Dr Ilyas Mohammed describes the roots of the ongoing conflict between Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic.
The conflict in Central African Republic (CAR) is not familiar to most Muslims but the country has been experiencing civil unrest for over a decade. CAR is a former French colony which borders Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Congo, DR Congo and Cameroon.
CAR has an estimated population of 4.5 million, with the majority of the people being Christians and the largest minority being Muslims. Politically the country has been unstable for the last few decades.
CAR has vast natural resources – diamond, timber, gold, and uranium. Despite this wealth the country has suffered from a lack of development and suffers from poverty. Numerous commentators have argued that Western powers are mainly responsible for this because of their support for dictators and corrupt governments like they typically do with other third-world or developing nations. This meant that it was easy for Western companies to gain access, not only to CAR but also other African countries.
In 2013 a Muslim rebel group overthrew the government via a coup, accusing it of corruption and failing to uphold a peace deal that was agreed in 2007. The overthrow of the government led to confrontations between Muslims and Christians. This has given rise to an inter-religious violence taking root, which has the potential of leading to genocide, reminiscent of the 1990s Rwandan genocide, where Hutus massacred Tutsis.
Despite the deployment of French peacekeeping troops in 2013, CAR continues to experience mass violence, with Muslims and Christians fighting each other across the country, and killing each other in the most shocking way. The tools of killing are not guns or tanks, but machetes, household knives and planks of wood with nails. The violence has escalated to such a level that, media reports have claimed:
“A man in the Central African Republic (CAR) ate another man’s flesh to seek ‘revenge’ for the murder of his family, it has been reported. The man who called himself Mad Dog was a member of a Christian mob who attacked a Muslim man in the capital Bengui, according to the BBC. Mad Dog explained he was angry because Muslims killed his pregnant wife, his sister-in-law and her baby. Acts of cannibalism are rare in the CAR, but many Christian fighters believe in magic, including wearing jewelry containing the flesh of men they have killed. Fighters believe the flesh makes them invincible.”
The escalation of violence has quickly created the ideal condition for all-out war, which will draw in Muslim and Christian fighters from other parts of the world, namely neighbouring African countries. If this occurs, then the biggest worry for Western powers is the potential of Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda affiliated groups becoming involved, thus converting the conflict into a regional war.
The ongoing massacre of CAR’s Muslim minority would then no longer be restricted to its borders, but will connect the conflicts in Libya, Mali, Somalia, and Sudan. The subsequent violence would be unparalleled.
Moreover, like Syria, the regional war would become a magnet for global jihadists from around the world to assist their brethren in faith.