Hour-long drives through series of empty villages; an abandoned baby, left by parents who fled too quickly in fear of rebels: these are just two of the observations from the deteriorating Central African Republic. In a Foreign Policy article by Peter Bouckaert, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, CAR appears lost to violent rebel forces —known by their name, Séléka— since their overflow of the government last spring.
According to UN Dispatch, the violence has left 1.1 million struggling to meet basic needs (30 percent of the total population), 400,000 people waging the war of survival in the CAR’s dense forest, and have stewarded instances of “genocide talk” from a number of observers. The genocide tag, grows out of concern that Séléka —whose members are Muslim— has aggressively targeted civilians (Christian or otherwise). Others are quick to note that all parties have avowed violence, and that using the genocide label (for political purposes or otherwise) isn’t as important as preventing it all together.
Throughout the slow-burning conflict, many prominent talking heads have called for international response —Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Former Sec. General Kofi Annan, French President François Hollande, and US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, have all expressed impatience with the continued instability in the country. Ambassador Power, speaking in September, discussed the potential consequence of inaction:
“My government views recent events in the Central Africa Republic with anguish at the horrific degree of suffering, and we are deeply angered by the atrocities perpetrated by Séléka rebels against innocent civilians, including many children. We are also deeply alarmed by the prospect of CAR becoming a safe haven for violent extremists.”
In light of the recent US Department of State designation of Boko Haram and Ansaru, Nigerian-based extremist groups, as “terrorist organizations,” the crisis in the CARis even more important. With Boko Haram inciting “states of emergency” in Nigeria’s north, bleeding instability over into Chad, which is currently being affected by continued conflict in The CAR and Sudan, as Mali appears to serve as “safe haven” for violent, non-state actors in West Africa, we might be watching the dominos fall.
The question that remains, is what the US/Western response will be, given an tentative rapprochement with Iran (which is sucking-up valuable diplomatic resources), and the stale human disaster of Syria (which continues to generate little more than Tweets from Ambassador Samantha Power).
In a state where political leadership has been subject to cyclical coups, where power is expressed primarily through the financial means to arm, train and sustain violence, stability will only be found through tortured battle.
That battle, however, was quick to impact nearly all of the country’s 4.4 million people. When I asked the local U.N. representative, Babacar Gaye, about the current state of affairs, his response was dire:
We are in a situation of lawlessness. You have the appearance of power, you have the appearance of a country, but the government has no authority.
Soon, some international actors were calling for action. France, specifically, noted that the CAR was on the brink of “Somalization”, an ode to same condition of lawlessness McConnell alludes to with the title of his new piece. And yet, after the Syrian chemical weapons crisis of August and September, Hollande seemed to walk-back a previous claim that French troops were at the ready. McConnell writes today (my emphasis):
France, which has about 400 soldiers in CAR, is pushing most strongly for moves to stabilize its former colony. But France says it has no intention of deploying thousands of its own troops there, as it did in Mali at the start of the year when it was feared Al Qaeda aligned militant groups were poised to overrun the country.
Finally, McConnell’s notes that CAR’s disintegration has led to further instability, and perhaps a new safe haven, for extremist forces from Chad and Sudan to the east and Mali and northern Nigeria to the west.
Long-term, however, the fractured nature of the rebels should be a warning. In the closing moments of my interview with Mr. Gaye last month, I asked his opinion of Séléka, the coalition group now working to dethrone the CAR’s new government.
“There is always risk of implosion of a coalition,” Mr. Gaye said. “A revolution always eats its own babies like that.”
The question now is how many lives will be eaten in the process.