A call to action for the Central African Republic

GRAEME MARK

centralAfrica

The Central African Republic is in a state of turmoil, but do Canadians have any knowledge of the circumstances? There is an immediate need for intervention in the country, which is why we should be more aware of the current circumstances in the Central African Republic.

A landlocked country, the Central African Republic is boredered by Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Chad — all of which have political troubles of their own.

The United Nations chief special advisor on genocide prevention has warned the international community of a “high risk of crimes against humanity and of genocide,” and Amnesty International has said, “International peacekeepers have failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians.” These strong statements may remind some of the time leading up to atrocities in Rwanda, Darfur or the former Yugoslavia.

But these words are about what is happening right now in the Central African Republic. It is a country comprised of 80 per cent Christians and 15 per cent Muslims, with 60 per cent of their population under the age of 25. One of the poorest countries in the world by any metric, these are not conditions that often result in stability and peace once violence breaks out.

The conflict in the Central African Republic has left over 2,000 dead, more than one million people displaced and the United Nations has reported that over two million people — almost half of the country’s population — are in need of humanitarian aid.

There is an urgent need for international intervention from peacekeeping troops to prevent the country from spiraling into genocide.

Without an increase in the number of peacekeepers, the ethnic and religious cleansing will continue in the Central African Republic. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has yet to speak out against the violence in the Central African Republic but the Canadian Government has contributed an additional $5 million to its already $1.9 million they are currently spending on humanitarian aid within the country.

The most recent outbreak of violence in the Central African Republic  occurred when Séléka rebels, a group mostly composed of Muslim militants from the north, began their advance on the capital of Bangui, taking control of towns and villages along the way.

The Séléka rebels took control of the capital, which forced President François Bozizé to flee in late March 2013. The Séléka rebel commander Michel Djotodia took control of the country and then became the first Muslim president of the Central African Republic .

Between the time Séléka rebels gained control of the country and were supposedly disbanded by the president, Human Rights Watch reported there were 34 attacks on villages and towns by the Séléka forces instilling terror in the civilian population — but did we students take note?

As conditions worsened in the country, Christians started to take up arms and formed a rebel group called Anti-Balaka — meaning “anti-machete” or “anti-sword” — to fight against the Séléka rebels who are now in control of the country.

With the forming of this new rebel group, sectarian violence has escalated with armed Christian rebels killing Muslim civilians. As Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the UN, once said, “A genocide begins with the killing of one man — not for what he has done, but because of who he is.”

Indeed, by late 2013 the UN said the Central African Republic  was “descending into complete chaos” and France described the country as “being on the verge of genocide,” all of which should be statements strong enough to evoke action from many different parties.

In an effort to support the over 4,000 African Union peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, France deployed 1,600 troops to the country. As of Feb. 14, 2014 France planned to deploy 400 more troops to the region.

In January 2014 former rebel commander and president Michel Djotodia resigned his presidency. The parliament has gone on to appoint Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president of the Central African Republic, since she was the mayor of the capital Bangui and has been largely neutral in the conflict. Both Séléka and anti-Balaka rebels have accepted her appointment as president.

Despite calls from the international community and the president of the Central African Republic  for rebels on both sides to put down their arms, the sectarian violence has continued with over 100 people being killed since early February 2014.

Without an influx of aid and foreign troops, the country and the region is at risk of totally destabilizing.

Currently there are 15,000 people trying to flee the violence, but they are being prevented from escaping the country by armed groups. These civilians are at great risk of becoming victims of ethnic cleansing, so it’s high time peacekeeping efforts were increased in the country.

The Central African Republic  needs better security, which can only be provided by a force of international peacekeepers. Canadians once had a global reputation as a nation committed to peace, stability and security. The Canadian government needs to do more to prevent another genocide from occurring.

After the failed UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, commander Roméo Dallaire spoke about the experience.

“Some people say an intervention would have been useless because they were all dead,” Dallaire said. “They weren’t all dead; they were still being killed and slaughtered by the thousands and thousands.”

Dallaire’s words ring true in the context of the Central African Republic as well. Lives can still be saved if the efforts are implemented by peacekeeping missions from the UN, Canada and other countries. Students can be vocal with their member of parliament in voicing their concerns and, hopefully, evoking change.

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Graphic: Mike Tremblay

  • angry foodie

    Wasn’t the former president of CAR a cannibal?

    And though citing Dallaire is pithy, let’s not forget that he was completely incompetent in Rwanda, at least according to the highly regarded Canadian Maj.Gen. Lewis MacKenzie.

    Jared Diamond proposed the hypothesis that the Rwandan genocide was influenced by over-population; Rwanda at the time was one of the most densely populated nations in the world.

    Never sure what to do with these former French and Belgian colonies in Africa. I mean, I don’t like to just throw around the word ‘barbarian’, but who is kidding who? Nations like CAR and the DRC have legitimate barbarian hordes who rape and pillage on a level the Troglodytes would have admired.

    Who could say the hordes of murderous Hutus in Rwanda were not barbarians? I’d call that a genteel term to describe their conduct.

    How you deal with nations like this, divided by animist superstition alongside western religion?

    You credit the French dude? This is a former French colony (something you would have been wise to point out.) The French don’t send their people in unless it is in the interests of France. They’ll gladly oversee a massacre complete with eating the fallen soldier’s heart if that means France gets to keep its nationals and its interests safe.

    Frankly, if the French are involved, that in itself points to me not wanting to send Canadian forces in. Make no mistake, the French are there, they have a side. Their interest in peacekeeping begins and ends with protecting their interests.

    • Guest

      When you referring to cannibalism I think you mean Charles Taylor the former president of Liberia.

      With regards to Dallaire “incompetents” how would anyone be able to stop a genocide of almost a million people with only 270 UN troops?

      Are you saying that when African’s commit genocide they are barbarians but when europeans in russia, germany and yugoslavia commit they are to be called something else? Or to be capable of perpetrating a genocide you have to be a barbarian?

      As far as french interest are concerned i think it is important to point out that canada has far more interest in the CAR. Canada has the only company currently operating and extracting resources from the country.

    • angry foodie

      1) Jeesh, I know who Charles Taylor is. You think I comment on these things without actually knowing a thing or two? I mean former CAR president Bokassa, who was charged with cannibalism and according to legend treated the French ambassador to a very fine meal involving human flesh.

      2) With regards to Dallaire’s incompetence, I will take the word of a highly regarded general like Lewis MacKenzie. If he says Dallaire was incompetent, I believe him.

      3) Who mentioned Europe? The entire nation of Germany was a barbarian nation. Most Anglo-Saxon Canadians came from so-called “barbarian” bloodlines. Barbarism is what it is. Don’t equivocate, the shit I am talking about in African is done by barbarians. If I saw Serbs playing footie with severed heads and eating human flesh (I know this was Liberia, not CAR), I might be liable to play the relativist game. If I heard of marauding gangs with AKs that rob villages, kidnap the children and rape the women anywhere, I’d call them barbarians too. It is what it is.

      4) Interested to know about Canadian interests in CAR. However, you should keep in mind that France above any nation in the world sees prestige as a national interest. They have no problem with human rights abuses when allies like Morocco perpetrate them.