Ending Central African Republic’s Ethnic Violence

Can interim president Catherine Samba-Panza bring peace?
By Kremena Krumova, Epoch Times
February 10, 2014 Updated: February 10, 2014

The interim president of the Central African Republic (CAR) told hundreds of soldiers standing in formation last Wednesday that she was proud of them. Despite her calling on them to bring order to the country, after she left, the soldiers broke ranks to mercilessly stab and stomp a man to death. The soldiers then dragged the man’s corpse through the streets.

The horrific attack showed the degree of hatred and savagery to which this impoverished country has fallen and the difficulty faced by the international community, which has already deployed thousands of peacekeepers to try to stabilize it.

The gathering on Feb. 5 was intended to highlight the rebuilding of the national army, left in tatters when President Francois Bozize was ousted from power in a March 2013 coup. Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza took over last month after the rebel leader who had seized power, Michel Djotodia, stepped aside amid mounting international pressure.

Samba-Panza had given the Central African Republic hope of restoring peace and reconciliation in the country. She is expected to serve for about one year and lead the country to national elections.

But experts point out that without addressing the root causes of the ongoing battles between Christians and Muslims, violence will not be contained in the long run.

Historic Challenges

“The current crisis is the result of the slow decomposition of the Central African Republic,” said Raphael De Benito from the Paris-based organization Billets d’Afrique.

According to De Benito the Central African Republic has never had a chance to develop itself due to its colonial past, coups, endemic corruption, and the looting of resources.

The conflict in the country is a social conflict that has been fueled by extreme poverty, a lack of access to resources, and a lack of redistribution of revenue from minerals.

In addition, it lacks governance and government institutions. It is full of armed men (most of them are suspected not to be Central African but either Sudanese or Chadian), who helped oust the former president, but now lack emolument. There are also many militias in the country who claim they support the ousted President Bozize.

Finding a Solution

According to Christopher Zambakari, peace fellow at the Rotary Centre for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Queensland in Australia, the challenge for the interim president is to restructure power in such a way that it accommodates the diverse groups in the country without discriminating against certain members of society, either on the basis of ethnicity or religion.

Discrimination is another root cause for the conflict in CAR. The author Louisa Lombard, in an analysis posted in “African Arguments,” writes that after the French came to CAR, the state mainly grew in the capital Bangui, while in the northeast, such as the town of Ndele, it was declared an autonomous district that became isolated and considered foreign occupied territory.

“People in northeastern CAR feel neglected,” wrote Lombard. “People with Islamic-sounding names are made to pay more at the roadblocks that proliferate, especially in the southern and western parts of the country than people with Christian names, and it is harder for people from the northeast to obtain national identity documents. Many Muslims, like former President Michel Djotodia, take a Christian name in order to minimize the discrimination they face.”

But even if Samba-Panza would give her best, in the end peace is up to the will of the parties fighting in the country.

“During Djotodia’s reign most Christians were targeted and now that a Christian president has taken over, Christians are said to be retaliating,” professor in English and linguistics at the University of Djibouti, Douglas Orang’i wrote by email. “For the crisis to be solved there should be religious goodwill that is elusive now. This makes it hard for the interim president to broker peace.”

“The fact that people were killed on the same day that she was appointed points to the direction that she may have no impact as such and we have yet to see it.”

External Influence

Many fear that the neutrality, professionalism, and authority of Samba-Panza will not be enough to stop the atrocities, as CAR is too dependent on external forces.

“Unfortunately, the transitional government will not succeed in ending the influence of the international community and the countries of the region,” said Servan Le Janne, a journalist at the political daily, Slate Afrique.

“This suggests that the government’s autonomy will be reduced as those involved will seek to take advantage of their ascendancy: like actors who have always played a major role in the Central African affairs.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.