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Central African Republic - C.A.R.

CAR is less a country than a collection of fiefdoms, ruled by gang-like armed groups, where religious, military, political and ethnic factions struggle for anything that might yield revenue. It’s a state “that has long ceased to exist,” the International Crisis Group said in 2014. Central African Republic became a country whose borders exist only on maps, where governmental authority is limited mostly to the 25 square miles occupied by the capital, Bangui, if that.

The CAR is an area [calling it a "state" or a "country" would be too strong] defined by its borders on the map and not by effective state control of territory. Though named a "ghost state" in an International Crisis Group report in 2007, the CAR is perhaps better classified as a "hollow state". On the surface, the CAR appeared to function and could credibly claim that its problems were the result of demographics, AIDS, historic poverty, and isolation. But this is misleading. While it had a structure that was able to feign functionality and had agents in most parts of the country, few of these agents actually conducted the business of the state or achieved any results. It had executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and a military, but outside of disparate geographic pockets, its control was exceedingly limited.

As of 2010, 90 percent of the uranium deposits in Bakouma were owned by Uramin, a private corporation in which Areva, the French nuclear giant, is 100 percent shareholder. The impact of this set up is exacerbated by the fact that 75 percent of France's energy is derived from nuclear sources, giving Areva and France significant financial interest in what happens in the CAR.

Nomadic and seminomadic cattle herders are generally not welcome in agricultural areas. Clashes develop when the herders come under attack, and then retaliate. Almost inevitably, the fighting takes on religious or ethnic overtones. The seasonal migration of cattle from north to south leads to further violence. Herders allow their livestock to roam over cultivated land — a common practice that is one of the root causes of bad relations between herders and farmers. Providing vaccination services for cattle might persuade herders to follow recommended trails instead.

The population is 4.5 million, according to a 2011 World Bank estimate. According to the 2003 census, the population is 51 percent Protestant, 29 percent Roman Catholic, and 15 percent Muslim. Others incorporate aspects of indigenous beliefs into Christian and Islamic practice. Muslims continued to face consistent social discrimination and, in many cases, by 2012 were presumed to be sympathetic to rebel groups which were predominantly Muslim. Muslim-owned shops were frequently vandalized and, in some cases, vigilantes subjected Muslims to harassment, beating, and detention.

The Central African Republic (CAR) gained independence from France in 1960 but has since seen many conflicts, coups and uprisings. This land-locked nation has known little but instability since independence. In 2008, the Central African Republic ranked 178 out of 179 on the Human Development Index. CAR and the Democratic Republic of Congo were the only countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that had not improved human development since the 1980s. In 2011, the Central African Republic ranked 178 out of 187 on the Human Development Index.

Despite massive natural wealth that should provide a comfortable standard of living for its 4.3 million inhabitants, the CAR continues to struggle with extreme poverty, malnutrition, rampant banditry and several festering insurgencies. Periodic skirmishes persist over water and grazing rights among related pastoral populations along the border with southern Sudan. Factional fighting between the government and its opponents remains a hindrance to revitalization. The Central African Republic is one of the world's least developed nations, and despite an on-going peace process and the presence of a democratically-elected government in the capital, Bangui, rebels are still active in large portions of the country's northern and eastern provinces.

Governance in the Central African Republic (CAR) was extremely weak due to numerous political upheavals dating back to the 1980s. Instability endures as a result of the presence of multiple insurgent groups, bands of highway robbers active throughout the north, an extremely weak and often ineffective military, and limited state presence outside of Bangui. While the CAR Government has shown improvement in its financial management, it remains deeply underfunded and relies heavily on donor support.

The fundamental problem of the CAR was at least thirty years of weak and corrupt governments that failed (if they even attempted) to forge a national consensus and develop the country. Rebel groups were merely one symptom of the disease of poor governance - not the root cause of instability. Similarly, cross border adventures into the CAR by Chadians and Sudanese were not symptoms of the spread of the Chad/Sudan/Darfur conflict. Most Chadians and Sudanese who were active in the CAR were there as opportunists or at the invitation of various CAR factions looking for experienced help.

