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The Central African Republic: a primer on the current crisis

Published Wednesday, February 19, 2014

President Francois Bozize was overthrown in March 2013 by a rebel coalition called Seleka, which then installed its leader, Michael Djotodia, as the new president. However, the country remained in turmoil and ‘self-defence groups’ opposed to Seleka, called Anti-Balaka, took up arms. By late 2013, senior UN officials were warning the conflict had turned into one between the Muslim minority and the Christian majority. They said there was a real danger of genocide. While not disputing the seriousness of the crisis, many experts caution against over-simplified narratives of ‘Christian versus Muslim’ and question claims of possible genocide. Despite the arrival of French and African peacekeepers and the resignation of Michael Djotodia - recently replaced by an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, who heads an transitional government - violence continues in many parts of the country, with some now fearing de facto partition.

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President Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic (CAR) was overthrown in March 2013 by a rebel coalition called Seleka, which then installed its leader, Michael Djotodia, as the new president. However, the country remained in turmoil and ‘self-defence groups’ opposed to Seleka, called Anti-Balaka, took up arms. By late 2013, senior UN officials were warning the conflict had turned into one between the Muslim minority, which was heavily represented in Seleka, and the Christian majority, represented in Anti-Balaka. They said there was a real danger of genocide. While not disputing the seriousness of the crisis, many experts caution against over-simplified narratives of ‘Christian versus Muslim’ and question claims of possible genocide.

Following the arrival of French and African peacekeepers and the resignation of Michael Djotodia - replaced by an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, who heads an transitional government - a superficial degree of calm has returned to the capital, Bangui; but violence continues in many other parts of the country, with reports that Christians and Muslims are being forced to leave their homes as areas are ‘cleansed’ by rival fighting forces. UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon has stated that “de facto partition of the CAR is a distinct risk.” Christian extremists go so far as to assert that there is no future place for Muslims in CAR. Some Muslims are now talking about northern secession and there have been unconfirmed reports that al-Shabaab ‘trainers’ from Somalia are now offering their services.

Commons Briefing papers SN06829

Author: Jon Lunn

Topics: Africa, Human rights, International development, International law, International politics and government

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