Are the French Facilitating Ethnic Cleansing in the CAR?
French Soldier Addressing a Crowd in Bangui
Sources of Conflict
The Central African Republic (CAR) has had a tumultuous history over the last several decades. They had an emperor in the 1970s that allegedly ate human beings, but was convicted of beating young children to death. He may even have served human flesh to French President Giscard d’Estaing during a state visit, and he claims he shared women with the French President.
His name was Emperor Bokassa, and he was eventually ousted thanks to French paratroopers. Although because of his service in the French Foreign Legion, he was allowed to live out some of his exile in a chateau in a suburb of Paris.
Fast-forward a few decades and we are facing a totally different situation. The CAR did not change dramatically since the 1980s, but it did not get much worse. The authoritarian president Francois Bozize was in charge of the CAR from 2003 until his ousting in 2013 by Seleka rebels. Keep in mind, the Seleka rebels are part of the Muslim minority in the country, and Bozize is a Christian. He enjoyed a lot of support from the majority Christian population.
However, this conflict may appear to be based on age-old religious differences, but it did not come into being until the recent political strife. In 2013, Seleka rebels backed by neighboring nations rampaged through the country and took the capital Bangui. Bozize was forced to flee, and he was replaced by the Seleka commander Michel Djotodia.
Djotodia had a pretty ineffectual time in office, but in September, 2013 he disbanded the Seleka army. At that point, there were reports that Seleka fighters were carrying out wanton attacks on Christian civilians.
It was during this time that the anti-Balaka militias began to form. They are Christian, and generally perceive the Muslims in the CAR as foreigners, and they have not shown much restraint in killing Muslim civilians.
Djotadia was eventually forced from power, and he has been replaced by Catherine Samba-Panza. She appears to have little control over the nation, and the country’s security situation seems to be deteriorating rapidly.
Map of the CAR
Hollande with French Soldiers
The French Role
Late in 2013, President Francois Hollande decided that the French should intervene to quell the exploding sectarian violence. They worked alongside African Union troops, including a strong contingent from Rwanda, to restore order in the troubled nation.
According to numerous reports, although Bangui appears to have returned to a state of calm, much of the country is still suffering. The anti-Balaka militias are reported to rely on child soldiers, who have a lot of time on their hands since most of the schools in the country are closed, and they have been carrying out reprisals against Muslim civilians. They utilize any sort of weapon they can get their hands on: guns, machetes, or farming equipment.
Nobody has reliable numbers for how many have been killed, but at this point, the predominantly Muslim areas near Bangui seem to have disappeared. Thousands have certainly been killed, but the majority of the Muslims seem to have fled their homes for Chad and Cameroon. Massive convoys of Muslim people have been seen streaming out of the anti-Balaka controlled areas.
The official mission of the French was to stop the violence and disarm the Seleka fighters. There are reports that the Seleka have been largely disarmed, but it seems that the French military has refrained from confronting the anti-Balaka. There are reports of French soldiers standing by idly as anti-Balaka fighters literally butcher Muslims.
The Rwandans on the other hand have taken a more aggressive approach, and they are forcibly trying to reintegrate the Muslim and Christian populations. Perhaps, they are trying to recreate the ethnic “solution” they found in post-genocide Rwanda in which they forced Hutus back into the country and even the government.
However, what is clear is that these different military forces in the CAR have different standards of engagement, and they do not seem to communicate very well with each other. This is certainly problematic. How can the peace-keeping forces keep the peace if they cannot even agree on what that peace should look like?
Echoes of Rwanda
During the Rwandan Genocide, 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days. The French military set up the protected “Zone Orange” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to facilitate the escape of refugees. This protected zone was used by Hutu fighters as a safe haven while they carried out brutal attacks on Tutsi civilians.
The intentions of the French military were certainly not to abet genocide, but by allowing the Hutus to act as they did, they tacitly allowed more people to be killed.
In the CAR, if the reports are true, then the French are also do not appear to be preventing what looks more and more like an ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population. The fighting in the CAR has not degenerated in to outright genocide, but it seems to be dangerously close. If the French military is going to take up a peace-keeping mandate in the CAR, then they are going to have to do a lot more than just disarm the Seleka and allow the anti-Balaka to continue to butcher civilians.
Hundreds of Seleka Supporters Protest French Involvement
Sources and Further Reading
- CAR's new president dissolves rebel group - Africa - Al Jazeera English
Michel Djotodia disbands Seleka group blamed for wave of violence since March coup that toppled Francois Bozize.
- France, Chad, Gaddafi and the CAR: years of meddling should not be ignored now – By Keith Somerville
a href=”http://africanarguments.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Bokassa_Ceausescu.jpg”> Former President Bokassa of the CAR with Romania’s Nicolae Ceaușescu…
- France in the Central African Republic is latest use of 'Hollande doctrine' | Simon Tisdall | Commen
Simon Tisdall: The country is using military intervention in Africa for humanitarian means – but also to boost its leader's polls
- Central African Republic intervention is incompetent, says Amnesty investigator | World news | thegu
As Muslims in Central African Republic flee the Christian militia, African Arguments talks to Donatella Rovera about what went wrong
- Why French Troops Are Intervening In Africa — Again : NPR
For the third time in recent years, France has sent troops into a former African colony, the Central African Republic. The French public generally supports these missions, mainly because they are not to prop up dictators, as they have been in the pas
- BBC News - Central African Republic crisis: Another French intervention?
France has a long history of sending troops to Africa but its interventions in Central African Republic and Mali are different, says West Africa analyst Paul Melly.
- Central African Republic: The World's Most Ignored Conflict Could Soon Become a Genocide
Humanitarian interest alone is rarely enough to get foreign governments, donors, and the media interested in a regional crisis. The larger strategic goals of global superpowers, the possibility of international intervention, or the threat of increase
- France in Central Africa: The reluctant interventionist - Opinion - Al Jazeera English
Why France did not want to be dragged into the conflict in the Central African Republic.
- Jim Wallis: The Central African Republic Needs Our Help - TIME
We in the United States need to act to help our brothers and sisters in the Central African Republic
- Central African Republic: Muslims flee conflict-stricken capital – in pictures | Global development
Attempts by Christian militia to purge Muslims from parts of the Central African Republic have triggered an exodus of historic proportions, stoking fears of ethnic cleansing
- The Central African Republic Conflict Is Africa's Bloodiest Fight | New Republic
We've seen this before: dead bodies on the side of the road. Stoned kids with huge guns. But damn us if we don't lift a finger for the Central African Republic.