The crisis in the Central African Republic, one of the least developed countries in the world, stems from the ongoing tensions that have rocked Central Africa for decades. According to a recent report issued by Human Rights Watch, 30,000 Muslims have been forced to flee their homes in the recent violence. This dramatic number along with continuous warnings of ethnic cleansing makes the understanding of this conflict very important.
In December 2012, continuing accusations that President François Bozizé had not respected peace agreements signed in 2007 and 2011 led to the start of violence between the government and the Séléka, a coalition of Muslim rebel groups. These groups started an offensive against the government, capturing several towns in the Northeast of the country. During this offensive and the violence caused by it, approximately 1,000 people died, mainly Christians who were attacked by the Séléka.
Despite an appeal to the international community, no troops were sent to defend the government of François Bozizé. France and the United States said that their military would merely defend their nationals on the ground. By early 2013, concerns were growing that the Bozizé government was systematically arresting people belonging to ethnic groups similar to those of the Séléka movement. On January 11, a ceasefire agreement was signed but broken just 12 days later, with each side blaming the other. Violence continued to increase, culminating with the fleeing of President Bozizé on March 24 and the Séléka taking control of Bangui, the capital. The next day, Michel Djotodia, leader of the Séléka movement, declared himself President of the Central African Republic, and in doing so became the first Muslim to hold that office.
For the remainder of 2013, allegations of human rights abuse continued to surface, with several organizations calling the situation disastrous. A Christian militia, the anti-balaka, fought the government and retaliated against the coup d’état by attacking Muslim villages. In August, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement, declaring that there had been “a total breakdown in law and order” in the country. Furthermore, Save the Children, an aid agency, warned that more than 100,000 children faced the threat of sexual abuse and recruitment by militiamen. The next month, President Djotodia announced that the Séléka would be dissolved – however, many members refused to do so. As Djotodia faced internal dissent, reports of torture, murder, and looting became widespread. With the increase in sectarian violence, the UNSC approved a resolution in December that allowed the MISCA forces (African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic) to use all force necessary to protect civilians.
As violence continued, President Djotodia faced increasing pressure from regional leaders. On January 10, 2014, he resigned and was succeeded by Catherine Samba-Panza. Her arrival to power was generally well-accepted by Séléka and anti-balaka members. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped widespread violence from continuing, leading to a mass exodus within the Muslim population and refugees spilling over into neighboring countries. Chad alone has accepted more than 70,000 refugees since the conflict started. As Africa prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, this enormous humanitarian crisis shows no signs of abating.