The UK must assist in the effort to bring communal peace and aid to the Central African Republic.
In March this year, the Central African Republic’s (CAR) unpopular and corrupt President Bozizé was removed in a coup by an alliance of rebel forces collectively known as Séléka.
While the departure of the former head of state may have been welcomed by much of the population of one of Africa’s poorest and least developed nations, the manner of his expulsion and the imposition of an unelected, freshly abusive ruling elite was undoubtedly not.
Since that time Séléka militias – although disbanded as a collective by the new President months ago – have rampaged throughout the country, committing extremely serious abuses, massacres and rapes among them, sometimes razing whole villages to the ground in the process.
Many of those Séléka members who committed vicious crimes prior to the disbanding of the group have now been integrated into the military, where they enjoy total impunity for past abuses, just as Bozize’s brutal ‘national’ army did before.
In response to attacks by the military and the predominantly Muslim ex-Séléka groups, Christian militias have been committing appalling atrocities of their own. Many fighters from Bozizé’s old army have joined the armed Christian collective known as “anti-Balaka”- initially formed by the former President to combat banditry during his time in office.
Reprisals have followed reprisals, and attacks in which no distinction is made between fighters and civilians have become widespread as sectarian tensions boil over. The situation has escalated to a state in which the threat of genocide has been credibly cited by the United Nations.
Recently, the French bolstered a pre-existing troop deployment working with African Union (AU) troops to quell the mayhem and restore peace. The combined forces engaged in this effort are known by their French acronym MISCA (the full version of the name translates to “International Support Mission in the Central African Republic.”)
The use of military means to restore relative calm will hopefully mean that aid agencies can access the 400,000 or so displaced persons created by the conflict, including the many thousands hiding out in the Bush where Malaria is rampant, without fear of being harassed by soldiers.
One has to stress the word ‘hopefully’ – the longer that the fighting endures, the worse the already urgent humanitarian crisis in the country becomes.
At the time of writing, despite the deployment of boosted MISCA forces, atrocities continue to be committed, and a plight involving what the UN’s deputy secretary general recently described as “suffering beyond imagination” endures for the much of the civilian population.
Abandoned farms and crops, a consequence of displacement and internal unrest, have meant that severely decreased agricultural output risks food scarcity and widespread damage to the economy as a whole – two factors likely to worsen the already dreadful humanitarian situation.
Work has to begin now to combat this, but as long as fighting continues all efforts will be hampered; items as basic as seeds and simple farm implements are in short supply and need to be delivered by foreign donors.
Force alone cannot succeed in rescuing the CAR from implosion and its deployment for peacekeeping purposes should only be the first step on the path to establishing a long-term solution. The international community, given the gravity of the stakes, cannot cut and run after the worst of the violence has abated; a failed state in the restive heart of Africa would have profound humanitarian and regional security consequences.
A strengthened peacekeeping presence overseen by the United Nations in addition to committed reconciliation and aid operations are required to prevent a recrudescence of explosive sectarian hostilities.
While France is leading the way militarily, along with its partners in the African Union, the UK can and should assist in the effort to bring communal peace and aid to the CAR.
As for those of us in the media (with some honourable exceptions), who have failed to adequately report on the crisis until now, the present horrors should prompt searching self-reflection.
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