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.
Graphic: Mike Tremblay