The scramble for the Central African Republic

Ethnic cleansing of Muslims is taking place in the CAR.

Shafiul Huq of Revolution Observer describes how western powers like France and the US are meddling in the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic.

The Cen­tral African Repub­lic has recently caught the atten­tion of the world media. Yet, the cri­sis there is not a new one and the coun­try has been beset by coups and rebel­lions since its inde­pen­dence from France in 1960.

Although the recent unrest is often por­trayed as a local con­flict between Chris­tians and Muslims, it has deeper under­ly­ing causes and is play­ing out within a wider context of exter­nal pow­ers vying for influ­ence in Africa.

Francois Bozize and Michel Djotodia

The cur­rent cri­sis has its roots in years of rebel­lion against the for­mer pres­i­dent Fran­cois Boz­izé who was ousted in a coup last year. Boz­izé him­self came to power via a coup in 2003 with the help of Chad. He faced rebel­lions against his rule right from the very begin­ning of his term in office. He was infa­mous for being cor­rupt, not secur­ing the basic needs of peo­ple and for the abuses committed by his troops in quelling rebel­lions.

He signed peace agree­ments with the rebels a num­ber of times but they never resulted in last­ing peace. It was within two months of the last agree­ment signed in Libre­ville in Jan­u­ary 2013 that he was ousted in a coup after rul­ing for a decade.

Michel Djo­to­dia
Michel Djo­to­dia

Upon oust­ing Boz­izé from office in March last year, Michel Djo­to­dia, the Mus­lim leader of the rebel coali­tion group, Seleka, became the pres­i­dent. Atroc­i­ties commit­ted by Seleka fight­ers and the emer­gence of the Chris­t­ian anti-balaka militias mas­sacring Mus­lims brought Djo­to­dia under increas­ing pres­sure from the Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of Cen­tral African States (CEEAS), and par­tic­u­larly Chad, to resign, which he did in Jan­u­ary 2014.

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Under the pre­text of try­ing to curb the vio­lence, France and the African Union deployed troops in Cen­tral African Repub­lic, but atroc­i­ties against Mus­lims contin­ued unabated despite the pres­ence of for­eign troops that were pur­port­edly there to pro­tect the people.

France’s mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in the CAR is noth­ing new. The CAR is of great inter­est to France due to its strate­gic loca­tion and vast min­eral resources, especially ura­nium which is a major resource for nuclear energy in France. In order to main­tain con­trol over this vitally impor­tant African state, France has con­tin­u­ally med­dled in the country’s pol­i­tics. For exam­ple, French para­troop­ers overthrew Bokassa and restored Dacko in power in 1979.

Also, France launched airstrikes on rebel held areas in sup­port of Boz­izé dur­ing the Bush War. Many peo­ple were killed and hun­dreds of thou­sands, mostly Muslims, were displaced.

The US

France also uses other states and regional bod­ies in Africa to manip­u­late events in its favour. For exam­ple, we saw how the Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of West African States (ECOWAS) inter­vened in Mali once the French-backed for­mer pres­i­dent Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in a coup led by the US-trained Cap­tain Sanogo. ECOWAS pres­sured Sanogo to hand over power to an interim government while France rushed to inter­vene mil­i­tar­ily to bring things under its con­trol again before new elec­tions took place.

Events in the CAR seem to be tak­ing a sim­i­lar course. France has used the influence of its ally and regional heavyweight, Chad, to lead the CEEAS to pressure pres­i­dent Djo­to­dia and Prime Min­is­ter Tian­gaye to resign. Chad was also a key player in bro­ker­ing the Libre­ville agree­ment between Boz­izé and the rebel groups. Also, as was men­tioned ear­lier, it was with Chad’s help that Boz­izé car­ried out the coup in 2003.

While France tries to main­tain its influ­ence in its for­mer colonies, the US stance over African issues has often been con­tra­dic­tory to France’s. For exam­ple, the US has actively tried to stop or at least delay French inter­ven­tion in Mali so that elections could be held under the coup-leader Sanogo. Then US ambas­sador to the UN, Susan Rice, even dis­missed French plans for Mali as “crap”! But France pushed through a res­o­lu­tion in the UN to allow it to inter­vene in Mali prior to elec­tions.

CAR borders Chad and Mali.
CAR borders Chad and Mali.

Sim­i­larly, we are see­ing the US at odds with France over the CAR, albeit a bit more sub­tly this time. In a press state­ment, Vic­to­ria Nuland, the State Depart­ment spokesper­son, con­demned the “ille­git­i­mate seizure or power” by Seleka rebels and Djotodia’s “self-appointment as president”. Yet she stopped short of call­ing the oust­ing of Boz­izé a coup and, con­tra­dict­ing her­self in the same press statement, she hoped for elec­tions to be held under the interim gov­ern­ment that was iron­i­cally headed by Djo­to­dia, the same per­son she had just criticised.

When Djo­to­dia and Tian­gaye were forced to resign due to pres­sure from Chad and CEEAS, the US threat­ened to impose tar­geted sanc­tions on “those who further desta­bi­lise the sit­u­a­tion, or pur­sue their own self­ish ends by abet­ting or encour­ag­ing the vio­lence”. It also called on the CAR neigh­bours to stop efforts to esca­late ten­sions from within their territory.

France, on the other hand, has called for a quick replace­ment of the resigned leaders, Djo­to­dia and Tian­gaye. The French Defence Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “The national tran­si­tion coun­cil… must imple­ment a pro­vi­sional alter­na­tive because the aim is to hold elec­tions before the end of the year.”

Though France has said that its mil­i­tary involve­ment in the CAR will be a short one, it will most likely stay as long as it needs to ensure a gov­ern­ment of its choos­ing is installed. This will prob­a­bly be some­thing sim­i­lar to Mali where the French were pro­claim­ing to the world that it was going to be a short mis­sion, yet French mil­i­tary pres­ence still con­tin­ues in Mali more than one year since the intervention.

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