After 20 years of bloody conflict and several failed international interventions, Somalia finally seems to have turned the tides and to be heading towards stability. Although Al-Shabab is still a serious threat, it is losing ground to the troops of the African Union. This of course is great for Somalian government, the African Union and the Somali people in general, but is a great bummer for us political scientists –away goes our real life example of anarchy! Don’t worry though, here is the next candidate to plummet itself into anarchy –Africa’s Next Failed State: the Central African Republic.
The introduction may sound rather cynical, yet the reality the Central African Republic (CAR) is facing is a grim one. I tried to come up with a positive angle (I like positive news), yet as I dug into the topic, my hope shied away. The CAR is rich in natural resources and has lots of fertile land, yet despite of this/because of this it is one of the poorest countries in the world and rates 179th (of 187) in terms of the Human Development Index. In its history as independent country, since 1960, it has seen mainly autocratic rule and heavy corruption. In the last decade bordering conflict have had a spill-over effect and twice northern factions rebelled against the state, respectively between 2003-2007 and in 2013, the second one being a successful one.
Currently, Djotodia, the former leader of rebel movement Séléka, is president and has promised elections and the dissolution of the rebel movement. Séléka however, does not possess a very strong hierarchy. It consists of numerous factions of varying size that only have a loyalty towards their own commander. Without purpose, these groups now roam the country, leaving a devastating trail behind. Extortion, mass-rape and mass-killings, entire villages being plundered and burned down, are realities the civilians are facing. Without a working police force or army, the civilian population is left unprotected against these militia.
The Central African Republic ranks 179th in the Human Development Index.
Besides these serious human rights violations, the civilians of the CAR are facing other problems as well. The UN reports that an estimated 394.000 people are displaced, fleeing for the brutalities of this conflict. Some are hiding in the woods, where they are in dire need of basic human needs like food, clean water and sanitation. Outside the forests, food shortage is a problem too. Despite its fertile lands, the CAR has been relying on international food aid for years. Now, national harvest are record low, because of the conflict, and half of the population (of 4,4 million) is lacking enough food and clean drinking water.
Problems do not stop here. On top of this humanitarian crisis, the CAR is experiencing an influx of foreign criminal gangs. These gangs come from as far as Nigeria and make use of the anarchic state the CAR is in. Behaving like the militia, they sack the countryside to acquire their piece of the cake. Again, there is no one to protect the civilian population. Thus some civilians are now taking matters into their own hands and establish their own militia, mostly youth patrolling with hunting guns, in order to protect their communities.
A final dimension to add to this conflict is a sectarian one. Rebel movement Séléka consists mainly of Muslims, whereas the rest of the population adheres to Christian faith (90%). Not only has this difference led to distrust and hate between the Séléka movement and the rest of the country, it has had a similar effect within communities. Muslims and Christians, who have been living together in communities for centuries, are now being attacked by their fellow community members.
You now probably understand my difficulties to come up with a positive angle to this story. Yet with a careful look a glimpse of hope can be seen at the Central African horizon. There are positive efforts being made to head off total disaster. The three main religious leaders of the country have joined forces and are trying to deter the sectarian violence through dialogue. The UN has planned a peace keeping mission, MISCA, to start in 2014. It remains to doubt whether this will be enough. Reestablishing order would require a large military operation. Can France come to the rescue like it did in Mali? Or will the African Union do so? Most likely not, since they both are already stuck in a costly military conflict elsewhere. The CAR’s best hope is on MISCA, but it remains to be seen whether it will be vast enough to create order and stop the fighting. For this, international public attention is needed to gear political action. Framing the CAR as the next Somalia, a hotbed of terrorism and organized crime, which it is/will be, might at least contribute to this and give this conflict the attention it deserves.
Photo IRIN News: © UNICEF/Pierre Holtz