The Central African Republic (CAR) is in a bad situation right now. The Human Development Index, a statistic that measures the social and economic development of countries, ranked the CAR 180th out of a total of 186 countries in 2012. Currently, more than half of the country’s GDP is from agriculture and a majority of the population are subsistence farmers. The Central African Republic has an abundance of natural resources including oil, uranium, gold, tin, and diamonds. Throughout much of history, the country’s leaders have used the resources for their own gain, rather than for the benefit of their country. Furthermore, the country has been plagued by many armed conflicts. The latest, ongoing conflict started in December 2012. So far, over one million people, more than a fifth of the country’s population, have been displaced and thousands have been killed.
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Ever since the country’s independence from France in 1960, it has undergone several rebellions and coups. Causes for the conflict include religious tensions and a struggle between rival groups for wealth and power. The two militias currently in conflict are the Seleka (has mostly Muslim members) and the anti-balaka (mostly Christian). However, some argue that since Muslims and Christians have lived in peace for many years in the CAR, the conflict is due to other reasons. These may include conflict between different groups for resources, and the immigration of fighters from conflicts in neighboring countries such as Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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Many of the CAR’s leaders seized power through the military. For example, Francois Bozize became president in 2003 through an armed rebellion against the previous president Ange-Felix Patasse. However, he failed to keep his promises and committed war crimes, causing many people to dislike him. A coalition of rebel forces known as the Seleka seized power in a rebellion starting in December 2012 and ending in March 2013. Michel Djotodia, the leader of the Seleka, became president. After Djotodia became president, a new set of militias called the anti-balaka were formed that fight the Seleka. Both the Seleka and anti-balaka militias have committed war crimes against civilians. Due to the continuing violence in the country and President Djotodia’s inability to stop it, the international community pressured him to resign. On January 10th, President Djotodia resigned and went into exile in Benin.
Fortunately, the situation in CAR is improving due to recent events. On January 20th, 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza was selected as the first female president of the Central African Republic. Prior to becoming President, Ms. Samba-Panza was a successful businesswoman and corporate lawyer. She has a reputation for being honest, is considered politically neutral, and has no ties to the armed groups. In her victory speech, she stated, “I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka – they should not have fear.” She is only allowed to be president for a year, as she is holding an interim position and cannot stand for election. Right now, she has many challenges ahead, as she is essentially starting from scratch.
On the same day, the European Union gave the CAR around $500 million in humanitarian aid and decided to send a peacekeeping force of five hundred soldiers to the CAR. These forces will join the one and a half thousand French peacekeepers and four and a half thousand African Union troops already present in the CAR in an effort to curb violence. On January 30th, 2014, the UN Security Council passed a resolution against individuals who are thought to have committed war crimes, preventing them from traveling and freezing their assets.
Hopefully, President Samba-Panza will be able to put an end to the violence in the CAR and help the country move forward using her leadership skills and international assistance.
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