No solutions to the machete in the Central African Republic

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by Simon Rousseau, translated by Charlotte Grey

Central African Republic support

The storm blowing across the Central African Republic is nothing new. Indeed, since its independence in 1960, the country has been in the grip of serious political and humanitarian crises which are hardly suitable conditions for sorting out the incredibly bad economy. The storm became a hurricane in March 2013 when Séléka rebels – predominantly Muslims – ousted President Bozizé, leading to a period of unprecedented violence. Christians, initially persecuted by militant ex-Séléka fighters, have seen Christian anti-balakas respond to the abuse with their own acts of violence. This has resulted in hostile attitudes towards predominantly Muslim Chadian Central Africans.

This logic of responding to violence with violence has quickly got out of hand and has ended in bloody massacres across the country. Unable to end the interfaith killings, and despite French military contributions coupled with African forces, the new president, Michel Djotodia, was forced to resign in January 2014. At this time, the number of victims had passed 2000, and the number of people internally displaced was in the hundreds of thousands.

Initially alone, France – present in the Central African Republic since December 2013 with 1600 men – saw the international community react on Monday 20 January. Indeed, following a meeting in Brussels, the EU and the UN announced in 2014 their decision to free up nearly $500 million, as well as make military forces available, to help the Central African Republic.

European ministers have also agreed on how to manage the crisis: the EU headquarters will draw up a list of the Central African Republic’s needs, and lay out each country’s contribution to be made. France has put itself forward to be the ‘lead nation’ in matters concerning management and troops. 
At the same time, and during a Security Council meeting on 14 February on the cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union, Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, urged the international community to support, as a matter of priority, the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA).

However, and despite all good will, the situation in the Central African Republic seems to require firmer and more complex management that that proposed previously by the West. Indeed, European military intervention in the Central African Republic seems to be compromised, or at least delayed, by some European countries’ reluctance and downsizing of their commitments, leading to Paris stressing that “the amount of people needed hasn’t been reached” on 14 March. Moreover, although exterior aid is necessary to maintain law and order, time must be given to the Central African Republic towards mobilising the country’s forces around the new president, Catherine Samba Panza, who was elected on 23 January 2014 to overcome the ethnic and religious divide undermining the country, and to start stabilising a sub-region marked by indifference on one hand and domestic affairs on the other.

Western intervention does not seem to be leading to unanimity. In a recent article, the Algerian daily newspaper La Tribune basically painted the French action as one following an economic agenda (an agenda which will seize part of the Central African Republic’s subsoil assets) as well as a geopolitical one (to counter China’s rising power in the region): agendas which are far from humanitarian ideals and advanced security requirements.

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