The international community and the government of the Central African Republic (CARG) had attached much importance to Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) as the solution to the Central African Republic's (CAR) long running conflict. This would appear logical - disarm the rebels and reintegrate them back in to a peaceful society. This process, promoted by the United Nations (UN) in the Central African Republic (CAR) was beset by problems such as the slow roll out of the program, mismanagement of funds by the government (CARG) and difficulty raising funds from the international community. Despite an agreement reached in April 2009 that produced a list of rebels to be disarmed and the acceptance by the CARG to use money granted by the Economic Community of Central African States (CEMAC) for DDR for its expressed purpose, observers placed too much faith in the process as a solution to the CAR's ills.

Until the CAR Government had the means, and more importantly, the will, to fill the vacuum left behind by disarmed groups, both on a security and economic front, the effort was unlikely to accomplish its goals. And beyond that was the overarching problem that the CAR was a failed state - there was simply no economy into which former combatants can be "reintegrated."

Recent Developments - 2015

A hidden conflict was taking place in rural parts of the Central African Republic. The conflict is between cattle herders and farmers. The herders are mostly Muslims from the Peul ethnic group. Most of the farmers are either Christians or animists. Animists believe that animals, plants and other things in nature have spirits just as human beings do. cattle growers and their animals are generally not welcome in agricultural areas. Clashes develop when the growers come under attack. The farmers attack the herders, who then answer with their own attacks. Very often, the clashes take on religious or ethnic overtones. One side attacks the other for what appears to be religious or ethnic reasons.

The government of Central African Republic and 10 armed groups signed a peace deal May 10, 2015 aimed at ending two years of fighting that has killed thousands. UN Special Representative Babacar Gaye said, "I want to believe that the commitment is sincere and that we will engage in the construction of progressive peace."

The interim government announced that Central African Republic will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 18 October 2015. Many in the CAR's political class are tainted by association with the Seleka, who still control nearly half the country but are hated by most of the population.

UN agencies warned of a resurgence in widespread ethnic and religious fighting in Central African Republic, following an outbreak of fighting which left dozens dead and scores injured in the capital, Bangui. The United Nations reported September 29, 2015 clashes and reprisal attacks involving rival militias since September 26, 2015 had killed at least 37 people and injured more than 100 others in Central African Republic. Presidential elections were scheduled for October 18, though it was widely expected they would be postponed.

Anti-Balaka Militia

The anti-balaka militia leaders’ identity, their chain of command and their political program are all unknowns. “Balaka” is the Sango word for machete. Some sources say it is also alludes to the French for bullets of an automatic rifle (“balle AK”). Either way, “anti-balaka” roughly means “invincible”, a power purportedly bestowed by the charms that hang around the necks of most members. The term gained currency five or six years ago, when it was applied to self-defence units set up - in the absence of effective state security forces - to protect communities from attacks by highway bandits or cattle raiders.

Several rebel groups joined forces under the banner of the Seleka (“alliance” in Sango) forces in late 2012, and seized power the following March. “Anti-balaka” caught on as a generic term for those resisting the brutal Seleka (a word to which, since the alliance’s official disbanding in September 2013, the prefix “ex” has usually added).

Clashes in December 2013 between anti-balaka and the ex-Seleka led to reprisal attacks in which about 1,000 people died in Bangui. The anti-balaka have been largely responsible for driving the ex-Seleka from many of their bases in western CAR.

Most Seleka members were Muslim, chiefly because Islam is the more popular religion in the marginalized northern areas where rebel groups sprang up. Seleka members committed widespread atrocities after seizing power in March 2013, including killings, large-scale arson and rape.

More recently Muslims, many with no connection to the rebels, have been targeted in reprisals by anti-balaka and civilians. According to Amnesty International, such attacks have led tens of thousands to leave CAR in “an exodus of historic proportions”.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “the anti-balaka militias are increasingly organized and using language that suggests their intent is to eliminate Muslim residents from the Central African Republic." At this rate, if the targeted violence continues, there will be no Muslims left in much of the Central African Republic. Whether the anti-balaka leaders are pursuing a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing or exacting abusive collective punishment against the Muslim population [in response to the Seleka’s atrocities], the end result is clear: the disappearance of longstanding Muslim communities.

After the coup, many members of the former government army, known by its French acronym, FACA, joined the anti-balaka. In Lobaye, a district of Bangui, all anti-balaka commanders there came from FACA.

War-torn Central African Republic set 27 December 2015 as the new date for presidential and legislative elections. Officials say a second round of polls would be held if necessary on January 31. The vote will be preceded by a December 13 referendum on proposed changes to the constitution, including a clause that would limit future presidents to two five-year terms in office.

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