last March, members of Seleka embarked on a rampage of looting and murder, mainly against Christian communities in the country – though Muslims have not been immune as many Seleka members are not Islamic. More than once, Catholic prelates locally called for greater international attention not alone to these abuses but to the deteriorating national situation resulting from the anarchy. For eight months the citizens of CAR waited for deliverance.


One consequence of that wait has been the emergence of a group now increasingly squaring up to both the retreating Seleka, and, more dangerously, ordinary Muslims.

A loose affiliation of Christian communities and tribal groups, the Anti-balaka (literally ‘anti-machete’) was until December 5, when French troops arrived, described as merely a defensive response to Seleka pressure on villages. Now, however, and after a number of bloody attacks on Muslims, the Anti-balaka is becoming a dangerous threat to inter-religious relations within the CAR, and has shown itself capable of levels of violence previously demonstrated by Seleka. (In addition to savage human rights abuses, the United Nations has also pointed out that both militias have kidnapped children to bolster their ranks as conflict grows)

Growing danger

Against this growing danger, it is the religious leaders who have once again stepped into the breach, with Christian and Muslim figures appealing for a period of calm to allow the nation to stabilise post-Djotodia. Last week, this newspaper reported on the joint call issued by Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui and senior Imam Omar Kobine Layama for their communities to pull back from “the verge of war”.

Part of that joint call was also directed at the international community, pointing to the drastic need for aid for those, like the thousands of families at Bangui’s main airport, displaced to makeshift camps by the fighting. Just 24 hours before the president’s departure, much needed humanitarian aid did indeed reach the families at the airport after a three weeks of delay due to fierce fighting in the city. Yet, while the arrival of aid holds the promise of some respite, it must also be reported that since his call for peace, Imam Layama has been forced to seek refuge in the home of Archbishop Nzapalainga.

Added to this call, the CAR bishops’ conference has issued (January 9) a list of 23 proposals towards a renewed and stable country.


“We urgently need to form a new Republican army, plan elections [and] establish a commission of inquiry to shed light on human rights violations and disarm the militia,” the bishops said in a statement which also called for international observers and commentators to avoid over-simplifying the situation in the CAR as a purely religious conflict. Insisting on recognition of the political and military dimensions to events, they stated: “We would like to reiterate that not all those who are Anti-balaka are Christians and not all Christians are Anti-balaka.”


It now remains to be seen whether the call by the religious will be heeded; the United Nations is currently considering a boosted peacekeeping mission to the country.

In the meantime, ordinary citizens of the Central African Republic can only wait and hope that, whether Christian or Muslim, they will not share the commonality of being victims if their country tips the wrong way.