On August 9th, 2017, Juan José Aguirre, head of the Bangassou Dioceses in the Central Africa Republic (CAR), reported the slaughtering of more than 50 people by Muslim militias in a village 45 miles from Bangassou. This announcement is the latest in a string of violent events which have marked an escalation in tensions between Christian and Muslim militias, leading some to believe that the country may be on the brink of genocide.
A history of recent tensions
The Central African Republic descended into turmoil in 2013 when the mainly-Muslim rebel coalition, or the so-called Seleka, overthrew the then-president, François Bozizé, a Christian. The first purpose of the coalition was to establish a Muslim government, in a country where 80% of the population is Christian. After the coup, some Christian militias known as Anti-Balaka — or “anti-machete” — assembled to fight the Seleka. At the time, the risk of a genocide prompted the United Nations to act. On December 5th, 2013 the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of the operation Minusca, backed by the French operation, Sangaris. Quickly, the military power and well-planned strategy employed by the western forces on the ground lead to a peaceful agreement finally signed in July 2014. However, since then, the situation on the ground has worsened. 2017 marks the beginning of a new start for this conflict. With the withdrawal of French troops last year, the Central African Republic might fall into the same situation as Rwanda did in 1994, with worrisome warnings of insecurity over the last months. As the violence escalates, the efficiency of the Minusca operation is being more and more questioned. Despite the fact that the Seleka were dissolved after 2014, some factions known as ex-Seleka remain very important in the country, notably in areas where the government does not exert control.
The Central African Republic is quite singular in the African landscape, because of the nature of its infighting. While many civil wars — particularly in Africa — stem from cultural and ethnic divisions, the Central African Republic is torn apart by religious differences. Both the Christian Anti-Balaka and the Muslim Seleka militias carry out regular “target killings” on civilians, according to their religious beliefs. From that standpoint, it really differs from Rwanda or Congo, where the ethnic issues always trumped religious differences.
Notwithstanding that aspect of the conflict, the Central African Republic is far from being engulfed in an old religious conflict. Despite the fact that many different people — Christian and Muslims — have to live together, the relationship between the two communities was relatively peaceful until 2013. That point can explain the fact that the country seems overwhelmed by the current events.
The Central African Republic never faced such a conflict before, unlike other neighboring countries. The country had managed to avoid a huge civil war, and many agree that the current conflict is the worst since the country's independence.
After some peaceful months following the election of the country's current president in March 2016, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, violence increased again. Many commentators criticized the withdrawal of the french troops that same year, regarding the security situation on the ground. The situation has even worsened since the beginning of 2017, with new clashes between Anti-Balaka and Ex-Seleka. According to the United Nations, 34 have been killed at the end of July in another part of the country. Six volunteers from the Red Cross were killed on August 3rd in Gambo by Ex-Seleka militias, as part of a reprisal after an attack caused by Anti-Balaka a few days earlier. The peace process, which started in 2013 after the French intervention, is now a distant memory and it is hard to imagine something other than an escalation of the conflict.
Over the last few weeks, Alindao, just like many other cities, has faced a repetition of the bloody conflict that destroyed the country beginning in 2013. The recent slaughtering of civilians was reported in June 2017 — at least 133 civilians — with entire neighbourhoods set alight.