Written by William A.Twayigize
The country of Central African Republic as its name suggests it is located in the heart of Africa. It is a landlocked country which borders Chad in the north, Sudan in the northeast, South Sudan in the east, the DR Congo and the Republic of Congo in south, and Cameroon in the west. CAR is one of the poorest countries in Africa with a population of 4.6 million. The country has been unstable for years. About 50% of its population are Christians, and 15% are Muslims whereas the rest practice the African Traditional Religion (ATR). Since 2012 CAR experienced intense fighting between the then President Bozize’s forces and the SELEKA rebels who have since overthrown the government of Francois Bozize which has been followed by absolute anarchy where all institutions have been looted by gunmen. Both international community and local media estimate that more than 200, 00 people are internally displaced while another 70,000 have fled to neighboring countries (BBC Africa). UN and other organizations have said that if nothing is done, the country might descend into genocide.
Maybe people should ask themselves why we are talking without acting. As some people may still remember, 19 years ago the world just watched as the country of Rwanda descended into humanity catastrophe, which later became the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It all started the same way it is unfolding in CAR. Just two years after the Rwandan genocide, the country of DR Congo was engulfed by bloodbath that cost more than 6,000,000 lives of both Congolese and Rwandan people as the UN and western countries sat quietly and did nothing to halt the war. Looking at these two examples that took place in two countries which are not far away from CAR, one should not wonder why the same is repeating in CAR without any speedy intervention to stop the situation before it worsens (www.cnn.com). Concerns have been growing both in international community and the media world that the country of Centrafrique might become another Rwanda or its neighbor DR Congo. What is different this time about the conflict in CAR is that the war is a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. This started when President Francois Bozize was overthrown by the SELEKA rebellion in March.
REGIONAL SECTARIANISM AND RELIGIOUS CONFLICT
According to different reports from international media houses such as the BBC, the town of Bossangoa, the former President Francois Bozize comes from has been deserted by its residents for the fear of the Muslim rebels who are said to be attacking Christian villages. This conflict reminds me the Ivorian conflict that divided the country of Cote d’Ivoire into two where those thought to be mostly Muslims took over the north of the country and those thought to be mostly Christian stayed in the south of the country. The issue shifted from the country’s policy issues and political campaigns and rotated around religion each side blaming the other to be sympathizers of a religious sectarian. The same scenario is repeating itself in the Central African republic where people who have been living together over thousands of years now cannot see each other eye to eye leave alone fetching drinking water from the same rivers. What continues to shock the world and confuse those involved in peacebuilding in Africa and around the world is that previous wars whether religious, political, or conflict minerals that have ravaged Africa over several decades have not taught Africans any lesson to promote peace over war. There is a simple answer to this. Peacebuilders and international community that support peacebuilding activities in Africa have not spent more resources trying to address the root causes of conflicts in Africa, which is “poor management of Africa’s natural resources.”
Most conflicts in Africa have been based on Africa’s minerals with a disguise of either politics, religion, or sociopolitical. Therefore, conflict interventions designed and applied have always been focused on addressing the above three perceived issues. It is true that those elements come over and over in most of man’s conflicts, but they are not the main root causes of war and conflict in Africa. The root causes of conflicts in Africa have always been oil, diamond, natural gas, and coastal line in Angola, coltan, gold, copper, and rubber in DR Congo, oil in Sudan, diamond, gold, and oil in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and cocoa, oil, and coastal line in Cote d’Ivoire, needless mentioning a country like Somalia which has been ungovernable for over three decades. Only recently the western media have come clean and accepted that Somalis are sitting on a natural gas hidden underground both offshore and onshore. One can simply say that the country of Central African Republic is another victim of misdiagnosed conflict interventions in Africa and now the country is at the verge of descending into Abyss like Rwanda in 1994 as the world is watching. The multitude of Central African people have left their homes taking refuge in churches and mosques. People continue to fear their identity as it has been the case in most conflicts in Africa where one is either killed or jailed simply because he/she belongs to a certain region, religion, ethnicity, tribe, or has subscribed to a political ideology different those who are ruling. However, there is a bigger reason behind wars in Africa than what is expressed in millions of grant applications for peacebuilding in Africa.
NATURAL RESOURCES AND CONFLICT MINERALS
Though CAR has been unstable most of the time since its independence from France in 1960, because of several military coups and civil wars, today is experiencing an unprecedented conflict. Most of conflict in CAR have not been characterized as religious wars but now this small country, described as the heart of Africa is experiencing the worst religious tension ever. This new conflict has put into confrontation two brothers distinguished by faith. The Christian majority and Muslim minority always lived in harmony until March 2013 the time Michel Djotodia a former diplomat and civil servant formed Seleka, which defeated Bozize’s government and seized power in Bangui. His government continued to be accused of attacking certain communities based on their religious beliefs. This targeted violence has encouraged those who are non-Muslims to form the anti-balaka rebel group which is predominantly created by Mr. Bozize's sympathizers from his birthplace of Bossangoa in about 400km (250 miles) north of the capital Bangui. This new twist to add religion to CAR’s conflict is dangerous because it is a cover up to hide the real root of conflict, which is a competition over the control of natural resources in Central African Republic and the region in general.
Like in several African countries, the country of CAR has rich but mostly unexploited natural resources in the form of diamonds, gold, uranium, and other precious minerals. Diamonds has been the most important export of the CAR, which account over 55% of national export revenues. This wealth has attracted both local and international diamond smugglers who want to quick wealth at cheaper cost even if it means bribing government officials or sponsoring a rebel group to cause mayhem, kill, and drive millions of people away from their land. This cheaper diamond has built a Mafia with a strong collaboration in the government that connect them with some corrupt elements that help them access diamond easily. According to World Bank statistics, more than 50% of the diamonds produced each year leave the country clandestinely. The country of CAR also has petroleum deposits along the country's northern border with Chad which is estimated at 2 billion barrels of oil. The CAR’s uncut diamonds make up close to 60% of the CAR's export earnings. All these resources which on high demand on the international market are fuelling the conflict in Central African Republic. Each side of these Mafia wants to control these natural resources by being in power. Unfortunately, this people cannot achieve that through democratic process so that they go back to their people and ask for their vote. They prefer to recruit and arm innocent unemployed youth and children by instilling fear in them that the other side hates them based on this one or the other. In CAR, after decades of military coups now politicians, business people, mineral smugglers, and others with interests in the CAR’s natural resources are now using religion as a way to marshal up sympathizers to stand and fight for them portraying themselves as the messiahs of their communities. This kind of military propaganda is the basis of the formation of both SELEKA disguising under Islamic faith and ANTI-BALAKA, which is hiding itself behind Christian faith. One cannot deny categorically that there is a religious conflict but it is a political design fueled by the greed to access and control natural resources through fear. As it has been the case in the neighboring DR Congo where millions of innocent people have been killed by different rebel groups supported by both foreign governments and corrupt leadership and millions of minerals looted. The Congolese conflict minerals has been hiding under ethnic and tribal conflict whereas the conflict in CAR is now taking a religious twist to blind people that what is happening in CAR is Muslims against Christians or vice versa. People, especially Africans should understand that the war in Central Africa is purely a completion over natural resources to control diamond mining and new found petroleum wells.
The question always remains on our mind is to ask ourselves when Africans will stop killing each other and learn to effectively manage their natural resources to benefit their communities and the future generation. People in CAR whether Muslims or Christians should understand that CAR is bigger that Francois Bozize or Michel Djotodia and put peace above any individual interests to save their country so that it does not become another Rwanda, Somalia, or DR Congo.