The Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui has seen its Muslim population drop from 130,000 to under 1000 over the past few months. Over the past year, thousands across CAR have been killed and nearly a million have been displaced. The United Nations recently stated that the entire Western half of the country has now been cleansed of Muslims.
CAR has never fully recovered from France’s colonial rule, and it has only known ten years of a civilian government – from 1993 to 2003 – since achieving independence in 1960. Coup after coup, often with French military involvement, has led many to refer to the country as a phantom state. The current conflict has now completely erased the rule of law and order, and left the UN and international community looking confused and impotent.
In March 2013, the Séléka, a mostly Muslim rebel alliance, rose up and overthrew the corrupt government of François Bozizé, while bringing terror and chaos across the country – pillaging, killing and raping with impunity. In response, mostly Christian self-defense forces, called the anti-balaka, formed to defend CAR against Séléka attacks.
Clashes grew more frequent throughout 2013 as the Séléka grew more ruthless. In December 2013, French and African troops went in to disarm the Séléka and staunch the bloodshed. The anti-balaka, seizing on a weakened Séléka, then went on the offensive.
CAR had no real history of religious violence, and the current conflict is not based on any religious ideology. The fighting, however, turned increasingly sectarian in the fall of 2013, with revenge killings becoming the norm. And as the Séléka’s power waned, the anti-balaka fed their need for revenge by brutalizing Muslim civilians.
“Too few peacekeepers were deployed too late; the challenge of disarming the Séléka, containing the anti-balaka, and protecting the Muslim minority was underestimated,” Human Rights Watch said in a recent statement.
The bloodshed has not stopped. The UN is still debating whether or not to send peacekeepers. Even if a peacekeeping operation is approved, it will take six months for troops to be assembled.