If you don’t follow the news, you could be forgiven for confusing the situation in the Central African Republic with the conflict in South Sudan, or Mali, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What is the problem with these central African states? While there are numerous factors, most of them go back to the colonial period.
The European colonial powers, especially the French and Belgians have an absolutely atrocious record in Africa. Firstly, they gained colonies for prestige or resources. They didn’t actually care about creating any effective form of government, other than what was needed for extracting resources. They played tribes off against each other, choosing one tribe to rule through. This ‘divide and conquer’ strategy meant there was no sense of national unity, and led directly to the ethnic clashes and genocide after independence.
When the colonisers exited, they left the newly independent countries with weak, undemocratic governments as well borders that had nothing to do with the people living inside them. Even after independence the French continued to alternate between supporting dictators and coups against the dictators. Unfortunately for the CAR, this pattern is exactly what happened there.
If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s in the name, not many people would have any clue where the Central African Republic is. I suspect that if more people would be interested if they knew that it was once ruled by a self-proclaimed Emperor who was allegedly a cannibal and spent the equivalent of the entire national budget on his crown. Unfortunately since then the situation hasn’t improved much. After mainly Muslim rebels took over the country in March, the CAR has been mired in anarchy and genocide. So why has there been so much strife?
While the CAR has always suffered under autocratic leaders, there hasn’t always been this sort of unrest. Until recently the Christian majority and Muslim minority lived in peace, despite the Muslim minority feeling neglected by the Christian government. However in 2013 after a long period of internal conflict, a coalition of numerous Muslim rebel groups, the Seleka, forced out the Christian president Francois Bozize and put their own leader in power. This fact that their leader Michel Djotodia became the first Muslim president seems to have set the two religions against each other.
Basically, since the rebel takeover in March there has been no effective government in the CAR. Christians set up their own militias to combat the Seleka, and this has turned into the two sides killing civilians and each other, mainly around the capital Bangui. The French sent troops to try and stop the killing, but so far haven’t had too much success. On Friday the president resigned, but experts are divided as to whether this will stop or instead fuel the killing. Unfortunately for the CAR, continuing violence is likely to make the CAR “just another African mess” in the eyes of the world.