The Central African Republic has been dealing with a civil war since 2012 which has culminated in ongoing sectarian violence between different ethnic and religious groups. Aside from the government, the main factions in this conflict are the Séléka, an alliance of militia groups that are predominantly Muslim, and the Anti-balaka, who are mostly Christian. Both sides have been accused of heinous crimes such as deliberately targeting civilians and forcibly converting people to their religion. The latest development is that 13 of the 14 armed groups in CAR along with the national government have signed a peace agreement brokered by the Catholic organisation Sant’ Egidio. It is unclear however if it will hold.
The peace treaty that was signed by the different parties stipulates that all must recognise the government that was formed in the aftermath of the 2015-16 national elections under the leadership of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. If the accord holds it will bring about the end of a conflict that has been taking place, on and off, since 2013 and claimed the lives of at least 2,500 people and displaced a further million.
The Central African Republic is a former French colony that gained independence in 1960. Since gaining independence the country has seen a number of coups and has been the site of political instability for a significant part of its recent history. In 1965 President David Dacko was overthrown by Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa who declared himself as Emperor of Central Africa and he remained in power until he was ousted by France in 1979. The country has had very little experience of democratic government but has boldly tried to stay as a unified polity despite the recent past.
The reason I say that it is unknown whether or not the agreement will hold is because this is not the first peace agreement to be signed between the government and a number of rebel militias. In 2014 a ceasefire was signed in Brazzaville under the watchful eyes of the African Union but this proved unsuccessful after claims from both sides that the other had violated the terms of the agreement. In 2015 10 armed groups signed another agreement with the CAR Defense Ministry in Bangui which included a commitment to disarmament and an investigation into alleged war crimes. This agreement also fell through.
Peace in the Central African Republic will only take hold if there is a concerted attempt to educate the populace. People can only want to do harm to another group if they are fundamentally ignorant of each others’ cultures, histories and practices. Armed with knowledge about your fellow citizens, propaganda campaigns and malicious rumours about an ‘enemy within’ cannot withstand the scrutiny that an educated citizenry can provide.
Furthermore, the international community must be prepared to invest in the country so as to alleviate poverty because material insecurity is the root of much instability in the world. There are many approaches that could be taken to achieve these goals with my choice being that proposed by German Development Minister Gerd Müller. By removing these barriers to stability the country will thrive and will never return to the dark days that have been all too common in recent times. I fear, however, that a lack of action will only allow hostilities to restart in the near future.