7 December 2013

Nigeria: CAR's Festering Crisis

Photo: UNHCR
Nigerian refugees (file photo).


A tragedy of epic proportion is unfolding in Central African Republic (CAR). The French government recently warned that the country was on the "verge of genocide". Thousands of people have been killed by soldiers and militia groups. There are several reports of public executions and children being hacked to death. According to the United Nations, more than 460, 000 people, about 10 per cent of the total population, have been displaced. Most of them are living in the jungles. Without access to medical facilities, many are dying of hunger and diseases such as malaria and cholera. The number of casualties remains unknown since it's too dangerous to access remote areas where most killings occur, the UN said.

CAR is sharply divided along tribal and religious lines. The majority of the population are Christians; about 10 per cent are Muslims, while the rest are animists. Since after its independence in 1960, the country has been politically unsettled; it has had a series of military coups, dictatorship and even a self-styled emperor. The latest problem started in March this year when an unpopular president, François Bozize, was overthrown by a loose coalition of rebels, bandits and mercenaries spearheaded by a group known as the Seleke, which is predominantly Muslim.

They imposed the leader, Michele Djotobia, as the first Muslim president. Since his ascension, violence has escalated and he is fast losing control of the factions. The country, according to the prime minister, Nicolas Tianguy, is in a state of anarchy. A new Christian faction known as anti-Balaka has now emerged. They are increasingly challenging the Seleka and are responsible for some of the recent atrocities.

As the tragic drama unfolds, Jan Eliasson, the United Nations deputy secretary-general, has called for urgent action. He urged the Security Council to strengthen the African Union force in the country. Already, there are about 3,000 African Union forces on ground. France which has about 600 troops on the ground is sending additional 1,000 troops.

The call for action by the United Nations and the European countries is cheering news, but the silence of the African leaders and the African Union is disturbing. African leaders are increasingly losing sight of the implications of some of the terrifying crisis in their backyards. They tend to believe that it will never reach them but they are dead wrong: Somali, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Mali, and even northern Nigeria are clear examples. What is happening in CAR will undoubtedly have grave implications for Africa. There is a strand of fabric that binds us together, besides our common humanity.

We urge President Jonathan and his government to take on a pivotal role in tackling the problem of CAR. We should, as a matter of urgency, take the lead in deploying troops to that country before it becomes another Rwanda.

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