Chaos in CAR

February 09, 2014 - 6:28:06 am

As Muslims in the Central African Republic flee fearing attacks, the West and the African Union need to do more to stem the violence.


One more African country is being torn to shreds due to religious violence – the Central African Republic. Latest reports say tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing to neighbouring countries by planes and trucks as Christian militias stage brutal attacks, shattering the social structure of this war-ravaged nation. What the country is witnessing is one of the worst outbreaks of violence along Muslim-Christian fault lines in recent memory in sub-Saharan Africa, after such tensions have plagued countries such as Nigeria and Sudan.

For the past few weeks, Bangui has been in the headlines in the global media due to the chaos. The country badly requires African and international intervention to prevent it from sliding into disintegration. The problem with violence in African countries is that little is done to stem its spread, and the frequency of bloodbath and chaos has created a sense of déjà vu in the international community. Ironically, foreign forces in the country have failed miserably to control the violence. France’s 1,600 troops and the African Union’s contingent of more than 5,000 have been watching helplessly as the country descends further into doom. Around a quarter of the population are said to have been displaced.

The brutalities in CAR began to escalate when the country’s first Muslim leader, Michel Djotodia, stepped down and went into exile last month. Djotodia, who had seized power in a coup last March, had been under pressure from regional leaders to resign. His departure was meant to bring stability to this poor country, but rights workers say there is more violence now than at any time since the coup. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 60,000 people, most of them Muslim, have fled to neighbouring countries since December 5, when sectarian violence erupted following an uprising by the Christian militias and former government soldiers. The number of departures escalated following Djotodia’s resignation. Muslims are a minority in the country and make up roughly 15 percent of the country’s 4.5 million people. Most have fled to Chad and Cameroon, while others have gone to Nigeria, Niger and Sudan. In this region, people often have social and economic ties across borders. Many families here, for example, have relatives in Chad, Cameroon and other neighboring nations. Most of the clashes have occurred in northwestern towns. 

The new interim president Catherine Samba Panza, who spoke of her pride in seeing the armed forces contribute to national security again, has a duty to make sure that Muslims are not persecuted. The International Criminal Court on Friday said it had opened an initial probe into war crimes in the country, where the media reported another lynching. Such measures will do little to prevent the violence which has gone out of control.