Establishing a peaceful government in post-colonial Africa has proven to be challenging. From the disastrous civil wars in Algeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to the genocide in Rwanda and Sudan, difficult sociopolitical conditions continue to mar the path to sustainable modern governments in Africa. The Central African Republic (CAR) is an unfortunate example in which internal conflicts brought by post-colonial turbulence and religious factions have pushed a nation into turmoil and revolution. The goal of any nation is to progress socioeconomically and create a functioning government, yet the CAR has found itself mired in political turmoil. Furthermore, this conflict threatens to disrupt neighboring nations. The “exodus” of thousands of Muslim Central Africans has produced a humanitarian crisis that depletes the resources of the countries of the region and has the world scratching its head, wondering how this came to fruition. Dealing with this international refugee crisis and possible radicalization of the marginalized from this exodus needs to become the top priority in the minds of the Central African Republic, international organizations, and the world in general.
Beginning with the French colonization, the Central African Republic’s modern history has been a painful descent into a conflict. After forcefully taking the colony in 1903 in the battle of Kousseri, the French saw this territory as a massive plantation and constructed a labor system in which the natives were required to work in constructing the Congo Canal with estimated deaths of workers hovering between 25 and 27 percent. The CAR remained a colony until 1960 when former French representative Barthélémy Boganda started the Movement of Social Evolution of Black Africa, which led to a colonial revolution and eventual independence. Following a series of autocratic and semi-democratic leaders, the 2003 coup d’état placed General François Bozizé in power and prompted a violent opposition response that has plagued the nation since the 2004 Central African Republic Bush War.
Active tensions eased for a period afterwards while positional militias garnered more support through grassroots campaigns. Things finally erupted in December 10, 2012 in N’Délé when former Séléka (which means unity in Sango, the local language) fighters captured the town to protest failed President Bozizé’s failure to integrate all citizens of the Central African Republic into a political hierarchy where all minorities would be represented. The escalation continued as more adherents to the marginalized Muslim faith saw this as an opportunity to escape persecution from the Christian majority headquartered in Bangui. More fighting disrupted the nation and led to several calls for foreign intervention with little response. Séléka fighters in March of 2013 were able to fully capture Bangui and oust President Bozizé, which then lead to a renaissance of his supporters. The anti-Balaka (meaning anti-sword in Sango), which represents the pro-government and Christian factions, came out in support of the President, setting off a bloody revolution and a trail of inter-religious confrontation. This militant group has made it their goal to maintain the status quo and expand the influence of Christianity in the nation. Furthermore, the government has alienated its Islamic citizens by preventing Muslim politicians from gaining any sort of political power (until very recently with the appointment of Mahamat Kamoun as Prime Minister by current President Catherine Samba-Panza) and failing to protect mosques from Christian radicals. Several raids on Muslim-dominated villages by rebel forces have gone unpunished, which further frustrates the Muslim citizens of the Central African Republic. At present, a rejected cease-fire has only furthered violations of humanitarian law and furthered conflict in the region. The people here live in continual fear of a possible genocide, with the memory of Rwanda still relatively recent.
With 900,000 Central Africans internally displaced, the mostly rural society has entered into a frenzy of rapid rural-to-urban migration that has placed a massive strain on cities like Bangui and Bimbo. Rural agricultural output has plummeted in the wake of violence, and inhumane clustering of individuals looking for safety from the guerilla groups in cities has brought increased levels of crime and disease. Furthermore, the consequences of internal migration are then magnified to involve the current outpour of Central Africans who see staying in the nation as an impossibility. This intensity of forced international migration, characterized largely by the Muslim exodus to predominantly Muslim nations in the north, has caused an even greater sociopolitical imbalance within the CAR, and has placed stress upon the neighboring nations, such as Cameroon and Chad. The refugee crisis created by the conflict has spawned an estimated 250,000 refugees according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the numbers continue to increase.
According to UNICEF, Chad itself houses 76,000 refugees, almost all of which live along the border of between Chad and the Central African Republic. Chad’s own issues of poverty and corruption cause the government to virtually ignore the issue down south. Likewise, Cameroon could see this exodus of Muslim immigrants as a catalyst of conflict within the nation’s sovereign borders in cities like Garouce-Boulaï, where the influx of refugees have engaged violently with the local population and vice-versa. Here, Séléka fighters are forming new supply routes from the expatriate Muslim Central Africans. This situation has forced Cameroon to focus considerable resources on eliminating militia fighters and heightening border security. Unfortunately, this prevents other refugees, who are in dire need, from escaping the CAF.
Internationally, the Islamic exodus might become an even greater issue down the road due to the growing radicalization of expatriates and Muslim citizens within the country. Decades of marginalization have fostered an environment of hate towards Christians and have also encouraged a fundamental interpretation of religion as a means of resistance. There have even been talks of a possible al-Qaeda affiliate in sub-Saharan Africa, which could further instigate violence within the nation and abroad.
The Central African Republic currently finds itself on a path to ethnic/religious cleansing if the national government and international governments do not enforce humanitarian law. Continued fighting in the CAR will have major international consequences that many global leaders seem to be ignoring. The CAR does not command the same media attention as Ukraine or Syria. The CAR might join Bosnia, Sri Lanka, and Rwanda as modern examples of genocide if no action is taken. France (ex-colonizer and partially responsible for modern day atrocities) and the African Union have recognized the crisis that is approaching, and have sent in troops and humanitarian aid, yet the amount of resources being poured in does not suffice to maintain the fragile nation from collapsing. If other nations do not respond fast with either military personnel or aid, we might be left with one of the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.