Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Ferdinand for a fortnight

Gamal Nkrumah reviews the poisonous brew of malice and mistrust enveloping the Central African Republic

Al-Ahram Weekly

Christian cannibals? As monotheism solidified in the Central African Republic, the continued lack of religious tolerance came evermore sharply in focus. The BBC report hit the headlines. A Christian killed a Muslim and ate his flesh. He claimed that he did his heinous act in revenge. Muslims are being targeted in the capital Bangui and sectarian strife has become endemic.

The Central African Republic is one of the world’s least developed and poorest countries. It has been described by the United Nations as “the most neglected crisis in the world”. Yet, the country, gripped by civil war, has taken the first guarded step towards democracy.

President Michel Djotodia stepped down to be replaced temporarily by Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet acting as head of state until free and fair elections take place. Nguendet is supposed to remain in office for two weeks. Most of his compatriots live in a state of near-penniless destitution, a condition that exacerbates political and ethnic tensions.

Djotodia, presumably a Christian, forced his way into office as head of the predominantly Muslim militia Seleka. Caution had served Djotodia well to this point, but by mid-December the Christian majority in the country were ready to oust Seleka.

Another difficulty overshadowing the Central African Republic is abject poverty. Plagued by poor governance and institutionalised corruption, the country has been trapped in a vicious cycle of civil war and poverty for decades. Most of the population lives literally hand to mouth and infrastructural development, in spite of rich mineral wealth, is deplorable. Human rights groups indicate that women are especially at high risk of sexual and physical abuse, for gender-based violence is endemic.

The Muslim militia Seleka usurped power in a violent coup d’état in March 2013, and the humanitarian situation deteriorated sharply. An absence of law and order prevails throughout the sprawling country. Conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and forced thousands more to become refugees in neighbouring countries. The chaos has left at least 1,000 dead.

For most of the past decade Africa and the world have got used to the idea that the Central African Republic is simply a failed state. But with ethnic conflict in neighbouring South Sudan escalating, religious strife in Central Africa is adding to already present woes.

Michel Djotodia and Nicolas Tiangaye, who seized power last March, sought to build a coalition with disgruntled Muslims, gathering a mighty militia, the Seleka, to prosecute a retaliatory attack on their Christian adversaries. The war-torn country rapidly descended into a confessional bloodbath.

Seleka warriors did not return to a hero’s welcome in their home villages. Many abandoned the expedition to capture the capital and fled to neighbouring countries. Some Seleka fighters were assured a degree of renown for their exploits, but their chances of holding power in a predominantly Christian nation were slim.

As the conflict spreads, the vulnerable suffer first. “We are witnessing unprecedented levels of violence against children. More and more children are being recruited into armed groups, and they are also being directly targeted in atrocious revenge attacks,” warned Suleiman Diabate, UNICEF representative in the country.

“Targeted attacks against children are a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law and must stop immediately. Concrete action is needed now to prevent violence against children.”

It is against this grim backdrop that France, the former colonial power, promptly dispatched 1,600 soldiers in an effort to ease tensions. Paris is directing an imposing military parade in the Central African Republic, but peace is still elusive.

“The atmosphere is getting increasingly tense with each of these ‘visits’, as the attackers become more and more aggressive and angry,” noted Thomas Curbillon, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) head of mission in Bangui.

“It is totally unacceptable that health facilities are not being respected and are being invaded by armed people who constitute a threat to patients and staff. The insecurity and the gunfire in different areas, especially around the hospital, impede people’s ability to move around.”

The Central African Republic awaits a leader who is not tempted by the plunder amassed by his predecessors. One who has his eyes open to the possibility of establishing a prosperous nation in the heart of the continent.

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