Throughout almost 18 months of violent conflict and hundreds of deaths in the Central African Republic (CAR), the international media has remained silent on the crisis at hand. Considered largely irrelevant on the international scene, CAR has been ignored by all but the most brave aid workers and journalists. Without legitimate coverage of the conflict, it has been hard for humanitarian groups to develop support for action. For the conflict to see significant improvement, changing external awareness is the first step.
In February 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza appointed herself interim president of CAR, following a chaotic year of leadership under Michel Djotodia. No sooner had she completed her speech on peace and compromise than her audience accused a man in the crowd as being a Seleka and proceeded to beat him to death. The Seleka (coalition), a militant rebel Muslim group, was formed in the north-eastern part of CAR in 2012.
Overflow from sectarian conflict in Sudan and South Sudan, coupled with sectarian prejudice within the existing government of CAR President Francois Bozize, led to a Muslim uprising in CAR in March 2013. The well-armed Seleka group marched south towards the capital city of Bangui, causing then-president Bozize to flee to the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the absence of a national leader, Djotodia became the self-appointed president.
It was in early 2013 that an opposing group began to form—the antibalaka (power over machete and gun). The antibalaka is a Christian resistance group created to respond to the Seleka and defend Christian civilians.
By the end of 2013, Djotodia had been in control for months and the international community—namely the United Nations and African Union—had final responded. They began disarming Seleka militants only to find that the antibalaka were more disorganized and significantly more aggressive. As is the case in many confusing sectarian conflicts, international military support has been largely ineffective. The violence is often waged locally, on a small scale, and without uniforms. All of this equates to a peace-keeping nightmare, where anyone could be fighting for either side. In 2013, CAR once again fell into a chaotic sectarian civil war with two equally motivated rebel forces.
Following the antibalaka take over, violence declined slightly in 2014. But with violence targeting everyone in the country, no one has avoided conflict. There remains a constant fear of the opposing rebel force and the threat of being stopped at violent roadblocks. As a result of the ongoing conflict, many have been internally displaced or forced to flee to neighboring countries, such as Cameroon, DRC and Chad. Humanitarian aid has been slow in many places and non-existent in others. On a trip to Bangui in late 2013, VICE News captured images of over 30,000 Christian refugees camped at the International airport.
In July 2014, the Seleka and antibalaka signed a cease fire, however that has not quelled tensions with sectarian deaths still occurring regularly. Catherine Samba-Panza remains the leader of the country, yet the country’s standing could devolve into an all out sectarian war any moment. In many ways CAR is merely another battlefield for the ceaseless Muslim-Christian conflict. However, without appropriate attention and ensuing international support, CAR could become the deadliest arena yet.