Yesterday I wrote a piece about the tentative ceasefire that had been signed in the Central African Republic, but I cautioned that it was highly possible that it may not hold. Specifically I had written: “I fear that a lack of action [by the international community] will allow hostilities to restart in the near future”. Although I wasn’t especially expectant that the peace accord would hold for long, I must confess that we won’t know if my prediction would be correct or not because there was no time for the international community to get involved. After around 24 hours armed groups opened fire on one another and the peace agreement broke down.
The violence occurred in the town of Bria, around 600 kilometres to the north-east of the capital Bangui. According to Mumuza Muhindo Musubaho, the director of Médecins Sans Frontières‘ project in Bria, “intense shooting started at 6 a.m. (0500 GMT) today. At 9:30 a.m. we already received 35 wounded at the hospital, mostly (with) gunshot wounds”. At the time of writing there are different reports of the casualty rate. Africa News puts the number at “over 35” whereas the BBC have reported that the figure was 42.
Bria was identified by regional experts as a potential flashpoint between the Séléka and Anti-balaka militia groups because the area was the home of both rival factions and had already been the site of the deaths of 300 people in the last month alone. It’s also estimated that 100,000 people have been displaced from the city and the surrounding areas.
Although the focus of negotiations must between people who have a stake in stability for the country and must be marshaled by those who understand the region, it doesn’t take expert knowledge of the CAR to call for another peace deal. The only way for the country to recover in future is for the fighting to stop and for development aid to be ploughed in so that prosperity and stability become the political norm.
In the meantime, the United Nations should increase its presence of peacekeepers so as to protect vulnerable communities from these violent militia groups. The UN should also work with regional organisations like the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the African Union (AU) to ensure economic assistance is provided as soon as possible, both to the CAR government and to NGOs operating in the country.
In terms of specific governments, those countries who are wealthiest should act to support the CAR government, especially those who purport to support democratic government. The UK, France, the United States and many others have a duty to protect the elected government of the CAR from these rival militia groups and can do so by funding UN forces and development projects across the country. Further, much of the instability in Africa is down to the lasting consequences of colonialism and therefore countries like the UK and France have a responsibility to make amends for the sins of their pasts.
To conclude, the CAR will remain a haven of violence and social unrest if nothing changes. Education is, in my view, the way that lasting peace can be achieved and these Western governments should redouble their efforts to boost literacy rates, especially among women, and the funding of universities in the country. Peacekeeping forces from the UN will be needed in the short-term to create a buffer between the rival groups but this can only be a temporary measure to end the bloodshed. If the country is genuinely going to be the site of a lasting peace settlement there needs to be a outpouring of support from around the world so that the root causes of this violence is stamped out.