The first quarter of 2017 was marked by renewed violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). In 2013, the country descended into civil war after the Séléka coalition ousted president Bozizé. Today, more than 14 armed groups control over 60% of the territory, and nearly half of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance.
MEET THE SELEKA
The roots of the Séléka can be traced back to the Central African Bush war. In 2006, the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) launched several offensives towards the south of the country. The attacks were stopped and a peace agreement was eventually signed in 2007.
At the crossroads between Chad and Sudan, the northern part of CAR has long been an administrative grey zone, where numerous armed groups find refuge.
In 2012, the UFDR and other rebel groups operating in northern CAR assembled to form the Séléka, meaning alliance in Sango. The Séléka contested the government over non-compliance with the peace agreement signed in 2007, corruption and the marginalization of the north.
The Séléka triggered an offensive towards the capital Bangui in December 2012. A peace agreement was signed with the government in January 2013. Fighting soon resumed after the Séléka accused the government of not respecting the accord. The Séléka took Bangui on March 24th 2013, and Michel Djotodia, head of the coalition, became president.
MEET THE ANTI-BALAKA
On its way to the capital, the Séléka committed gross human rights abuses, including murder, rape and looting.
In reaction to the Séléka’s violence and Djotodia’s rule, loosely affiliated auto-defense groups formed the anti-Balaka militias in spring 2013. These militias were comprised of Christians and Animists civilians joined by former members of the army.
The existence of auto-defense groups in the Central African Republic is not a new phenomenon. Since the 1990s, local groups have protected the populations in rural areas from road bandits and rebels.
Anti-Balaka militias adopted a nationalist discourse. Muslims-dominated and joined by Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries, the Séléka was perceived like a foreign invasion. Anti-Balaka militias started to indiscriminately target Muslims, the country’s religious minority, as they associated Muslims with foreigners, leaving CAR on the verge of genocide.
FROM THEN TO NOW
Tit for tat clashes between the two groups triggered a cycle of indiscriminate violence and revenge killings.
The Séléka was officially disbanded in September 2013, leading to the creation of ex-Séléka militias. Violence between the anti-Balaka and ex-Séléka continued, leaving hundreds dead and a million displaced.
The groups divided the country with ex-Séléka militias controlling the east of the country, and the anti-Balaka controlling portions of the west.
French and African led missions, both launched in December 2013, gradually calmed the situation. In the second quarter of 2014, violence declined as the presence of international troops increased.
After months of relative calm, with sporadic clashes, violence erupted again in November 2016, but the conflict’s narrative had changed.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE CONFLICT
In October 2016, the leader of the Popular Front of the Central African Renaissance (FPRC), an ex-Séléka militia, convened a meeting with other ex-Séléka factions in an attempt to re-form the coalition. The Union for Peace in Central African Republic (UPC) refused to adhere to the new agenda.
In November 2016, clashes between the FPRC and its allies against the UPC sparkled a new cycle of violence. The FPRC and its allies are now fighting alongside their former enemy, the anti-Balaka, against their former ally, the UPC. Rather than being based on religion the violence is now ethnically motivated, the UPC being comprised of members of the Fulani ethnic group.
Since then, the eastern part of CAR has become the battleground of these groups. In February 2017, fearing clashes in Bambari, the second biggest city of the country, the UN mission successfully negotiated the departure of the UPC. However, clashes continue to occur in the surrounding areas, reaching peaks not seen since 2014. In May 2017, fighting in the towns of Bangassou, Alindao and Bria claimed the lives of over 100 people and displaced thousands of civilians.
Although the conflict has been based on sectarian violence, the leaders of armed groups manipulate religious and ethnic identities to advance their political and economic agendas. All of the the armed groups in CAR signed a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) agreement in May 2015. However, most combatants have not lay down their weapons and the recent unrest shows the limitations of the current DDR agreement.